Luke 16:1-13

An Activity

This game can help us to explore how what we do with what we have affects others. And it has chocolate!

You will need:

  • Three boxes or bags
  • small chocolates
  • a chocolate bar
  • a big box of chocolates for sharing
  • sprouts
  • some contestants

montyhallWe will play this like a TV game show. (It is a version of the ‘Monty Hall’ game show where he has a car and two goats hidden behind doors.)

Set up the game with the chocolate bar in one box and a sprout in each of the other boxes. Make sure you know where the chocolate is!

If you have a keyboard with sound effects this is a great place to use cheering, applause, scream etc.

Welcome your first contestant and explain the game:

Welcome to ‘Choc or No Choc’, the game show where you decide who gets the chocolate! (Applause)

Here is your starting chocolate (give contestant a small choc), you can put it on any box you like. (Contestant puts their choc on one of the boxes)

Now it is decision time! You may choose to eat your small choc right now, or you can swap it for whatever is inside your box.

One of these boxes contains a giant chocolate bar just for you, and a huge box of chocolates for everyone! (Applause and cheering) If you swap for that box, then everyone gets chocolate! (More cheering)

But two of these boxes contain sprouts. (Boo) If you swap for a sprout box then you will lose your chocolate and go home with just a sprout. (Boo)

(For young children you can add in a stage whisper that you have a tame troll who likes sprouts and will swap the sprout for a chocolate if that helps to avoid tears)

So now, what will you do? (Heartbeat)

A: Will you eat your small chocolate right now and never open the box? Or

B: Will you swap your small chocolate for whatever is inside your box?
Remember, it might be lots of chocolate for everyone – or it might be a sprout. Which will it be? 

But wait! Before you decide, let me give you a chance to change your mind.

You have chosen this box. (Point to their box) I am very glad you did not choose this box (Open a box containing a sprout – scream effect).
If you like, you can now swap to the other box.

So which is it to be? (Heartbeat)

A: Will you eat your small choc right now?

B: Will you give up your small choc and open your box? Or

C: Will you give up your small choc, and open the other box?

If the contestant chooses A they go back to their seat with their small choc and you call up another contestant.

If they choose option B or C, open the appropriate box. If they win the big prize, then give out chocolate all around and that is the end of the game.

If they get a sprout, then refill the boxes and have another round with a new contestant (and optionally replace the sprout with a consolation prize).

Keep going until there is chocolate all around.

Mathematical note: Choosing to swap has a 2 out of 3 chance of winning the big prize, so that is the better tactic.

A Reflection

This is a professional guy with a good job. He’s a steward, a manager, an accountant. But he’s been fiddling the books, and his boss has found out. Busted! Of course, that kind of thing never happens today, does it?

He is hauled up before the boss and given his marching orders. ‘Serves him right’, we all say and tut to ourselves as we hear him fiddling the books again – 50% off the oil, 20% off the wheat – and expecting favours in return.

We understand this. It’s a classic moral tale about being honest and not cheating – and then Jesus goes and messes it up by patting the cheat on the back. What? The guy is swindling his master, and Jesus approves and tells us to do the same?

On first reading this is certainly a weird parable. It’s not simple, easy and pretty. But let’s be honest, life isn’t really like that, is it? Life is complicated and awkward and full of people who don’t fit neatly into boxes. So here we have a guy who doesn’t fit neatly into a box.

Is he a cheat? His boss certainly thought so. But as the ‘baddie’ of the story, he ends up being commended! So is Jesus telling us to be cheats? Ummn, No. Let’s look a little more closely, or rather, let’s look more broadly. It’s always a good idea to look at the surrounding bits of Bible, and around this parable we find lots of other teaching about knowing what’s important. Luke didn’t just throw this together any old how. He had a reason for including this story just here.

Just before this parable come three famous stories about lost and found – the sheep, the coin and the son – and straight after this passage is the story of the rich man and Lazarus (not the guy in the grave, a different one). All of these stories are about lost people and found people, but they’re talking to different groups – those who are lost but think they’re found, and others who know they’re lost and want to be found.

Right at the beginning of this section, at the start of chapter 15, we can see these two groups. Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering round to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.’ Jesus started with three parables that made it very clear which group were more likely to bring a smile to God’s face, and then told a story about each group. The ‘tax collectors and sinners’ would have recognised themselves clearly in our passage.

So what was Jesus saying about these people? These complicated, non-box-fitting, real, ordinary people. Perfect people? By no means. Like you and me? You betcha.

Regarding the manager’s swindling, I’m not going to say it was OK. It wasn’t. He was dishonest or incompetent and he got the sack for it. End of story. It’s the bit afterwards that causes problems.

The commentaries vary, but what seems to me the best fit for the point that Jesus was making about lost and found is this: In that culture the manager would be entitled to commission on the accounts he managed, like a sales rep today might earn commission on a car they sold. Given that the boss commended the manager’s actions, it seems unlikely that the discounts were from the boss’s account. I think it more likely it was the manager’s own markup that he was giving away, his commission.

This same sacrificial giving comes again later in Luke when we meet Zacchaeus, another dishonest man who gives up dishonestly-gained money to secure treasure in heaven. This is the point of this story, and the whole chapter – to live now with an eye to the future.

So if we read Jesus’ overall message, we can see this story not as applauding shady financial wheeler-dealing, but as commending a guy who realised that the way he’d been living was wrong and changed his value system. It’s picture of life for us. The manager gave up his hefty commission (focussing only on what we can get in the here and now) to gain favour later on (a warm welcome in heaven).

Our Response

We can only run in one direction at a time. If a cheetah tries to run after two gazelles, it will catch neither. Which way are you running?

A Prayer

Generous Master

thank you for all you have entrusted me with:

with time and with money
with possessions and with skills
with people and with the earth
teach me to be an honest steward with all you have given me
and to live this life with an eye on the next.

Amen

Bible Text

Luke 16:1-13 New International Version – UK

The parable of the shrewd manager

Jesus told his disciples: ‘There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, “What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.”

‘The manager said to himself, “What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg – I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.”

‘So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?”

‘“Three thousand litres of olive oil,” he replied.

‘The manager told him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifteen hundred.”

‘Then he asked the second, “And how much do you owe?”

‘“Thirty tons of wheat,” he replied.

‘He told him, “Take your bill and make it twenty-four.”

‘The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

‘Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.’

New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Bibliography

The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Luke
The Bible Speaks Today Series – The Message of Luke


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