I have been reading and pondering Luke 15 for the last few weeks. The story of the 99 sheep in the field and the one lost sheep which the shepherd goes and finds. This is followed by the story of a lady who loses a large valuable coin and after searching for it; she finds it. Again the suspense is built up by the story of two brothers; one who is wayward and takes off and squanders his inheritance, the other son ends up being a bit of a sulker.
Yet the 4th story is one that has really confused me. A business manager is found to be embezzling and is quietly sacked. Before he goes he invites all the customers to come to him and lowers their bill. And in doing this he is commended.
Eugene Peterson; in his book – The Word Made Flesh makes the point that the business manager; managed what could be considered in todays terms a real estate agency. The customers were coming to him and paying him in kind, which was the custom of the day. A olive farmer; paid in olive oil. A wheat farmer; in wheat. A dairy farmer; in milk, and so the story goes.
Great insight from Peterson and it all started to make sense. However; he didn’t go deep enough into the parable and I feel he has missed an important point. The money he was embezzling wasn’t coming out of the masters money. It was the interest / commission he was charging on top of the rent that he was taking.
Think about it. Jesus was talking to not only the religious leaders; but also tax collectors. He was welcoming and eating with all kinds of people; both respectable and not. Those rat bags who were with Jesus were cheering on and thinking…yeup sick it to those self righteous nits. ..then in his style of hitting you where it hurts; while your defences are down – he turns the tables on the tax collectors and rogues.
Elsewhere in the Gospels; Jesus tells the soldiers to be content with their pay; he tells the tax collectors not to take more than they were supposed to. It was common for them to add a little more to the bill; which they would skim off for themselves. Therefore the business manager represented the tax collectors and the rogues.
Four chapters later Luke records Zacchaeus the tax collector saying;
Luk 19:8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”
Luk 19:9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.
The shrewd business manager I believe is being commended because in fact he is actually repenting and the adjusted bills are in reality what is actually owed to the master. The commendation is actually a continuation of the practice of the celebrations which we find in the previous 3 stories.
What do you think?