Luke 16 1-8a The Parable of the less-than-forthright manager

Categories: Exegesis from the Pews - Our Scripture Blog

We have been studying the Gospel of Luke this summer. The parables
have proven difficult to difficult to wrestle with in spite of their familiarity.
Our core belief is that everyone has a right to interpret the Bible. In community
we can pool our insights and bring the whole group to a better understanding
of Jesus’ message.

Today’s axiom for Bible study is don’t let the editors tell you what to think.

Who added those subtitles that are in so many Bibles?–modern editors telling

us what to think.   The explanations tacked on the end (vv. 8b -10) are ancient

editors telling us what to think. Let’s put those aside and just look at what

the parable says.

This is one of the few “undomesticated” parables. So many of the

others have been taught to us in a way that files off all the sharp

edges and makes the message compatible with conventional wisdom.

The shrewd manager may be less difficult because we do not have to

discard so much baggage in finding a meaning.

The manager is suddenly accused of squandering and given

notice.   When he realizes his predicament he squanders the goods in

his own interest. For this the master praises him. (What about my

job?) So what we have is two kinds of squandering one gets you

fired and one gets you praised.

How does this look from the perspective of the manager? He’s

been strict with the accounts and maintained the expected

relationship between the master and his debtors and yet he gets fired.

When he throws out the rules and tries to incur favor with the

debtors the master approves.

How does this look to the debtors? First –who borrows 500

gallons of olive oil? Who borrows a thousand bushels of wheat?

Jesus is clearly grossly exaggerating for effect here. What master

could have so much surplus to loan? There is only one. When the

manager writes off some of the debt the borrowers find a new hope

that they may someday get out of debt .

I don’t think that it’s a stretch to equate the master with God.

I think it’s fair to assume that Roman occupation of Israel was

seen as a sign of God’s disfavor. There were several explanations of

why Israel was suffering this disfavor.   Jesus offered a different

reasoning as to why Israel was experiencing God’s disfavor. His

take is that the failure of justice and the failure of compassion are the

reasons.   If we see the God’s “goods” as Mercy then the parable

appears in a whole new light. There are two explanations for God’s

displeasure and there are two ways in which God’s bounty of mercy

can be squandered. Being parsimonious with forgiveness is

squandering God’s mercy. The debtor’s have “borrowed” an

outrageous bounty of the masters wealth. The master is content

when he sees that the debts are forgiven—that the wealth is not

coming back to him.   Like the manager Jesus took it upon himself to

distribute the masters goods without any special permission.  Jesus

saw that being profligate with forgiveness will bind people to God.

In that sense the “master” is getting back more than he loaned out.

Thanks to Rev. Catherine, Decia, Mary K. for key insights.

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