Trickster for the Kingdom?


Luke 16:1 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position 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 dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

Strange. We have a steward who is about to get canned for incompetence or even outright thievery. He may not be a great steward, but he’s not stupid either so he makes the best of a bad situation. He cuts the bills of the people who owe his master and, though it doesn’t say so explicitly, he makes the master look good by appearing benevolent to the debtors. Why? It would have been assumed that the master was aware of the reduction in settlements offered by the steward. So with some quick thinking the steward does the debtors a solid, he makes his master look good, and he makes friends of the debtors who can help him when he’s unemployed. Not bad.

Yeah, but it’s slimy right? Why would Jesus commend this?

Here’s what the New Interpreter’s Bible says, “Stories of clever tricksters and wise rogues were popular in Jewish folklore. Jacob was the trickster patriarch who deceived his father, cheated his brother, and then made off with most of his father-in-law’s flock.” Abraham does some shady stuff as well (passing his wife off as his sister to save his skin in Egypt) – and he’s the chief patriarch of Israel!

I suppose there may be times when we Christians have to make some questionable moves for the sake of God’s kingdom. It’s as if Jesus is saying there are times when the ends justifies the means. I may be wrong about that. What do you think? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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