Jesus, the Master Teacher, often used the shock value of an unexpected twist in a story in order to teach a lesson. Such is the case in the parable of verses 1-13, when Jesus used a bad man to make a good point.
The “dishonest manager” (a.k.a. the “unjust steward”) starts out in the story as an irresponsible and inept manager and ends up as an embezzler — he went from bad to worse. When his rich boss discovered that he was “wasting his possessions” (v.1), he said, like Donald Trump, “You’re fired.” But first the man was to make a report of all the accounts he managed.
Knowing he was ruined, the soon-to-be-sacked manager had an idea for how he could make the best of his bad situation. He would take advantage of the cultural rule of “reciprocity” — do a favor for someone and they will be obligated to return the favor. He called in each of his boss’s debtors, discounted the amount they owed, and made some business “friends” in the process.
The shocker in verse 8 is that the man’s boss “commended” him for what he had done. He actually complemented the guy for being so creatively good at being bad! “You are a shrewd, devious man — impressively devious!”
How did Jesus use such a bad example to teach us something good? Here is the lesson, as I understand it: if the selfish manager (a “son of the world,” v.8) in the story used his creativity and influence to save his own skin, then how much more should followers of Jesus (“sons of the light”) creatively use our resources and influence in order to save others for eternity?
We should plan and strategize as cleverly as possible to get the gospel to our neighbors and to the nations. We should be urgent about it, knowing (like the manager) that a day of reckoning is coming, after which it will be too late to evangelize. (Do I pursue the Great Commission like I’m facing a deadline, or am I casual and nonchalant about it?) We should invest our money wisely, but generously, in ministries and strategies that win people to Jesus. And we should remember that just as in Jesus’ story, the Master is watching to see if we will be good stewards of our time, talents, and tithes.
We must do all we can, while we can, by any means we can to influence where people make their “eternal dwelling” (v.9).
The reality of where lost people dwell in eternity is graphically depicted in verses 19-31. In this story (which I believe to be actual, not a parable), the rich man and the beggar do not end up where Jesus’ original audience thought they would. Lazarus went to “Abraham’s bosom,” a name for heaven, while the rich man went to hell.
The horror of that place of torment and fire should shock us into action — we don’t want anyone to go to that awful place. And they don’t have to! The gospel is eternally true (v.16-17), and it works! By sharing the gospel, we can influence where people spend eternity! So while there is time, let us share it with creativity and urgency.