The Parable of the Dishonest Manager

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (LUK 16:13)

  1. The Literal Sense
    1. This is an unusual parable because both the main characters in the story are bad in that both of them regard wealth as more important than any moral consideration.
      1. A rich man hears that his business manager has been cheating him. He calls for an accounting of his actions.
      2. The manager knows that an accounting will prove that he has been diverting funds. He expects to be found out, and fired.
        1. He imagines himself digging ditches for a living or begging, but that is too horrible.
        2. It doesn’t occur to him to ask for forgiveness, which does happen in other parables…. He decides instead to buy the favor of his employers business associates.
            1. The man who owes him 100 measures of oil has the bill changed to 50
            2. The man who owes him 100 measures of wheat has the bill changed to 80
              1. And so with the other debtors
      3. The rich man then discovers what he has done and because he is the kind of man who himself would use any means to gain wealth, he recognizes a great idea when he sees it, and commends the manager for his cleverness. You can almost see the two of them, heads together, gleefully plotting their next move to defraud others.
    2. The Lord then uses the parable to teach us about our attitudes towards worldly wealth. He says that the “sons of the world are more shrewd … than the sons of light” (LUK 16:8)
      1. The people who love the material possessions that the world can offer, and the power that great wealth can bring, can become so focused on their gaining great wealth that they become very good at it – far better than those who are focused on spiritual matters, and who regard the things of the world as of secondary importance.
      2. The conclusion of the parable is that no one can serve two masters. There can only be one thing that is most important in your life – by definition! It seems so obvious when stated that way. How can anyone miss the point? Because humans, with our fallen nature, are quite capable of ignoring the obvious if it means they have to do something unpleasant or difficult.
      3. From birth, the loves of self and the world come first, for survival – Love of self, neighbor, Lord
      4. With rebirth, the order is reversed – Lord, neighbor, self.
        1. Although we need to remember that it’s okay for regenerate and regenerating people to have the other loves, it’s the order of their relationship to each other that matters.
  2. Those who love self and the world more than anything else, believe that dignities and wealth are supreme
    1. If he was brought up in a religious sphere, he may call them the blessings of God
    2. While the affliction is mild, he thinks about God and may even seem to worship.
      1. But the hells are constantly seeking to stir up this desire, to strengthen it because it is in opposition to heavenly delights. The hells turn his prayers into prayers for more dignities and wealth, rather than for spiritual growth.
      2. If he attains these, as if often the case because such people are highly motivated, his worship tends more and more to outward things until at length worship falls away, as does thought about God. At length, everything spiritual is denied as it interferes with the pursuit of wealth.
      3. The terrible thing is that while it is the wealth that has led him away from God, if he were to lose the wealth, he wouldn’t return, but instead work harder to regain it.
      4. Wealth and dignities are nothing but stumbling-blocks to spiritual growth if your heart is set on them.
  3. Those who are good do not set their heart on dignities and wealth and so they are not stumbling blocks for them because they set their hearts on uses, and see wealth and power simply as means for performing greater uses for more people.
    1. Are wealth and honor really worth the trouble? You set your heart on acquiring some thing, and you work hard for it. Once you get it are you satisfied? Perhaps for a short time, but soon we are seeking something else.
    2. This is easy to see in children. No matter what we may give them, there is always something else that they want. We may have even spoken harshly to our children in frustration, saying “You’re never satisfied!”
    3. The Writings say,
      1. Moreover, what is greater and lesser dignity, and what is greater and lesser wealth? In itself is it anything but something imaginary? Is one person more blessed and happy than another? In the case of a great man in the state, even a king or an emperor, after a single year, is the dignity regarded as anything more than something common which no longer exalts his heart with joy but may become worthless in his sight? Are men by virtue of their high position any happier than those in a lower position, even the lowest of all, as farm workers and their servants? It is possible that these may even enjoy a greater measure of happiness when things go well with them and they are content with their lot. Who is more restless than one who worries about protecting his wealth? Who is more frequently provoked and more violently enraged than the lover of self who is not honored according to the pride of his heart and when things do not go according to his own plans? (DP 250, emphasis added)
  4. Why are the wicked permitted to have dignities and wealth?
    1. The wicked can perform uses equally with the good
      1. Being wicked does not in itself take away any of your abilities or faculties. In fact, because the wicked see uses as a means of adding to their own wealth or dignity that they perform them with even more zeal than the good.
      2. A good person is spiritually balanced. He recognizes that there are many different kinds of uses, and specifically that church, home, family, and recreation are uses as well as the career or occupation.
      3. A wicked person is obsessed with external goals, sacrificing all else to attain them, and never satisfied with the result. Such people may appear to be outwardly successful, and are admired for that aspect of their lives, but at what cost to their spirits? The Heavenly Doctrines teach,
        1. The impious or wicked can perform uses equally with the pious or the good; and, indeed, with greater zeal, for they have regard to themselves in the uses, and they regard the honors as uses. Therefore, whatever the height to which the love of self mounts up there burns within it the consuming desire of performing uses for the sake of its own glory. (DP 250:3)
      4. It is necessary that the Lord Provide that this happen because the Lord’s kingdom is a kingdom of uses.
      5. There are few who perform uses for the sake of use.
      6. Therefore he allows the worshipers of self to enter high office so that everyone may be moved to perform uses by means of their own loves
  5. The Rich Young Man (MAR 10:17-22) asked the Lord directly what he should do to prepare himself for heaven.
    1. He was one of those about whom the Lord was speaking in this parable, for he was rich, and he loved the power that his richness gave him over others. We can detect a certain arrogance in his questioning the Lord, and we see that he was unhappy with the answer.
    2. But it is the Lord’s answer to him that is important to us here.
      1. Keep the Commandments
      2. Sell what you have – turn away from the love of the things of the world.
      3. Give to the poor – turn away from the love of self
      4. And do all of these things because the Lord asks you to – not for your own selfish needs and desires.
  6. You cannot serve two masters
  7. AE 409d:7 No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will prefer the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (LUK 16:13). This must be understood as referring, not to servants in the world, for such can serve two masters, and yet not hate and despise one of them, but to servants in a spiritual sense, who are such as desire to love the Lord and themselves equally, or heaven and the world equally. Those who are in the heavenly love would rather die or be deprived of honors and wealth in the world than be drawn away by them from the Lord and from heaven; for this they regard as the all, because it is eternal, but the former as relatively nothing, because it comes to an end with life in the world. Amen.

