The strangest parable Jesus ever told was about a man who cheats on his boss and is then praised for doing so (see Luke 16:1–8). The parable of the shrewd manager (or the unjust steward) is puzzling. What is Jesus trying to tell us? That it’s okay to cook the books, diddle the figures, and engage in white-collar crime? No, Jesus isn’t encouraging dishonesty. He’s telling us how to plan for the future:
And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home. (Luke 16:9, NKJV)
The punchline of the parable is “make friends”—real friends you can enjoy into eternity. “When you fail” is a reference to kicking the bucket. We have an opportunity in this lifetime to make friends who will receive us in the next. How do we do that? By investing ourselves into people, showing love, and giving grace.
The problem is we’re often too busy for others. Our lives are so filled with errands, exams, bills, deadlines, and meetings that we have no time for people. Relationships have been reduced to text messages and “likes” on Facebook. In these busy days, we need to hear the words of Jesus more than ever. “Be shrewd like the manager and use the resources of this world to get a return that lasts into the next.”
Cancelling all debts
In the story, the shrewd manager goes around writing down the debts of others. That’s what we do when we tell people the good news. We’re announcing the year of Jubilee and the cancellation of all debts. “God holds nothing against you. He is for you and wants you to be free from guilt and shame.” We have the happy job of providing freedom to a debt-conscious world.
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much … (Luke 16:10a)
The “very little” is the unrighteous mammon; the friends we make are the “much.” The wealth of this age doesn’t last. Moth, rust, and thieves diminish it. But friends in Christ last forever. Friends are the only thing you can take with you.
We tend to pick friends who look like us, act like us, and think like us. But Jesus made friends with people who were nothing like him and then empowered them to become like him. He showed grace to a crooked little thief called Zacchaeus, and the man turned into a giver. He shone a light on a dark soul called Saul, and the man became a firebrand. Jesus lived and died for his friends. He even made friends out of his enemies.
Making eternal friends
Making friends is not always easy, but Jesus shows how to do it. He made time for people. He went to their parties and weddings, and generally got involved in their lives. Jesus said one good way to make friends is to have a feast:
When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Luke 14:13–14)
In this world, people throw parties to socialize and network. They invite others in the hope of getting something in return. But Jesus said we can also throw parties to make eternal friends by inviting those who cannot pay us back.
How are we repaid at the resurrection of the righteous? Through friends. Do you see? Needy folk aren’t going to be needy forever. One day they will shine with glory and they will thank you for sharing your life with them.
You don’t need a pulpit to proclaim the gospel of grace. You just need a table, preferably with food on it, and a little wine, or juice if you prefer. Think how often Jesus ate with people. He probably sat down and ate more often than he stood and preached. That’s how Jesus made friends.
Extracted from chapter 20, “What are eternal rewards?” in The Gospel in Twenty Questions.