The Dishonest Manager, Luke 16, & the Law of Mercy

It’s been far too long, thanks for coming out.

Here’s a popcorn, bullet point reflection on Father Ben’s excellent sermon from Luke 16 yesterday. Some of these “reflections” are from the sermon (especially those at the start). Lastly, I haven’t consulted commentaries or done any rigorous, in-depth exegesis, so these could be quite sloppy.

If you haven’t read the parable in awhile, read it first.

  • While the manager is “commended” for his shrewdness (v.8), the hero of the story is the merciful master.
  • The parable immediately preceding this one is that of the infamous prodigal son, and the hero there is clearly the father.
  • I was struck by the similar pattern of argument from Luke 15 to 16 with Paul’s argument in Romans 9. The father of Luke 15 is the hero, but the prodigal son could still be considered as meriting favor because of his repentance. While the manager in Luke 16 is commended for his shrewdness, he is not exemplary in repentance, further intensifying the parable’s grounding on the master’s mercy alone and not in the merit of the son/manager. Paul’s argument is similar: in case you think Isaac was chosen over Ishmael because of Abram/Sarah’s sin, so that it’s clear that only God’s mercy alone is needed… Jacob is favored over Esau in the womb.
  • Matthew 9:13 (Hosea 6:6): “mercy (or covenant love) is greater than sacrifice.” Sacrifice isn’t a bad thing (duh), but it is a transactional good, engaging in reciprocation, this for that. Mercy doesn’t require reciprocation (indeed, God already satisfied that rule in Christ at the cross). Shrewdness, sacrifice, and reciprocation aren’t bad things, but mercy is greater.
  • Similarly, James 2 calls us to not favor rich folks or poor folks, indeed, not to show any partiality. Why? I would submit that James is reflecting on this law of Christ: mercy is greater than sacrifice. Resist the need to reciprocate by showing mercy. Mercy doesn’t show favoritism because it is grounded upon the Divine Transaction already haven taken place. Reciprocation in business savvy (shrewdness) and rewards/satisfaction gained from service (sacrifice) are required and commendable virtues in God’s economy, but mercy rules over all. Weakness is greater than strength, last are first, etc.
  • Why is the dishonest manager commendable? Again, listen to Father Ben’s excellent message for a great exposition/explanation. I’d further say that this parable, while clearly illustrating that God is more merciful than we will ever be, even showing mercy to a sleazy business man, that his mercy does not negate the necessary, social-transactional goods that he designed. Thus, even in the face of dishonesty, blatant self-interest, and hypocrisy, the master commends him for his shrewdness. Here’s an apropos quote from Robert Cialdini:

    “Just as in the case of favors, gifts, or aid, the obligation to reciprocate a concession encourages the creation of socially desirable arrangements by ensuring that anyone seeking to start such an arrangement will not be exploited. After all, if there were no social obligation to reciprocate a concession, who would want to make the first sacrifice? To do so would be to risk giving up something and getting nothing back. However, with the rule in effect, we can feel safe making the first sacrifice to our partner, who is obligated to offer a return sacrifice.”

    Cialdini PhD, Robert B. (2009-05-28). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Collins Business Essentials) (p. 28). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.