A sermon on Luke 16:1-13
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
September 22, 2019
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
The title of this morning’s sermon is borrowed from a 1988 movie that perhaps you have seen. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a cute little comedy starring Steve Martin and Sir Michael Caine as two con men who have a contest to see who can be the first to scam $50,000 from a rich young heiress. Frankly, the movie is not a high point in the careers of either Mr. Martin or Mr. Caine. Both of them can be seen in far better work elsewhere. But it is a fun and pleasant way to spend an hour and a half, and that is fine if that is all that you are expecting. Anyone else ever seen the movie? And it seems to me that the title of the movie also perfectly sums up the characters described in the parable that Jesus tells in Luke 16.
When thinking about the parables of Jesus, in each one, there is often one character in the parable who is honorable and worthy of imitating. Most of the time, that person is the focal point of the teaching that Jesus is trying to get across. Here’s what I mean:
For instance, there’s the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. His never-failing love for his wayward son is not only a picture of the heavenly Father, but it is also an example of what genuine love looks like for all of us to follow as well. In another parable, there’s the man who bravely crosses racial, ethnic, and religious boundaries in order to help the poor victim lying by the side of the road in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. After the parable, Jesus says, “Go…and do likewise.” And then there’s the parable of the shepherd who leaves the ninety nine sheep safely in the sheepfold while he goes out into the wilderness searching for the one lost sheep that has gone astray. Jesus holds up all three of these characters as examples that we should follow…
Not so in today’s parable. None of the characters in today’s parable are worthy of our respect…let alone being worthy of imitation. To tell the truth, they are an unsavory lot. Unjust…conniving…and thieving…Not the kind of people that you would want to hang out with…
The parable starts off with a rich man. The rich man calls his manager in. He tells him that he has heard a rumor that his profits are down and that the manager is to blame. He tells the manger about the accusation and then tells him to clean out his desk. He is through.
Something is odd here right off the bat. Notice that the rich man does nothing to confirm—or to dispel—these accusations against the manager. He does not check around to see if the rumor was really true or not. It apparently does not occur to the rich man that the rumor he heard might be false. Or the fact that he might have lost money for any number of reasons, some of which the manager would have
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had little-to-no control over. If he had lost money due to poor management or outright theft by the manager, for sure. But his losses could also have been due to inventory shrinkage, bad investments, skimming profits by someone else, a down economy…Maybe the manager’s actions had little to do with the financial situation. But it did not seem to matter to the rich man. He held the manager personally accountable. And he fired him.
Ano0ther thing…He does not even give the accused manager a chance to explain himself or to put up any kind of defense. It seems to me that the rich man is really harsh and unfair to the manager. From his actions, it is easy to conclude that the rich man is a hard and demanding employer. Based solely on a rumor that came from who-knows-where, he tells the manager that he is fired…just like that…
In the wake of his firing, we soon learn that the now ex-manager is one scheming guy. I find it interesting that the manager does not attempt to try to offer any defense. He offers no excuses. And if he was indeed guilty of squandering the rich man’s money, he does not show even a tinge of remorse. He just accepts his fate. And if he was not corrupt at first, then he certainly becomes so afterward…
The manager reasons within himself that he doesn’t want to do manual labor. He also thinks that he is too proud to beg on the streets. So he comes up with a plan. Before he turns in his office keys, he calls up some of the rich man’s creditors and plays “Let’s Make a Deal” with them. He arranges to meet with them in order to offer them—shall we say—some “unauthorized discounts.” He does this so that they will be grateful to him and that they will treat him with kindness later on. And who knows—maybe one of them will even offer him a new job as a “thank you.”
[Side bar here—it kind of begs the question, doesn’t it? Why would any of these businessmen hire a guy that they know for sure has already proven himself to be a crook? I know I wouldn’t consider it. In the 1960’s, Bob Dylan sang, “To live outside the law you must be honest.”1 These businessmen know for certain that the ex-manager is not honest and cannot to be trusted…So why would he think that any of them might hire him later on?…]
Lastly there are the creditors. It is obvious that these businessmen have no scruples whatsoever either. The soon-to-be ex-manger invites them in to settle their accounts for significantly less than they owe. They had to have known that what they were doing was wrong. But here’s an interesting thing: notice how NONE of the creditors seem to have any qualms about stealing from the rich man! None of them. They do not even pause to think about it. Apparently they don’t have any problem being thieves and cheats. When they hear the ex-manager’s proposals, they just respond, “Sure!” And so, with pencils in hand, they let the manager cook the books to their benefit. And as long as they can come out ahead, their consciences don’t seem to bother them at all. They are okay with being just as morally bankrupt as the manager is…
1 “Absolutely Sweet Marie” from the classic album Blonde on Blonde.
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And then here’s the crazy way that Jesus concludes the parable. This is certainly the part of the story that made our Lord’s listeners sit up and pay attention. When the rich man discovers what the manager has done, what does he do? He does not threaten legal action against his thieving ex-manager. Nor does he have him arrested. That is what most of us would expect, right?…and I suspect that is probably what Jesus’ listeners expected too.
