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The economy of Grace

The Parable in Luke 16:1-13 is usually entitled, “The Dishonest Manager”.

This title is actually very unhelpful, because it encourages us to focus on the parable as an example of inappropriate human behaviour, rather than as a story that points us to a particular truth about the nature of God and how God acts.

In this story, the Manager is clearly described as unjust and dishonest, but there is no criticism of the Master.  In fact, he acted in a very even-handed and gracious manner. He could have had the Steward severely punished, or even imprisoned, but he chose only to dismiss him.

There had to be some consequence for the Manager’s action, but the Master acted mercifully.  But the story is not over. As they say on TV, “There’s more!”

The Manager may have been found out and dismissed, but he didn’t stop thinking.  The same mind that had conjured up ways to cheat his Master, now went to work on his own personal predicament!

He remembered the power and prestige he had enjoyed in the community because of his important position.  He understood immediately that once his new status became public knowledge he would be shunned and rejected by those who had previously shown him respect.

He was also acutely aware that he was too old and no longer had the physical strength to get work as a manual labourer, and he was too proud to ask for help.  What was he to do?

Without wasting any time, and before news of his dismissal was passed around the community, he pretended that he was still the Manager, called in the tenants one by one, and gave all of them a substantial reduction in the amount they had to contribute to the Master at the time of the next harvest!

This guy would have made a great political campaign manager!  He understood that a sure way to gain instant popularity was to reduce taxes!

The tenants thought he was acting on the authority of his Master, but he was actually writing his own life insurance policy!

He was confident that the gratitude of the tenants for what they thought was the generosity of the Master would flow over to him and he wouldn’t have to worry about the future.

Now, this man wasn’t stupid! He knew that he would be found out for a second time and taken back to the Master to face the consequences of his actions yet again.  He knew that he was taking a big risk and that this time the wrath of the Master might well descend on him. But he also knew the Master, and he knew that the Master was a merciful and compassionate man.

So, what about the Master?

When he found out that his former Manager had cheated him for a second time, he had a big decision to make.

With just a word he could have cancelled the new arrangements made by the Manager.  It would have been easy enough to do, and it would have been justified, but it would have left the tenants feeling very disappointed and angry!

Or, he could allow the new taxes to stand, and therefore lose a proportion of his income, but enjoy the respect and gratitude of the people.

Not only did he accept the changes, he actually commended the Manager for his shrewdness in acting as he did!  Not because he had acted dishonestly, but because he had understood so well that the Master was a generous, compassionate and merciful man!

And that brings us to the whole point of the parable: the Manager was guilty twice, but he was saved!

He had entrusted himself to the mercy of the Master and that mercy was the source of his salvation and the key to his future life.

So this is a parable that points us to the God revealed in Christ – a God who is generous, compassionate and merciful.

This parable teaches us that true wisdom lies in the recognition that there is salvation in God alone – the salvation won for us in Christ.

We have to come to terms with, and learn to live wisely in relation to the economy, taxes, investments, savings, superannuation and life insurance.

But it’s all pointless if we don’t understand that in the final analysis we are totally dependent on the grace of God.