This is one of those interesting parables.
I knew a small business owner who taught a Sunday School lesson on this passage. He was quite honest that he hated it. As a small business owner, he could not understand the apparent praise for a person who reduced what was owed.
This is understandable. He viewed this as stealing by the manager and by those who owed the rich man. In most respects, he (the small business owner) was right.
The rich man is more the vehicle of the story. The first thing to recognize is that the rich man received an accusation. That’s it. In Jewish law, it took 2 or 3 witnesses to convict.
Jesus tells the story in such a way that we understand that there is truth to the accusation. Of course, the manager freaking out pretty much made it clear that there was a lot of truth in that accusation.
There are two really important things to learn from this particular parable.
The first is Jesus’ admonition to use the ways of the world wisely to gather friends. This does not mean that Jesus is suggesting theft or unGodly methods. Jesus is suggesting using the world’s ways (i.e., books, TV, radio, the internet) to make friends and to influence others.
This is good advice. In fact, without being open to the world’s ways, we often have no common ground with which to open conversations that lead to God. The world’s ways include business, politics, education, and pretty much everything. Yes, let’s use it all to bring people to God!
The second piece is often overlooked. I have certainly overlooked it.
The rich man and even the manager are successful in the world. We often focus on that, which shows our own hearts.
The people for whom the manager reduced the debt were the poor. We have to remember that our concept of middle-class is historically a pretty recent one. Most of these people owed debts that they may never be able to pay.
They would be, effectively, owned.
Why is this important? Well, the underlying implication is that the poor will have the eternal dwellings (i.e., heaven), and the only way the rich man or (specifically) the manager will have a place in eternity is through those that he gave mercy.
The concept of “class warfare” predates Karl Marx by centuries. While this passage and conclusion would seem to reinforce such a concept, at the same time, all things are possible with God, especially with a contrite heart.
Heavenly Father, may we—your children—be always looking for ways to use the world’s ways to expand your family, kingdom, and glory. Amen.
1) What do you think of the rich man and his response to the manager’s initiative?
2) What ways of the world can you think of that you can use to bring people to God?