In Jesus’ day cash was less important than actual goods. This is a difficult concept for us who live in a culture so focused on money, and in which we can get pretty much whatever we need as long as we have the money. Back then, having cash didn’t necessarily mean being able to get what you needed. If you had enough money to buy grain, but didn’t know how to make bread, and there was no bread available, you’d starve with a pocket full of money. Likewise, if you were known as a cheat and a thief, it didn’t matter if you had a bucket full of gold, because nobody would sell you a house or rent you a room. This is why the manager, who probably had some money stashed away, was worried about his future after he got busted by the boss.
This parable doesn’t applaud embezzling and then falsifying legal documents. Instead, it teaches Christ-followers to be resourceful, to be realistic, and to have foresight.
Being resourceful means being able to see more than one solution to a problem, and being able to choose the best one. Resourcefulness includes the ability to work both smart and hard, perseverance in pursuit of a goal, and learning from one’s mistakes. Non-resourceful people either can’t see any solutions or can see only one; and when that one solution isn’t attainable, they’re out of options.
Being realistic means knowing what is likely to happen and what isn’t. Being realistic doesn’t discount dreaming big, but considers practical ways to reach those dreams. A realistic person’s retirement plan isn’t winning the lottery, but hard work, aggressive saving, wise investing, and good networking.
Foresight is something that separates humans from animals. Animals don’t plan ahead. We humans map out projects and make plans that take decades or even a lifetime to complete. More pertinent to this lesson, though, planning ahead separates those acting like made-in-the-image-of-God persons working toward eternally significant things from those acting like animals by pursuing only immediate, superficial, worldly desires.
1. Can you remember how you reacted upon first hearing or reading this parable? Were you confused? Surprised? Did you eventually come to an understanding of its meaning that’s different than one presented here? If so, was that meaning based on an allegorical interpretation of the parable?
2. Considering everything you know about what Jesus said and did, can you more easily see him teaching his followers to steal, or to be resourceful, to be realistic, and to have foresight? Why do you think Jesus would tell a parable that could so easily be misunderstood?
3. How resourceful are you? How realistic are you? How well do you use foresight? Can you give the same answers to these questions when speaking of pursuing both spiritual goals (deepening your faith, teaching this class) and worldly goals (career, buying a car)?