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Even the Wicked Understand This

What does the Parable of the Unjust Steward mean?

[Yeshua, aka Jesus] also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions.

“And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’

“And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’

“So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.

And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.”

Luke 16:1-17 ESV

This passage has always puzzled me. An incompetent manager found out he was about to be fired, so he conspired with his customers to steal from his employer in order to secure a new job–or at least some charity–with one or more of the customers. And Yeshua wants us to emulate this man? Does he want us to steal from our employers in order to create good will among those less wealthy? That doesn’t make any sense! Since the Pharisees’ immediate reaction was to ridicule him, they were probably thinking the same thing.

However, when reading it again recently, I noticed some details that must have escaped me before. The keys to understanding are in a phrase Yeshua used in his summary and in his response to the Pharisees, who overheard him speaking this parable to his disciples.

Unrighteous Wealth

God’s Law (Torah) requires a public trial for anyone accused of a crime and that justice be rigorously pursued. In other words, there needs to be an investigation, and the accused has a right to defend himself. The rich man in this story held what amounted to a secret trial without the accused even being aware of it until he was told to pack up and get out. He wasn’t a good man to work for.

Maybe the manager was only negligent and hadn’t done anything criminal, or it could be that the case wasn’t strong enough to stand in a legitimate court of law, and so the rich man decided to dismiss the manager from his employ without pressing criminal charges. He certainly had a right to do so, whether the manager was guilty or not. As another of Yeshua’s parables points out, a man is within his rights to hire and fire anyone he chooses and to use his wealth however he sees fit.

It could also be that the rich man didn’t want to give the town elders and judge an opportunity to examine his books too closely.

In verses 9 and 11, Yeshua referred to the rich man’s wealth using the Greek word mammona, which isn’t just material wealth, but ill-gotten gain, and he even added the adjective adiko, meaning wicked or unrighteous.

If then you have not been faithful in adiko mammona [unrighteous, ill-gotten gain], who will entrust to you true riches?
Luke 16:11

The manager had not squandered the possessions of an ordinary businessman, but of a criminal mastermind, and when he colluded with the master’s clients to forge new instruments of debt, he cheated a cheater.

So are we then to seek out employment with criminals so that we can play Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor? No, that’s not the lesson either.

Unrighteous Teachers

When the Pharisees overheard all of this (as Yeshua intended, no doubt), they scoffed, probably thinking that Yeshua was telling his disciples to use dishonest means to further their mission. But he turned to them and explained that they were like the incompetent manager, but they were wasting the opportunity to prepare for the coming shift in spiritual power.

The Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes of Yeshua’s day had inherited an unjust system in which the High Priest was appointed by Rome and the ordinary people were denied the right to study and understand the Scriptures for themselves. They had access to wealth and power that had been unjustly concentrated in the hands of a ruling class.

The Law and the Prophets have been read and studied right up until the time of John. And the good news of the Kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone is trying to claim a piece of it.
Luke 16:16 (Paraphrased)

The Torah and the Prophets had warned for over a thousand years that a day of reckoning was coming for unjust rulers when the Kingdom of God would be established on earth. Everyone wants to be part of the Kingdom, and religious leaders jockey for position to control the gates.

When John and Yeshua went to the common people and began proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom, the ruling classes naturally objected. This was a golden opportunity for them to earn an honored place with the new King, but in their pride they clung to an obsolete office that seemed golden in the eyes of men but was spiritually rotten to the core.

Even the Wicked Know This…

The Temple was intended to unite the people in a closer relationship to God, yet the religious rulers used it to create division among the people and to separate them from God. Meanwhile, the Pharisees buried the people under onerous regulations, the “burden which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear” spoken of by Peter in Acts 15:10. They kept the gentiles as far away as possible, even forbidding a Jew to so much as enter their houses.

When they heard the good news, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, they should have repented from their pride and hatred, embracing their fellow Israelites and inviting the nations into the Tent of Jacob, but they jealously guarded their hoards of hay and stubble.

The point of Yeshua’s parable wasn’t that we should use fraud and bribes to earn good will with men, but that we need to be preparing for what’s coming rather than clinging to what’s passing away. Even the “sons of this world” know to prepare for the next life before this one is over. How much more should the “children of light” know to “lay up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys.”

When the Judge weighs your life on his scales, what will he find?

