Of Jesus' 45 marketplace parables, one stands alone as the most misunderstood and most controversial of all. (Pexels/SplitShire)

Of Jesus' 45 marketplace parables, one stands alone as the most misunderstood and most controversial of all.

Many of my coaching clients and friends actually believe that Jesus praises a businessman's sinful, dishonest behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here is a fresh perspective on the parable of the shrewd manager and five lessons we can all apply in our marketplace.

What Does 'Shrewd' Mean?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines shrewd as "acute in perception and sound in judgement, clever discerning awareness, having or showing an ability to understand things and to make good judgments."

The Greek word for shrewd, phronimos, means "thoughtful or discreet (implying a cautious character), wise, prudent."

So being shrewd in no way suggests a sin or dishonesty. In fact, it suggests quite the opposite.

What the Parable of the Shrewd Manager Really Teaches

He told His disciples: "There was a rich man who had a steward who was accused to the man of wasting his resources.  So he called him and said, 'How is it that I hear this about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you may no longer be steward'" (Luke 16:1-2).

Jesus begins the parable by saying a house manager (employee) is accused of wasting his boss' possessions. The manager is then given a warning about his impending judgment.

Then the steward said to himself, "What shall I do, for my master is taking away the stewardship from me? I cannot dig. I am ashamed to beg. I know what to do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, others may receive me into their houses" (Luke 16:3-4).

The manager knows that what actions he takes now will determine how well he is treated after he leaves his boss' house and employment.

"So he called each of his master's debtors, and said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'

 "He said, 'Eight hundred gallons of oil.'

"He said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write four hundred.'

"Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?'

"He said, 'One thousand bushels of wheat.'

"He said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eight hundred.'

Here is the sticking point in this parable. At first glance, it appears that the manager is cheating his boss. He is not. Rather, he shrewdly reduces the debt to eliminate his commission!

"The master commended the dishonest steward, because he had acted prudently. For the sons of this world are wiser in their own generation than the sons of light. I say to you, make friends for yourself by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when you fall short, they may receive you into eternal dwellings" (Luke 16:8-9).

Jesus commends the manager for his wise and prudent action. (Again, dishonesty was simply an accusation, not a fact.)

Jesus then warns his disciples that non-believers are more shrewd in their business dealings than believers, a hard truth even today.

5 Lessons Learned

  1. Jesus clearly states we are his stewards at work, and we are to wisely and prudently manage all his resources.
  2. Jesus expects a maximize return on his investment (See Matt. 25:14-30)
  3. Jesus challenges us to stop being naive in the world's ways of business.
  4. Jesus commends the manager for heeding his boss' warning and wisely leverages his current resources for his future life.
  5. Jesus ultimately rewards shrewd (wise and prudent) managers.

The bottom line is simple: Jesus expects us to maximize our business shrewdness and minimize our business naiveté.

Dr. Jim Harris is an executive coach, adviser and author of 14 award-winning business books, including Our Unfair Advantage: Unleash the Power of the Holy Spirit in Your Business. Download his free Five-Fold Leadership Survey. Connect with Dr. Jim on Facebook LinkedIn and Twitter.

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