What did the boss mean when he commended the shrewdness of his employee?
Shrewd - Characterized by keen awareness, sharp intelligence, and often a sense of the practical.[i]
From the Greek word phronimós, shrewd means sensible. The master in the story acknowledged that the disappointing employee had acted with sensibility. Jesus then adds that worldly people are often more sensible in dealing with one another than religious people towards their own.
With a Pharisee audience, Jesus’ story has intended implications. The religious leaders have not been responsible managers with their money and power. God was not happy with their mismanagement. Jesus would explain the lessons from the story in verses following. Jesus was showing them how to turn their lives around and have a future. It would require them to sacrifice their commission and find a place with their former customers.
The lesson stands for us today. When we consider the source of earthly goods coming from God, we are sometimes guilty of being poor managers. We have not always acted with integrity and can be motivated by self-interest.
But, it’s not too late to change the future. We can start by acknowledging our guilt and become generous, fair as managers of God’s resources. The Kingdom needs managers who are interested in giving breaks to those who are indebted to God.
In contrast to the masters of the world, God does not charge high interest and shrewdly take advantage of those He supplies to. As God’s messengers and managers, we are to reflect His heart of mercy and provision to the world.
There is a great need for followers of Jesus who have the virtue of shrewdness-- sensible people who are characterized by keen awareness, sharp intelligence, and a sense of the practical. How can we best deliver the Kingdom goods to a waiting world? The Kingdom goods include feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, advocating for the voiceless, bringing freedom and love to the overlooked and underestimated.
We need to guard against thinking that we are above God’s judgment. Many of Jesus’ teachings about money and resources speak to our need to be faithful managers. With the same sense of responsibility to God as our boss, we need to have a shrewd sense of fairness and generosity towards the world.
The Pharisees could have changed their heart and become a humble presence in the Early Church. The majority of them resisted Jesus and disappeared into ancient history. Let’s not make their mistake by thinking that God’s voice would not challenge us to new understanding and radical change.
1. The start of Jesus’ story deals with a person who was guilty of doing a poor job and was getting fired. Is there a time when you were fired and what lessons did you learn about yourself?
2. Not only jobs, but relationships and associations sometimes involve moving on. What are some good and bad things you’ve learned about transitions when it comes to family, marriage, friendship and churches? Is there a right and wrong way to move on when things are not working out?
3. In the work of God’s Kingdom, are there some ways that Christians and churches have been unfair and greedy toward the world? Are there ways that we need to be shrewd, intelligent and practical in our delivery systems?
4. The Pharisees were the religious leaders of their day. What were some of the mistakes they made that Jesus spoke to? How can we avoid similar failures?