The Story of the Shrewd Steward

The Story of the Shrewd Steward

The Story of the Shrewd Steward.

“A person should consider us in this way: as servants of Christ and as stewards of the mysteries of God. Think of us as Messiah’s official underlings and as those who are entrusted with the mysteries of God.” (1 Corinthians 4:1).

SERVANTS: (Greek, “hyperetas”); literally the under-rower, the lowly person pulling the oars on the lower deck of the ship; the underlings; the subordinates who have special orders. A servant of Christ is one who is content to decrease while Christ increases, who considers it a privilege to serve Jesus in a way that is hidden, humble, and full of trust in God’s purposes.

STEWARDS: (Greek, “oikonomos”); literally the manager of a household responsible to dispense what is needed; the custodian in a home given the responsibility to carefully distribute the necessities when needed; managers; caretakers; trustees, or those entrusted with important responsibilities from the owner of the house. In this context, to responsibly take care of the revelations of God and disperse the knowledge of God’s mysteries in a way that would honor the owner’s wishes; to carefully explain the revealed secrets of God’s in a responsible way; to guard the sanctity of what God has decided to reveal. A competent and faithful steward would be one who “holds the mystery of the Faith with a pure conscience.” (1 Timothy 3:9), since we are also called to be “stewards of God’s grace.” (Ephesians 3:2).  So if God has anything to do with it, these stewards of God’s mysteries must “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15).

 “Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose steward (“oikonomous,” manager) was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“‘Nine hundred gallons[a] of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels[b] of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:1-9).

THE CONTEXT. a. The disciples were the primary audience, as it states in verse 1. But there were also a number of Pharisees mixed into the crowd, since Jesus had just told a parable with them in mind, the Prodigal Son, and they are mentioned in verse 14.

b. This particular parable is seen by commentators and scholars as one of the most difficult to understand. For Jesus to place a dishonest manager in the hero’s role has puzzled many a person. Would Jesus want to honor dishonesty?

c. The central topic in the context, though, is not necessarily the manager or his owner, it seems to be money. The parable is included in a chapter all about money… stories about money, teachings about money, criticisms regarding money.

THE OWNER. a. The boss of the manager is undoubtedly a wealthy landowner who rents pieces of his property to tenants. For the most part, the rent was not paid with money, but instead from the produce of the land that is rented. Money can be exchanged, but produce from the land being rented is also accepted.

b. He is no doubt an honorable character, wise in the running of his business, and generous, and merciful. He cared enough about his business to fire a wasteful manager. And when he confronted his manager about what he had heard, he didn’t do what the typical landowner would have done… scolded him, yelled at him, beat him, fined him, or jailed him. He did none of that. He simply said “You’re fired. Turn in your account records.” And that was the end of it. The manager no doubt acknowledged the owner’s mercy and breathed a sigh of relief… it could have been worse.

THE MANAGER (Greek, “oikonomous,” or steward). a. After being accused by the owner, it wasn’t clear in the story if he was actually guilty or not. The fact that he was silent and didn’t defend himself implies his guilt.

b. He finds himself out of a job. What now? He won’t do manual labor, because he’s not physically strong enough. He’s too proud to beg, and it would bring him shame and rejection.

c. So he uses his wits. He cleverly sets up a scheme that will come down to depending on the owner’s generosity and mercy. His owner’s strong character, he decides, is his only hope.

d. He decides to, without the owner’s permission, reduce the debts of the renters, thereby hopefully gaining friends for himself who will take care of housing and personal expenses. He calls the tenants, the renters, in for private conferences, rewrites the contracts, and lo and behold, the tenants suddenly owe less than the original contract! He makes it appear that he persuaded the owner to reduce the rent, and so the manager will come out of this looking good to the tenants.

e. The tenants will no doubt celebrate their good fortune, all because of the kindness and generosity of the owner and manager! Everyone in the community soon know about this and are all celebrating the goodness of the owner. This is all news to the owner.

THE OWNER. a. He sees that he has no choice but accept the manager’s crooked dealings. He can’t go back on what they assumed was his word, and change the new contracts. He realizes that the manager has outfoxed him, painted him into a corner, and he has no choice but to accept the new situation.

b. So the owner applauds the shrewdness of the manager, not for his dishonesty, but for his clever scheme. He felt compelled to give the astute manager credit for coming up with such an ingenious plan.

c. On the other hand, it looks like he didn’t give the manager back his job. The manager may have been clever, but the owner has the last laugh.

JESUS. a. He criticized his followers for not being clever or shrewd in matters pertaining to the Kingdom. He said that the nonbelievers are more clever in their world than the believers are in theirs. Where is your instinct for self-preservation, Jesus is saying. I want you to be clever in the ways of my world, he is saying. Keep your spiritual wits about you.

b. He also said that a wise investment of your money is to invest in people. Make friends with your money, and they will take care of you when the chips are down. Care for the poor, spend your money on the needy, and they will be the first to welcome you into heaven.

c. Eugene Peterson’s insights into this parable is fascinating, as found in the Message: “He (the manager) knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people can be smarter than law-abiding citizens – On constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way, but for what is right, using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”

d. The commentator’s notes in the Revised Standard Version said this: “If dishonest people use all their ingenuity to promote their material welfare, so ought the people of God to use their energies to further their spiritual welfare.”

FINAL THOUGHT. If a crooked businessman can hatch a scheme like this and in the end rely on the generosity of the owner, how much more should a child of the light cleverly depend on God’s mercy for his/her salvation and sanctification? The generous owner ended up accepting the manager’s plan in his crisis, how much more will a righteous God help you when in a crisis?


  1. A common theme in many of Jesus’ parables is the spiritual foolishness of self-righteousness. This particular parable seems to bring up our need to be shrewd in spiritual matters for our own self-preservation, to be street-wise in matters of the Kingdom. How does self-righteousness make us lose our edge, and work against our creative survival in the spiritual realm?
  2. Jesus seems to imply that this dishonest but savvy business manager has qualities that can be translated to our spiritual welfare. Give examples.
  3. If we are to keep our spiritual wits about us, could the Beatitudes (Matt. 5) be what spiritual wits looks like, maybe even the secret to biblical cleverness in the eyes of Jesus? In the Beatitudes, Jesus seems to turn the tables on what many would think shrewdness looks like. For each beatitude below, explain how it is spiritually savvy and street-wise. And then contrast each beatitude with what might be found in a business manual’s steps to worldly success:
  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, the spiritually bankrupt, the lowly and the vulnerable, those who are running on empty;
  • Blessed are those who mourn, who are sorrowful in grief, in repentance, and in brokenness for this world of suffering and death;
  • Blessed are the meek, the gentle, the unassuming, those who have their power under the control of the Master;
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who intensely desire goodness and virtue, who crave for God’s character in themselves and also in the world;
  • Blessed are the merciful, who are always poised to care, to show lovingkindness and compassion, who put their love into action;
  • Blessed are the pure in heart, who are genuinely unspotted by the world, who live unsullied lives, who sincerely and single-mindedly focus on the one thing needful;
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, who reconcile those with conflicts, who create serenity and develop conditions for wholeness;
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, who are treated badly for doing the right thing, who are abused and falsely accused because of their faith and goodness.

Resources: Helmut Thielicke, The Waiting Father; Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; Kenneth Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes; Herbert Lockyer, All the Parables of the Bible; Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus.