The Shrewd Manager
Ordinary 25 Year C
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 16: 1 — 13
This week’s reading begins a series of seven reflections on obstacles facing the disciples of our Lord Jesus. These reflections take us finally to Jerusalem, where, briefly, we observe Jesus teaching.
The first 13 verses of Luke 16 are usually looked upon as more than a little confusing. This is due to a number of factors which converge at this point. We offer a special Appendix of preparatory notes to help readers and leaders prepare to meditate on this wonderful reading and suggest it is worth taking a look at.
Some Reflections On Our Text
Verse 1 (a)
Then he also said to his disciples,
Our reading begins with the words literally translated: “He also said to the disciples …..” These tell us that this particular lesson continued our Lord’s teaching in the same location as the previous section (the prodigal son) but it was directed to the disciples of Jesus generally. We know that some wealthy Pharisees overheard Him as is evidenced in verse 14: but more about that when we reach that part of the chapter.
Verses 1 (b) — 8 (a)
“A rich man had a steward who was reported to him
for squandering his property.
He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you?
Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because
you can no longer be my steward.’
The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that
my master is taking the position of steward away from me?
I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.
I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed
from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’
He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said,
‘How much do you owe my master?’
He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him,
‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’
Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’
He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ He said to him,
‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’
And the master commended that dishonest steward
for acting prudently. “For the children of this world
are more prudent in dealing with their own generation
than are the children of light.
This is the familiar parable of the “unjust steward”, or shrewd manager. We offer commentary (inset) first, based on “The Gospel Story” by Ronald Cox (CYM Publications 1957). Then we follow it with some additional notes.
A wealthy landowner (‘master’) lived in comfort in the city.
His agent (‘steward’) attended to the rents paid in annually by the
tenant-farmers (‘debtors’); this was usually a third of the crop
produced, and paid in kind; olive oil, wheat and wine were the
Many a Gospel-reader would have felt easier in mind, if our Lord
had not made this steward quite so patently crooked. Some even
try to explain his conduct as not at all dishonest; that is, he was
out of pocket himself by his transactions with the debtors. But,
since our Lord called him dishonest there is no point in white
washing him. Jesus could have told a story of an honest but
shrewd man, had he so desired; possibly he may have taken a
topical incident in which the man concerned was a swindler and
a forger. Actually he had a very definite purpose in making him
dishonest; this was to point out the danger of riches; they stick
to the fingers; they hold a man back from the kingdom. And that
surely is the second lesson of the parable, beginning at “He who
is trustworthy over a little….” (Verse 10 in our translation).
The diplomacy of the steward was to interview the tenants
separately, and get them to falsify their own rents; by this means
he was the only witness to the forgery; the threat of disclosure
would give him a permanent hold on these men. Even though the
master were to find out what had been done, he would have to
stand by the contracted rent, since the document could not be
proven a forgery except through this testimony of the steward.
It is vital to note that in verse 8 (a), it is the dishonest manager’s master who praised him for his shrewd actions to get him out of trouble — not Jesus. Our Lord, in telling His parable, “tells it as it is”, and has no hesitation calling him dishonest.
An observation of people who are dishonest in business is that they admire the deceitful artifices of others and often adopt them themselves. In our story, at no time does Jesus hold up the unjust steward/manager’s behaviour for His disciples to follow or use as any kind of model. The landowner could be said to betray himself by praising the trickery of his employee. The actual words he used to describe his employee’s behaviour were “acting shrewdly”. In the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament the same base word is used to describe the serpent in Genesis 3: 1 i.e. cunning.
Our Lord closes His parable, therefore hinting that they both used their wits and cunning to get ahead, and it’s not surprising they applied such attitudes to each other. That, He implies, is the way of the world, and it is as despicable as it is treacherous.
Verses 8 (b) and 9
And the master commended that dishonest steward for
acting prudently. “For the children of this world are more
prudent in dealing with their own generation than are
the children of light.
I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest
wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into
Jesus then, in a breath, provides in a very condensed form, what he wants his followers to “take on board” from this unexpected story. He says:
“For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with
their own kind than are the people of the light.”
It is critical that we understand this sentence or we will remain confused for a long time! In essence, Jesus might say something like this in our culture:
If the money chasers of this world are so focussed on
accumulating more and more wealth — and being prepared
to walk over other people to achieve their goal — then My
followers should be even more focussed on achieving their
heavenly reward and using opportunities of helping other
people on the way to all reach their final destination.
