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Raphael
05-19-2014, 10:26 PM
There is a parable in the Bible that confuses me somewhat.

The ESV titles it: "The Parable of the Dishonest Manager". Other translations (NKJV, NIV and NLT) title it "Parable of the Shrewd Manager"

1He 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. 2 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.’ 3 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. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures[a] of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 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.’ [B]8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world[c] are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth,[d] so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

10 “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. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? 13 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.”

Verses 8 and 9 are what confuse me somewhat.....

DesertBerean
05-19-2014, 10:50 PM
Oh good...my favorite confusing parable... :popcorn:

Paprika
05-19-2014, 11:16 PM
One must consider the parable within the context. Luke's whole episode of Jesus telling various things to the Pharisees and his disciples extends from Luke 15 to Luke 17. The context begins as follows:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”


So Jesus tells four parables in succession to explain and justify what he is doing, wherein the earlier stories help to explicate the later stories. What complicates matters is at the fourth parable Jesus is shifting from an explanation of what he is doing to an aggressive denunciation of the Pharisees' love of riches.

In Luke's recounting of this episode (15:1 to 17:10), we have
1) Tax collectors and sinners coming to hear Jesus.
2) Jesus receiving them and eating with them (implied)
3) Pharisees and scribes criticising 2)
4) Jesus telling three parables to the Pharisees
5) Jesus telling a fourth parable to his disciples
6) More criticism from the Pharisees
7) Jesus countering, ending with yet another parable
8) Jesus teaching his disciples
9) Disciples respond
10) Jesus responds with yet another parable

Now the fourth parable in this rather complicated sequence of events is the one we are trying to understand, but we shouldn't begin there, but with the first two:


So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

In both these parables, Jesus paints a narrative world (shepherd seeking the sheep, woman seeking the coin) in which there is a main actor seeking something that is lost and that is valuable to him or her. When the recovery is done, there is (naturally) a celebration.

At the end of the story, Jesus moves out of that narrative world and reveals the main actor as God, and the lost valuable sheep/coin as the sinners. Now what does this mean?

In the context of Jesus receiving sinners and eating with them, Jesus is saying that God is acting through him to save the lost, the tax collectors and sinners. And because there is rejoicing, it will naturally be expressed through eating with them, that is, joyful fellowship with them. As before, this is both a defense of and justification of his actions.

But Jesus doesn't stop there...

Paprika
05-20-2014, 12:13 AM
In the next parable, Jesus expands upon the earlier two parables. This is the parable of the prodigal father. Yes, father, and not son, for reasons that will become clear.

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’
Let us look at the narrative world: unlike the first two parables, that which was lost is a human being, who rebels against the father. In a far off land, he "comes to himself" and returns to the father. The father, however, receives him lavishly with great joy, restoring him as a son, and slaughtering the fattened calf - reserved only for great occasions. Like the other two parables, this is the celebration, something lavish, and communal.

At this point, however, a new element is introduced: the elder brother who is angry at the celebration, and refuses to go back in. The father entreats him to enter but he refuses. The father pleads yet again and the story ends there, without a proper conclusion: does the elder brother obey or not?

Now, unlike the first two or the fourth parable, Jesus doesn't offer any commentary on this parable. But we can easily reconstruct the main aspects: again, the saving actor is God, who goes to save the lost. With respect to this story, the son who goes off into a far-off land and repents and is received lavishly by the father, is clearly the story of Israel who went into exile and repents and of God who restores the repenting Israel (cf Ex 4:22, Hosea 11, Deut 30, Eze 36, Dan 9's 70*7 years instead of 70 years).

There are three new elements to the story:

a) The shameful behavior of the father
b) The resistance of the elder brother

i) His refusal to forgive the younger brother
ii) His refusal to join the celebration

a) As is often commented upon, to run in that social context would be undignified. To to ask for your inheritance is tantamount to wishing that the father is dead. No one would expect the father to do receive the son back, and in that lavish manner, restoring him as a son. But in the story, he does. This means that God is doing something scandalous in His quest to save the lost, something "not done", something that doesn't fit within the normal social logic. Jesus is explaining his own actions, his own shameful association with the sinners, as part of God's plan of grace and mercy.

b) The elder son in the story had been obedient to the father, but in refusing to join in the celebration he himself is disobedient. This is a pointed critique against the Pharisees and scribes who criticise Jesus' association with the 'sinners'. Despite being people who are supposed to be exprts in the law, they are criticising God's plan of love and mercy. Unlike God, they are not forgiving and merciful, and if they persist they will be left out of the celebration, left out of the reconciliation. But as the open ending of the story indicates, God still extends mercy to them. There is still opportunity for them to join in.

Now if God is acting through Jesus to restore the Jews from exile, the Jews which oppose him are excluding themselves. They are revealing themselves not to be true Jews and are opposing God. This functions as a critique, and therefore as a warning, because there will be judgment for opposing God's plan and refusing to join in.

With all this, we can now approach the fourth parable: if God is doing this new and startling thing through Jesus, and if the true people of God are not supposed to reject it and oppose it like the Pharisees and the scribes, then what are they supposed to do? Now, the reader may ask: who are the true people of God, the true Israel? Jesus, in Luke's narrative, had chosen twelve from his disciples and called them apostles (Luke 6). Symbolically, he is reconstituting the new Israel, with the twelve apostles corresponding to the twelve tribes. Hence, it should not be surprising Jesus tells the next parable to his disciples to answer the question: if God is doing this new, startling thing, what should God's people do?

Epoetker
05-20-2014, 01:21 AM
Confusing? Not so much.


“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 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.’....The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world[c] are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.