First Lesson: LUK 16:1-13

He also said to His disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. {2} “So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ {3} “Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. {4} ‘I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’ {5} “So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ {6} “And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ {7} “Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ {8} “So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. {9} “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home. {10} “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. {11} “Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? {12} “And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own? {13} “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Amen.

Second Lesson: REV 3:14-22

And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: {15} “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. {16} “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. {17} “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’; and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked; {18} “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. {19} “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. {20} “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. {21} “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. {22} “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’ “ Amen.

Third Lesson: TCR 437

At the present day it is believed that charity is simply doing good, and that then one does not do evil; consequently that the first thing of charity is to do good, and the second not to do evil.

But it is wholly the reverse; the first thing of charity is to put away evil, and the second to do good; for it is a universal law in the spiritual world and from that in the natural world also, that so far as one does not will evil he wills good; thus that so far as he turns away from hell from which all evil ascends, so far he turns towards heaven from which all good descends; consequently also, that so far as any one rejects the devil he is accepted by the Lord. One cannot stand with his head vibrating between the two, and pray to both at once; for of such the Lord says:-

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth. (REV 3:15-16).

Who can skirmish with his troop between two armies, favoring both? Who can be evil disposed towards the neighbor, and at the same time well disposed towards him? Does not evil then lie hidden in the good? Although the evil that so hides itself does not appear in the man’s acts, it manifests itself in many things when they are reflected upon rightly. The Lord says:-

No servant can serve two masters…. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (LUK 16:13). AMEN.

Copyright General Church of the New Jerusalem, 1982 – 2008
Author, Rev. James P. Cooper, M. Div.
Page last modified November 15, 2008

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