Jesus, in this story, appears to commend someone who acts dishonestly. But in fact he doesn't commend the manager for his dishonesty - he commends him for his shrewdness and wisdom.
1. Here was a person who looked to the future.
He was about to be jobless, homeless and penniless. He would be completely dependent on others. So he uses his master's money to make friends for himself. As St Augustine wrote, 'He perpetrates a fraud to secure his future'.
Jesus says, 'If only the Sons and Daughters of Righteousness were like that - not being dishonest, but thinking ahead, in planning for the future.
Not just for the here and now.
So many people, and Christians are no different, live as if the here and now is all that matters. We get educated, meet someone, settle down, earn some money, have children, buy a home, earn some more money, buy a bigger home, go on holiday, have grandchildren, retire, have a few more holidays, downsize, and then fall off our perch. Is that what life is really all about? And Jesus tells us to be like this manager: to be wise. To plan for the future, for the time when we are thrown off the estate. To plan for our death and what comes after, to plan for the there and then.
2. Here was a person who used worldly wealth to make friends for himself.
And Jesus urges us to do the same! It is a very odd instruction.
But the friends we are to make are the friends who will welcome us into heaven. The idea is similar to Jesus' teaching to us to 'store up treasure in heaven'.
And we do that through deep generosity: the old word was 'almsgiving'. Giving to those in need
And we also do that through giving to the work of mission, to the work of the Christian ministry, of making Jesus known. Because when a person becomes a Christian they become our friend for eternity.
There is something that the earlier bible teachers pick up on in this story.
All that we have, our wealth, belongs to another. We are the dishonest manager. We have cheated God of what we owe him and when, in his judgement, he declares he will turn us out (are there echoes of the story of Adam and Eve here?), we have a choice. To be foolish and to do nothing, or to be wise and to use his resources in order to prepare us for that future time.
It is so sad, indeed it is foolish, when believers have accumulated wealth that is doing nothing. Chrysostom writes (and this is as much a challenge to me), 'What excuse will we have if we heedlessly lock our money behind doors and barricades and leave it lying idle? Instead we should make it available to the needy now, so that in the future we may count on support from them'.
Our wealth could be doing so much for the Kingdom of God, rather than just accumulating in some portfolio or property. Think of what Jesus did when he was given a few loaves and fishes. It could be helping those in need. It could be winning friends for us for eternity.
Be like the dishonest manager! Be wise!