Original Research

The parable of the shrewd manager (Lk 16:1–8): A biography of Jesus and a lesson on mercy

Dieter H. Reinstorf
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 69, No 1 | a1943 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v69i1.1943 | © 2013 Dieter H. Reinstorf | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 15 February 2013 | Published: 27 May 2013


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Abstract

Many scholars have regarded the parable of the shrewd manager (Lk 16:1–8) as the most puzzling of all parables as Jesus seems to use the unrighteous actions of a dishonest (worldly) manager as a model for emulation by others. The unease associated with this understanding was managed in part by focusing almost exclusively on the ‘shrewdness’ of the dishonest manager. In this interpretation, it is not his unjust behaviour that is to be imitated but his wise and intelligent actions. This interpretation has led to a divergence of applications regarding the ‘property’ that was entrusted to him. The author, however, argues that, in the context of the historical Jesus, the entrusted property in the parable references first and foremost the Torah entrusted to God’s people and that the manager mirrors the life of Jesus, who was ‘accused’ by the religious leaders of being unjust. Despite being threatened, he continued unabatedly to scatter God’s mercy, epitomised by the reduction of debt and symbolising the dawning of God’s Kingdom. The manager is therefore not a negative figure but a positive (diaphorical) example of what it means to be a faithful manager of God in the light of adversary and opposition.

Keywords

parable; diaphor; New Testament; historical Jesus; Luke 16:1-9

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doi: 10.4102/hts.v73i3.3886