But no—that’s not what happened. Incredibly, the rich man praised his ex-employee instead! He congratulated the dishonest manager for his resourcefulness and his ingenuity in the face of adversity. And he praised the manager even though it was at his own expense…
[Another side bar here: Did you notice that, while the rich man praised the manager for his cleverness, he did not offer to let him have his old job back? Hmmmmmmm…The rich man may have been hard and unfair in his dealings with the manager…but he was no fool…]
It’s a strange story, isn’t it? And the characters in the story?…They are all dirty rotten scoundrels—there is not a single morally decent individual among them…
This parable in Luke 16 is notorious among New Testament scholars as being some of the most difficult of all of Jesus’ words to interpret. It is a puzzling story…and the point of Jesus telling this parable has twisted commentators into knots for centuries. It seems to be…so…well…“un-Jesusy.” Surely Jesus is NOT teaching the crowd that the dishonest actions displayed by the manager are to be imitated by his disciples. So…what is our Lord’s point? What can we learn from this baffling parable? We are not going to be able to unravel all of this parable’s mysteries this morning. Nor do we have time to discuss all of the different ways that it has been interpreted through the centuries. But in these fleeting moments, let me offer a couple of thoughts…
In verse 8, the rich man commends the dishonest manager “because he had acted shrewdly.” Notice that he did not praise the manager for taking advantage of the opportunity to enrich himself by stealing. No—he commended him for acting shrewdly.
One of the things that I think this parable teaches is the right use of the resources that we have at hand. The fired manager used money—even if it wasn’t his own—not to further feather his own nest in the face of losing his job, but to develop relationships with others. He gave away what he could not keep in order to gain something greater and of much more lasting value.
The older that I live, and the longer that I serve the Lord, the more that I am convinced that the Christian faith is not primarily about doctrine. That is, it is not primarily about those things which we believe. Now please hear me correctly. There are things that we hold fast to as believers in Christ. At First Baptist Church, we “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3) What we believe is important. I am not minimizing the importance of right belief in any way, shape, or form.
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Jesus made this very clear when he said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And in the passage that was read earlier in the service, 1 Timothy 2:5, the Apostle Paul writes, “There is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for many.” Please understand that I am not diminishing the place of correct belief in the life of the church. Nor of its importance in the life of the individual follower of Jesus.
But I have become convinced that, while believing the right things is very important, even more important than that in the life of the Spirit is relationships—namely, our relationship to God and our relationships with others.
This was a theme of our Lord’s teaching that he emphasized again and again during his earthly ministry. When asked what he considered to be the most important thing in the life of faith, Jesus did not say, “You have to obey The Ten Commandments.” Nor did he say that you have to obey the 613 laws contained in the books of the Law. No—that’s not what he said.
Instead, our Lord responded by saying that there were two commandments—“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind…and love your neighbor as yourself. When you have done those things, then you have obeyed all of God’s laws.” And again in John 15, Jesus tells his disciples, “My commandment is this: Love one another as I have loved you.” And to make his point a second time in that same passage, our Lord doubled down on the idea and repeated, “This is my command: Love each other…” More than anything else, the Christian faith is about relationships—our relationship to God, our relationships with those inside the household of faith, and our relationships with those on the outside who do not yet know Jesus as Lord…
It is said that the great 5th Century theologian Augustine wrote that God gives us people to love and things to use: and that trouble arises when we get those two things confused—when we begin to love things and use people.2 How true that is…and the dishonest manager in the parable plainly understood that principle…
Here’s another thing that this parable teaches us…
Once the manger realized that his days were numbered as the rich man’s employee, he did not let any grass grow under his feet. He did not waste time. He swiftly came up with a plan. And then he implemented it ASAP. He called in the rich man’s creditors as quickly as he could to settle the accounts while he was able. He knew that time was of the essence. Consequently he got busy…
Here is a word for us today as well. In the life of the Spirit, the time to act is now. We all know the old expression that goes “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” And that is true. The road to Hell IS paved with good intentions. And as long as our good intentions stay just that—intentions and
2 Quoted in www.davidlose.net/2016/09/pentecost-18-c-wealth-and-relationships (Accessed September 17, 2019)
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not actions—then we will not make much progress in our spiritual life. Following Jesus demands from us the same sense of urgency displayed by the manager in the parable…
Maybe you have desired to make some changes in your life that would bring you closer to God. Maybe it has to do with more consistent study of his Word. Maybe it is finding a more regular time to meet with Jesus daily in prayer. Maybe it has to do with someone in your life that the Lord is leading you to speak a word of faith and encouragement to. Maybe it has to do with some other area of ministry in which God may be leading you.
I would not presume to know what the Lord would have you to do. That is strictly between you and him. But whatever it may be, the time to respond to the prompting of the Spirit is now. The time to get busy doing the Lord’s work is right away. Waiting until you have more time…or until you have more money…or until you have more information…or until it’s more convenient…It may wind up as just another good intention that never was accomplished…another thing that was left undone in your life…
In John 9:4, Jesus tells his disciples, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.” In a dark world where the light of Christ has never been more desperately needed, there is no time to lose. Let me urge you to follow the voice of the Master. Let your good intentions be transformed by the Holy Spirit into deeds of love and service in the name of the Lord Jesus…And my prayer for you is that you may do it sooner rather than later…
To God alone be the glory! Amen.
Hymn #448 “A Charge to Keep I Have”

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