Like Luke 15, the parables of chapter 16 share a common theme. The uniting theme for these parables is money—or, specifically, the Pharisees’ wrong attitude toward money. According to the chapter’s central verses, the Pharisees “were lovers of money” who “ridiculed him” when he taught these parables. As in chapter 15, he had the Pharisees squarely in mind when he taught these things.
The parable of the dishonest manager may be the most perplexing in all of Scripture. In it, Jesus tells of a wealthy man with a dishonest manager. The manager was tampering with the books, so to speak. When his employer caught wind of it, he demanded a full audit. Realising his inescapable guilt, the manager quickly devised a plan. He called various debtors together, determined what they owed his employer, and, unbeknownst to his employer, wrote off some of the debt. In doing so, he partially relieved the debtors and at the same secured a significant portion of what was owed to his master. It was not an entirely honest move—Jesus himself calls the man “the dishonest manager” (v. 8)—but it shrewd. Though he would likely still lose his employment, he had at least made friends, by writing off debts, who would open their home to him.
The dishonest manager had great worldly wisdom. He carefully thought about his future and, even if dishonestly, made a plan to secure his own welfare. Jesus’ point, however, appears to be that, for all his worldly wisdom, he gave no thought to eternity. Like the Pharisees, he shrewdly employed his wealth in such a way that benefited him on earth, but the detriment of any eternal concern. Jesus cautioned his disciples to instead focus on eternal things. They should live this life in such a way that their focus was “the eternal dwellings” (v. 9).
In the direct context, such eternal focus would be manifest in one’s approach to worldly wealth. The disciples needed to learn that their worldly possessions were given by God, who expected that they would use those gifts wisely, for his glory, with an eternal perspective. The Pharisees’ love of money blinded them to things of eternal value. Jesus cautioned his disciples to be faithful with what God had given them so that they would avoid the idolatry of the Pharisees and instead pursue things of eternal value.
Verses 14–18 show two terrible results of the Pharisees’ love for money.
First, they used their growing wealth as evidence of their favour before God (vv. 14–15). They proclaimed their wealth as evidence that they were justified, but God saw beneath the surface. He despised the worldly wealth in which they boasted. (We will see more of this in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.)
Second, they were apparently willing to contradict God’s law in order to secure greater wealth (vv. 16–18). Verse 16 is confusing, and most commentators seem to avoid commenting on it, but, pairing it with v. 17, Jesus’ point seems to be that, despite the Pharisees’ best efforts, God’s truth could not be voided. The connection of these verses to the larger theme of wealth may be that the Pharisees were willing to twist God’s word to further inflate their wealth. They were willing, for example, to grant a divorce certificate for no real reason so long as the price was right (v. 18). Jesus warned them that God’s truth was not for sale.
The overriding point seems to be that of investments. The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, invested everything they had in this life. Like the dishonest manager, they pursued material comfort in this life but neglected to pursue that which had eternal value. Jesus wanted his disciples to have a different focus. They must not fall into the trap of the religious leaders. They must use the gifts God gave to them in such a way that their focus remained eternal.
As you reflect on the parable of the dishonest manager, ask yourself where your investment lies. Are you fully invested in the things of this life to the exclusion of things eternal, or are you utilising this-worldly gifts in a manner that prioritises the eternal?