Parable of the Dishonest Manager: Luke 16:1-15
Jesus tells this parable of the dishonest manager (shrewd / unjust steward) in order to point out to the Pharisees that they too are sinners and need to repent; because they are lovers of money, but they consider themselves the spiritual elite.
This parable of the dishonest manager (shrewd / unjust steward) is told as a series of parables, in response to the Pharisees and scribes complaining in Luke 15:1-2 that Jesus is eating with sinners. Jesus initially explains to them why he is eating with sinners, by telling these parables:
Jesus then continues to tell his disciples this parable of the dishonest manager (Luke 16:1); however we know that this parable was meant to be heard by the Pharisees because of their response to this parable in Luke 16:14, "The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him." Jesus then speaks directly to them in the following verse 15.
Understanding that this parable is meant to be heard by the Pharisees is very important in order to understand Jesus' meaning behind the parable.
In the parable of the dishonest manager (shrewd / unjust steward), Jesus tells of a man who is charged with wasting his master's property. The manager realizes that he is going to lose his job, so he prepares for his future by speaking to his master's debtors and forgiving a portion of their debt. "I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes." (Luke 16:3-4)
The master discovers what the manager has done and he praises him for being so crafty and clever (shrewd). Jesus says, "And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light." (Luke 16:8)
It is important to note that the manager is not praised for his dishonesty, but for his cleverness.
Jesus makes his point to this parable of the dishonest manager (shrewd / unjust steward) in Luke 16:8-13, which we will examine verse by verse.
In Luke 16:8, Jesus says, "for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light."
Jesus is referring to the Pharisees who have been very clever in obtaining money, but unwise in their dealings of spiritual and eternal matters.
In Luke 16:9, Jesus continues by saying, "And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes."
Jesus is clearly being sarcastic in this verse, essentially telling the Pharisees, 'You have already accumulated dishonest wealth, so you should use it to do good by giving to others so you will gain that which is more valuable than wealth.' (Jesus is well-known for using figures of speech, such as parables, idioms, exaggeration, metaphors, or even sarcasm.)
In Luke 16:10-12, Jesus says, "Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?"
Jesus continues to speak to the Pharisees, saying that if they don't use their wrongly obtained wealth for good, by giving to others, then they won't receive redemption; because if they can't be trusted with dishonest riches, then they can't be trusted with true riches (spiritual life).
Jesus then makes his final point to the Pharisees in Luke 16:13 "No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
Jesus is telling the Pharisees that they cannot serve both God and wealth; they must choose.
In Luke 15, Jesus has been explaining to the Pharisees why he eats with sinners, and then in Luke 16, in this parable of the dishonest manager, Jesus is essentially telling the Pharisees to repent, for they too are sinners. The entire section from Luke 15:1 to Luke 16:15, is about repentance. Jesus explains repentance and forgiveness to the complaining Pharisees, and then he tells them that they too need to repent.
Jesus finishes in Luke 16:15, by telling the Pharisees, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God."
Jesus finalizes his point by bluntly stating that they think they are the spiritual elite, but in reality they are sinners too, and their love of money is an abomination to God.
An related saying (slightly paraphrased from Jim Elliot's quote) to this parable of the dishonest manager is, "Wise is the one who gives to others that which he can never keep, in order to gain that which he can never lose."