Not at all confusing if you consider that his very actions proved a test of his capabilities as a manager and administrator, and gave the lie to the charge that he wasted his master's possessions. For he gained friends and reputation for both his master and himself in his actions. As for "the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light," it's pretty much self-demonstrating by the Christians who claim confusion on this parable. This is one that the worldly tend to get much faster than the normally churched.

mikewhitney
05-20-2014, 07:08 PM
There is a parable in the Bible that confuses me somewhat.

The ESV titles it: "The Parable of the Dishonest Manager". Other translations (NKJV, NIV and NLT) title it "Parable of the Shrewd Manager"

1He 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. 2 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.’ 3 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. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures[a] of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 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.’ [B]8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world[c] are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth,[d] so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

10 “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. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? 13 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.”

Verses 8 and 9 are what confuse me somewhat.....

First there seem to be some underlying concepts:

1. Those who had gotten wealthy had done so by being crafty and deceptive. Material wealth was primarily gained through unscrupulous measures. Maybe on a lighter tone we could say that these wealthy people were insensitive to the world around them.
2. The wealthy folk (e.g. this master) didn't like being cheated. Yet on the other hand he liked having someone clever on his side
3. Wealth, especially involving selfishness and hoarding, was not good for the soul -- The root of all sorts of evil.
4. There were some difficult times coming upon the followers of Christ. -- the benefit of many riches would fail i.e. in times of great turmoil

Then there are some points being made in this parable

1. Material wealth was not as beneficial as the focus upon living a 'Christian' life. This may make sense especially in light of a life of faith toward God in providing one's needs.
2. Other people (with emphasis on 'enemies' and even just non-Messianic followers, as friends) would be delighted to receive extra money
3. The Messianic followers would tend to be -- let's say -- honest and trusting and naive.

The point then was that the Messianic followers were to prepare for the bad times by using their property and money to gain 'friends' among the non-believers. So if you had to escape a search for the Messianic followers (like was done by Saul and other zealous pre-Messianic Jews), you had some people that would like to help you in return.

Jesus may also have been teaching that people would be attracted to the Messianic movement initially by this lure of money. And some of these people then would be fellow believers who would be there in the eternal dwellings. Of course I mention this, in part, to explain the inclusion of 'eternal dwellings' -- but alternative explanations of this last phrase are still possible. For example, the idea might be that these people who enjoy your gifts might just keep you alive through the time of distress.

Note that the role of the rich man likely met the needs of the parable merely by showing that the rich man appreciated the shrewdness of the manager. The role also may be to point to the idea that the people who could help the most would be those enticed by riches.

Maybe we could also say that God appreciates the sons of light to be shrewd (but in an honest way). However, Jesus's words do not even speak of God in any way related to this rich man. Instead the parable speaks to the dealings of the Messianic followers in connection with neighbors (or rich neighbors).

I think the cleverness (or sharp mind) is reflected in Joseph who, after being imprisoned until the time of pharaoh's dream, made sure to clean himself up sufficiently for an appearance before the pharaoh. Of course, Joseph previously (and subsequently) had shown himself astute.

A twisting of the Noah account could provide a similar idea to the parable in Luke. Now if Noah had a bunch of money lying around and his neighbor had an ark sitting in his yard. Noah then could have paid double or triple the price of that ark to his neighbor. The neighbor might of then figured on getting another bigger ark with nicer features. Well, this neighbor would have seen the futility of this trade once the rain started coming down. This would be an indicator of Noah's cleverness and of the failing of wealth upon the start of the flood.

Paprika
05-23-2014, 08:59 AM
I find that it is not possible to plunge straight into the fourth parable. Rather, we must approach it, and Jesus' teachings of money from an earlier, similar parable, and earlier teachings:

In Luke 12, there are 5 salient portions:

a) Someone from the crowd asking Jesus to divide the inheritance, and Jesus' reply, including the parable of the rich man (13-21) Key extracts are "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" and "Fool…is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."
b) Jesus teaching his disciples (22-32) not to be anxious, to look at how God provides for nature; do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried…seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
c) Specific instructions to the disciples (33-34)
d) A parable about being ready for the Son of Man's return (35-40)
e) Peter asks who this parable is directed to, and Jesus replies with the parable quoted below (41-48)

In this discourse Jesus relativises the worth of earthly wealth. He tells his disciples (part c) "Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." It seems rather likely to me that to "seek his kingdom" is to give to the poor; a key aspect of the teaching is to the transience of earthly wealth and our ability to enjoy it (part a).


And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master's will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

Now, in this parable of the wise and unwise manager, what is commended is doing the will of the master by giving the other servants their food in the proper time. Not doing the will of the master (ie beating the fellow servants and eating and drinking and get drunk on the food and drink that is supposed to be given to the other servants) will result in a punishment of a beating. But for the "faithful" and "wise" manager, he will be rewarded by being set over "all" the master's possessions.

It is clear from the context that doing the will of the master (the Son of Man) is to sell one's possessions, and give to the needy. Wealth here is something that is entrusted to those who have it by God, with the concrete goal of being given to the poor. Not to do this, and instead mistreating them and using what should be theirs will result in punishment. For those who are given more, more will be required.

We can note some immediate similarities: as in Luke 16, earthly wealth "fails". What is important is faithfully handling what has been entrusted to one, so that one may be entrusted with "true" wealth. Now Jesus in Luke 16 doesn't specifically denote what being faithful with wealth is. However, as we have seen, Jesus has done so in Luke 12: it is to give to the poor. My subsequent exegesis will be greatly dependent on the earlier teaching forming the context for the later parable.