What is the parable of the dishonest manager?
The parable of the Dishonest Manager was spoken by Jesus Christ and is recorded in Luke 16:1-9. The unjust steward is, beyond question, the hardest of all our Lord's parables, if we may argue from the number and variety of meanings set upon it. Verses 10-13 are no part of the narration but a discourse to which it gives rise. The connecting link between them is the difficult expression "mammon [more correctly 'Mamon'] of iniquity "and we may suppose with Bengel that Christ was speaking to those of His followers, like Levi, who had been farmers of the taxes, i.e., "publicans".
In the contrast between the "children of this world" and the "children of light" we find a clue to the general lesson. Mark the resemblance to St. John's Gospel in the opposition thus brought out. There are two generations or kinds of men-the worldling and the Christian; but of these one behaves with a perfect understanding of the order to which he belongs; the other often acts foolishly, does not put his talent to interest.
How shall he proceed in the least Christian of all occupations, which is the handling of money? He must get good out of its evil, turn it to account for everlasting life, and this by almsgiving, "yet that which remaineth, give alms; and behold, all things are clean unto you" (Luke 11:41). The strong conclusion follows, which lies implicit in all this, "You cannot serve God and mammon" (Luke 16:13).
1 And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.
2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
4 I am 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 lord's debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?
6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
8 And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
9 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
A lack of wisdom has been shown by commentators who were perplexed that our Lord should derive a moral from conduct, evidently supposed unjust, on the steward's part; we answer, a just man's dealings would not have afforded the contrast which points the lesson--that Christians should make use of opportunities, but innocently, as well as the man of business who lets slip no chance.
Some critics have gone farther and connect the hidden meaning with Shakespeare's "soul of good in things evil", but we may leave that aside. Catholic preachers dwell on the special duty of helping the poor, considered as in some sense keepers of the gates of Heaven, "everlasting tents". St. Paul's "faithful dispenser" (I Corinthians 4:2) may be quoted here. The "measures" written down are enormous, beyond a private estate, which favours the notion of "publicani". The Revised Version transforms "bill" happily into "bond".
It may be doubted which is "the lord" that commended the unjust steward. Whether we apply it to Christ or the rich man we shall obtain a satisfactory sense. "In their generation" should be "for their generation", as the Greek text proves. St. Ambrose, with an eye to the dreadful scandals of history, sees in the steward a wicked ruler in the Church. Tertullian (De Fuga) and, long afterwards, Salmeron apply all to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles, who were indeed debtors to the law, but who should have been treated indulgently and not repelled. Lastly, there seems no ground for the widespread belief that "mammon" was the Phoenician Plutus, or god of riches; the word signifies "money."
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).