This life will end. Every title, every bank balance, and every seat in every boardroom will end with it. You have an opportunity right now to repent from selfish ambitions and instead begin laying up treasures in heaven by keeping God’s commandments and doing good for the people in your community. Don’t waste it.

Six Exercises to Find Your Calling

Six exercises to find your calling

Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution…
Exodus 35:5

I believe that everyone has a job to do in God’s Kingdom. Nobody is useless. Nobody is leftover bolt. Everyone has a calling from God to do something.

But how are you supposed to know what God is calling you to do?

Let’s take a look at how God called some famous people in the Bible…

Moses – God caught Moses’ attention by an small, unusual fire on a remote mountain. He plucked at his curiosity and then spoke to him in an audible voice. I’ve seen bushes on fire, but I’ve never seen one that wasn’t consumed, and I’ve certainly never heard one speak except in a crackle, pop, and hiss. Moses hemmed and hawed a bit, but in the end he confronted Pharaoh in God’s name and led the Hebrews out of Egypt.

Gideon – God appeared to Gideon as a man and told him directly what he was supposed to do. To be certain that this was God and not just his own imagination, Gideon asked God to cause a fleece to alternately collect moisture and repel moisture. Surprisingly–at least to me–God obliged him. Gideon responded by raising an army through which God would drive the Midianites out of Israel.

Samson – Samson didn’t hear God’s call himself, but an angel appeared to his parents and told them what Samson’s role was to be. I don’t know if he ever believed it himself, but the nature of Samson’s character led him into one confrontation after another with the Philistines until finally he called out to God for the strength to bring down the house of Israel’s enemies.

Samuel – God called to Samuel in the night while he was a small boy watched the waning lights of the Menorah. The voice of God seemed so normal to Samuel that he thought it was a mere man. Samuel heard the voice three times before the corrupt priest Eli had to tell him that it was God speaking to him. It took four tries before Samuel answered God, but from that day on he let God’s words flow through him into the world.

David – David was a shepherd, and he was a good one. He kept his flocks safe–even killing lions and bears–until God sent Samuel to anoint him to be the shepherd of a much bigger flock. God’s Spirit filled David and guided him from that day on.

In the Bible, God spoke to people through a variety of media: fire, smoke, men, angels, prophets, visions, dreams, and disembodied voices. That’s great for them, but what about you and me? Signs and wonders weren’t normal even for those times, and we can’t all be judges and kings and prophets. How are the rest of us supposed to find our calling in God’s kingdom?

First, let me assure you that you do have a calling. You have a job to do in God’s kingdom.

Think of the Kingdom like an automobile. Some people are hood ornaments or custom alloy wheels, but is an engine mount or a bearing less important because you can’t see it? They’re actually more important than those other parts! Just like the parts on a car, everyone serves a purpose in the Kingdom, and everyone suffers when parts are missing and things don’t move the way they’re supposed to.

So, what’s your part? Should you ask God for a sign or should you put out a fleece like Gideon did?

I believe that God can still speak to people in dramatic ways like he did back then, but that’s not what we should be looking for. Notice that none of the people I listed above went to God and asked for a sign until after God came to them. They were just minding their business, doing the work that life had put in front of them.

Let me tell you a little about how God called me.

There have been two constant tendencies in my life. Drives might be a better word.

I write. I don’t remember when I first started writing, but I do remember that I started on my first novel in sixth grade. I would write a chapter in pencil, and my sister would type it out for me. It was all dreck, of course, and I never did finish it, but it started something. I’ve been writing more or less ever since, pouring words out on paper and screen in the form of stories, essays, letters, and endless online debates on politics, religion, technology, and whatever else caught my attention. I’m always thinking about the next thing I want to write, always writing essays in my head. I’ve never written professionally, and I know I don’t write as prolifically or as well as many others, but I’ve always been a writer.

I solve puzzles too. Crosswords, sudoku, troubleshooting computers, and even filling in the family tree. I’m not a genius, but I have a good eye for spotting patterns and making connections. Sometimes I wonder if I see patterns that aren’t really there, but I make my living as a computer systems administrator, and I’ve found that I’m pretty good at eliminating the noise of irrelevant data to help me zero in on the real source of a problem. Because of that, I’ve learned to trust my instinct on what might or might not be a real pattern. I always have a puzzle near at hand for idle moments, and I usually have my eye out for chiasms and parallelisms when I’m reading the Bible. It might even rise to the level of a compulsion.

