Lesson: Parable of the Unjust Servant / Clever Manager

Scripture: Luke 16:1-12

Handout portion

    One day Jesus gave a parable to his disciples, "There was a certain rich man who had a servant, and this servant was reported to him as wasting his possessions.  So the master called the servant and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you?  Give an account of what's going on, for you will no longer manage my possessions tomorrow.'
    "The servant said to himself, 'What shall I do, now I'm out of a job?  I am not strong enough to grow crops, and I'm too ashamed to beg for money.  I know what I'll do, so that when I'm fired, other people will take me into their homes.'
    "The servant called in all those who owe his master stuff.  He said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'
    "'80 gallons of olive oil,' he said.  The servant told him, 'Take your bill, and write 50.'
    "Then he said to another, 'How much do you owe?'  The person said, '100 bushels of wheat.'  The servant said, 'Take your bill and write down 80.'
    "When the master heard about this, he praised this unrighteous servant because he had acted wisely; for the sons of this world are smarter to their own kind than the sons of light.  And I say to you, 'Make friends for yourselves by means of the money of unrighteousness; that when money is no longer useful, those friends may receive you into the eternal dwellings.'
    "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.
    "If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous money, who will entrust the true riches to you?  And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?"

Multiple Choice Exam

1. Is the servant doing the right thing?
[  ] No, he stole his master's money by reducing what others owe his master.
[  ] Yes, he is helping other people by reducing their debts.
[  ] Yes, he is protecting himself.
[  ] No, even though what he did was good for himself and for others that owed his master money, it was a dishonest act.

2. What is the "right" thing?
[  ] Whatever is honest.
[  ] As a servant, he needs to do what his master wants and in his master's best interest.
[  ] As a person, he needs to take care of himself first.  Everything else is secondary.
[  ] There's no "right" thing--it all depends on the situation.

3. He basically used his master's money to buy favors.  Why wasn't the master upset?
[  ] His master has so much money that he probably didn't care.
[  ] His master didn't say the servant did the right thing, but only that he was smart.
[  ] His master is crazy.
[  ] His master is a really nice guy.

4. Did Jesus approve what the servant did?
[  ] He sounded like it, but I can't be sure.
[  ] No way, how can Jesus approve stealing money?
[  ] He didn't.  Jesus said that a person should be faithful, and the servant clearly wasn't faithful.
[  ] Yes, Jesus said make friends with money, etc.

Notes to teachers

By the time the students finish the questions, they should be pretty confused.  This is definitely not an easy passage for most people.  They should easily tell that the servant was dishonest, but they cannot explain why the master praised the servant and the seemingly contradictory statements by Jesus.  They key to understanding Jesus's statements is the very last two sentences.  Here are some observations:

1. Money is considered unrighteous.  This is really odd because most often it is man and actions of man that are called unrighteous.  Rarely are physical objects given a moral evaluation.
2. Note that the master praised the servant's wisdom only, and said nothing about his honesty.  Altering the IOUs without the master's approval is not an honest act no matter what the intention of the master may be.  Also the servant did it for his own benefit, not the masters.  This is therefore also a self-serving act.
3. "Faithfulness" was not focused on money but rather the use of it.  Usually we talk about people being faithful "with" the money entrusted to them (e.g., an investment advisor).  But here the statement was focusing on the "use" of money rather than the money itself.  When we refer to someone being faithful "with" money, we generally talk about someone keeping money safe and making some good uses with it to make more money.  But what does it mean to be faithful with the "use" of money?  What if the master has some intention for the money other than keeping and growing it?  Would the "use" of money in that sense refer to the unusual intention for the money?
4. What does the master really want, then, is the key to resolving the seemingly strange behavior of the master and the contradictory statements by Jesus.  The key is found in the statement, "Make friends for yourselves by means of the money of unrighteousness; that when money is no longer useful, those friends may receive you into the eternal dwellings."  The master (who's really Jesus) is not thinking of the money, or else he wouldn't call it unrighteous.  Rather he is thinking of the "use" of money and the desired use for this unrighteous thing is to gain something eternal--friendship (of saved souls) and eternal rewards.  He seems to be more concerned about the welfare of the servant than his own money!  Perhaps the master also wanted to do something good for the debtors, but that's hard to tell since the focus was on the servant himself.
5. Interestingly, if the servant wasn't "using" his master's money correctly, he would have been "wasting" his master's money.  Waste can be considered as "not using properly."  It doesn't have to mean "make disappear."

So what does the master (Jesus) want?  He let us manage HIS money which he doesn't really care for--he calls it "unrighteous"--and he wants us to use it to do two things: make friends (i.e. save souls) and get eternal rewards.  It's like using someone else's money to get rich.  We shall be judged by how we manage his money.  Too bad many Christians see their talents and wealth as their own and keep them away from being used for the purpose of God's Kingdom.

On a side note: I marketed this lesson as one of the two lessons that will tell them most of the meaning of the Christian life.  The other is the Modern-Day Salvation Story -- A Tale of Two Friends which illustrates the concept of salvation.

This lesson was developed by George Huang.  Got a question or want to publish this lesson?  E-mail me.

Last updated: 11/25/2001