Or put another way:
“People who are ‘of this world’ do not hesitate to take advantage
of one another to get ahead.” In my parable, the dishonest
from bad — he was a careless manager;
to worse — when confronted he chose a dishonest way out;
and worst — he defrauded his employer in a series of extremely
I expect ‘people of the light‘ who claim to live honest lives
of loving service to God, to pursue a course in the opposite
direction with at least as much if not more vigour and
• They therefore should seek to live a good life which I have
taught by word and example.
• They should therefore be able to make better choices in using
their worldly goods to help others.
• If they continue to seek the Kingdom of God above all else, they
will in fact receive the very best which God can provide them
with, and enjoy it for all eternity.
Our Lord is reflecting the onset of a new world order which, in a sense, is the obverse of what we see in His parable. The above is not a forced or contrived model. Jesus is saying quite bluntly: if you want to be my disciple you have to make up your mind to use your worldly wealth in such a way that you build treasure in heaven: and you need to pursue that goal with all your might.
Verses 10 — 13
The person who is trustworthy in very small matters
is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is
dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.
If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth,
who will trust you with true wealth?
If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another,
who will give you what is yours?
No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one
and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.”
St Luke caps this lesson of Jesus with a small cluster of teachings which reinforce the main lesson. They embody the correct attitude for Christians towards ownership and stewardship. In particular they keep before us the fact that, really, all earthly wealth is only on loan to us and is never for our own exclusive benefit. Only by remembering this will we prevent selfish pursuits from becoming our main goal in life. Wealth is not the problem or issue; our Lord is warning us about abandoning His teaching and becoming obsessed with constantly accumulating more and more for one’s own use.
Yet again, Jesus drives home the eternal Truth above all others:
“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone!”
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with
all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength”.
and: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
Disciples of Jesus Christ can never permit “Mammon” to rise to the status of an idol, a god. If they do, ruination, bitter sorrow and despair will eventually be their reward.
In plain language we could say that in this Gospel reading Jesus is very direct and leaves no room for confusion. The path taken by the shrewd manager can only lead in one direction, and it is not an option for the Christian.
The followers of Jesus Messiah are required to use their talents and possessions in a way, which benefits others as well as themselves. This will lead them on the path to heaven, which is their destiny. You cannot tread both paths — they lead in opposite directions and will tear you apart.
It is therefore impossible to serve both God and Accumulating Wealth, so don’t even try!
Let us bless God:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing
in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the
foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish
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Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!
Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
The Shrewd Manager
Ordinary 25 Year C St. Luke 16: 1 — 13
1. We often hear people ask why our Lord praised the criminal. But it was, as
2. St. Luke may or may not have been Jewish: there is much speculation.
3. As we share the insights of our Faith even casually with others — and this
Let us pray for one another to make sure we take this message from our
Luke 14: 7 — 14
Ordinary 25 Year C
1 1 Then he also said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward
2 He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you?
3 The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master
4 I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the
5 He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said,
6 2 He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him,
7 Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’
8 4 And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting
9 I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth 6,
10 7 The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also
11 If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who
12 If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will
13 No servant can serve two masters 8. He will either hate one and
6  Dishonest wealth: literally, “mammon of iniquity.” Mammon is the Greek transliteration of a Hebrew or Aramaic word that is usually explained as meaning “that in which one trusts.” The characterization of this wealth as dishonest expresses a tendency of wealth to lead one to dishonesty. Eternal dwellings: or, “eternal tents,” i.e., heaven. his opposed to the teachings.
7 [10-12] The second conclusion recommends constant fidelity to those in positions of responsibility.
8  The third conclusion is a general statement about the incompatibility of serving God and being a slave to riches. To be dependent upon wealth is opposed to the teachings of Jesus who counseled complete dependence on the Father as one of the characteristics of the Christian disciple (⇒ Luke 12:22-39). God and mammon: see the note on ⇒ Luke 16:9. Mammon is used here as if it were itself a god.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised
The Shrewd Manager — Preparatory Notes
St. Luke 16: 1 — 13
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
1. Three quotes to guide our study:
a) “This parable has always presented difficulties for the interpreter, and
b) “For we must remember that every parable contains details which are
c) “In this parable there are several subordinate details which should not
(Note: in an allegory each item has a symbolic significance. Despite the
2. It can be helpful to note the structure of the passage:
Part 1: Verses 1 — 8 (a) The Parable
Part 2: Verses 8 (b) and 9 Summing up and Exhortation of Jesus
Part 3: Verses 10 — 13 Collection of teachings of Jesus.
3. Some Introductory Ideas:
Remember St. Luke did not personally witness our Lord teaching. He