These two skills have served me well professionally. In fact, in almost every job I’ve ever had, I gravitated into a role of expert troubleshooter, sorter, and documenter. Sift the data for what really matters. Catalog, categorize, and sort until it all makes sense. Then simplify, systematize, document, and organize the result into something useful, like training materials or operating procedures. I don’t care much for technical writing–it’s boring–but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t good at it.

I have some talents. So what does that have to do with God’s calling?

I am convinced that if God gives you a job to do, he will also give you the means to do it, and among those means must be the talents you were born with, plus the experiences you’ve gained along the way. I can’t not write. I can’t not solve puzzles. It’s who I am, and there’s no getting around it. So, if God has a job for me, then how can who I am not play a role in that job?

If you’re not sure what skills or characteristics drive you, let me ask you four questions to help you find out. Ask yourself these questions and answer them as honestly as you can. Then ask a few other people to answer them about you too. Their answers might be more revealing than your own!

Six exercises to help you discover your calling…

1. What activities or responsibilities do you consistently find yourself handling in almost everything you do? Whether at work, play, school, or home, what are the consistent threads?

2. What kinds of problems do other people always come to you for help with? Avoid listing learned skills here. Try to focus on the broader picture. Instead of saying “fixing a car” or “programming the VCR”, say “mechanical problems” or “understanding incomplete or confusing directions”.

3. What kinds of activities do you get completely lost in? What can you do for hour after hour and hardly even notice that time has passed? How does that activity correlate with your answer to question 1?

4. What brings you peace? When your confused, lonely, angry, depressed…what calms your storm and brings you back to a place of focus and usefulness? (Drugs, alcohol, and mindless entertainments don’t count. Those things don’t calm the storm so much as dull your senses to it.)

The answers to these questions will contain a wealth of information about who you are and therefore what kinds of jobs God has prepared you for.

For many people–maybe even for most–discovering who you are isn’t quite enough to tell you what you’re supposed to be doing. Before you can really take your place in the Kingdom, there are two more things you need to know:

1. Where are you right now? I mean “where” in almost every way: geographically, economically, spiritually, professionally, etc. Are you a husband? An accountant? Do you live in Alaska or Costa Rica? Wherever you are right now, whatever you do, whatever circumstance you find yourself in, start right there. Make the most of it. Be the best husband or wife, the best job seeker, the most studious learner, the kindest grandmother.

Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.
Matthew 25:21

Unless there is something immoral about where and how you find yourself at the moment, don’t try to change everything. Just apply the talents that God has given you to the place that you are in.

2. What has God already told you? We shouldn’t be looking for signs in the heavens or a prophetic word to tell us what God has already told us plainly in writing. I mean the Bible. Are you reading it and taking it seriously? The character of God’s Kingdom, his people, and of God Himself is revealed in Scripture. If you want to be a part of this machine, you should know what the machine is for and what kind of performance the driver expects to get out of it. God doesn’t waste words, so if you can’t be bothered to find out what he’s already said, why should he bother telling you anything more?

When you have honestly and prayerfully considered these six questions, I believe you will have a very good idea of what role God wants you to play in his plans. That might even make you a little frightened. Don’t let it. God provides. What he didn’t put in your genes, he put into your life experiences. What he didn’t give you through experience, he will give you through relationships, community, and even what might seem like blind luck, but is actually divine Providence arranging the universe to make sure you will have what you need, when you need it to accomplish God’s purposes.

You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
James 4:3

It’s good to enjoy life, and you should enjoy what God has given you, but remember that everything God gives you is ultimately for a purpose, which is always to serve him.

Don’t be afraid that these exercises lock you into anything. You will gain more insight over time as you contemplate them over years of life and work. Your perspective will change. The things that thrill you and calm you might change too. That’s all fine, because your role in the kingdom might change too.

King David’s entire life was characterized by leadership, passion, and faith in God, but those qualities manifested differently at various stages of his life. He was a shepherd in his youth, then a raider, a general, and finally a king. Your role will also change over time. You will expand, contract, and shift gears. Don’t be afraid of change when it comes. This too is part of God’s plan.

Sometimes he even changes everything, turning caterpillars into butterflies and weaklings into warriors. There are exceptions to almost every rule. God sometimes sends cowards to fight battles and introverts to preach on street corners. Sometimes he even sends prophets and burning bushes. Whenever we think we have God figured out, he burns our pathetic little boxes to ash.

Roll with it. God knows what he’s doing.

If you don’t mind sharing, tell me what you discover through these exercises!