The Shrewd Manager
- Bob Schacht wrote:
>Luke's Gospel of the Parable of the DishonestExactly. In fact, Bob, I think a better title for the
>Manager is a hard text to understand, because it
>looks like Luke is praising dishonesty! But if we
>look more closely, what is praised is his
story is The Shrewd Manager, rather than The Dishonest
Manager. The manager's behavior is fully in line with
the code of ("shrewd") self-preservation in an
honor-shame world. See more below.
>We do not know enough about the cultural contextThe manager was being slandered by hostile rumors
>of this passage. When the manager was re-writing
>the debtor's bills, was he simply refunding his own
>commission, or was he rebating his master's money?
(that he was "squandering his master's wealth") and so
faced the prospect of joining the ranks of the
expendable classes -- begging, digging, etc. But we
don't know by whom the hostile rumors originated. Bill
Herzog thinks they came from either (1) merchants who
thought the manager was taking too much of a cut (his
"honest graft") so that their own profits suffered, or
(2) peasant villagers who were left with virtually
nothing after the manager took his cut ("honest
graft"). Malicious gossip is but one of the many
"weapons of the weak" (as James Scott calls them)
employed by the powerless in agrarian societies.
Cultural context would suggest that the hostile rumors
brought against the manager was anonymous slander or
gossip, intended to put the manager on the defensive
and create suspicion between him and his master. So I
think that the manager -- knowing full well that he
was under attack by whoever these debtors were -- was
engaging in survival tactics here, reducing the
debtors contracts and giving the difference to these
Of course, the master has been cheated in the process.
But here's the important catch: If the master banishes
the manager from his service, "it will blacken his
reputation among either the merchants with whom he
works or the villagers whose compliance he must
ensure" (Herzog, Parables as Subversive Speech, p.
255) -- either of whom now favor the manager for
having made them a fortune. So it is arguably in the
master's best interest to keep this "shrewd manager",
because now the merchants/peasants will be fully
indebted to him. These debtors will have, in effect,
signed a new contract with all sorts of hidden
interest. They will pay for their "good fortune" in
other ways, as clients always did in the ancient
So I agree with Herzog that the manager didn�t really
cheat the master. He simply put new cards in the
master's hand. The master took a short-term cut but
would realize a long-term gain. And in the meanwhile,
"out of this battle came a temporary respite for the
debtors, a glimpse of time when debts would be
lowered" (Herzog, p 258). Jesus may have been
suggesting how weapons of the weak could produce
favorable results in a world dominated by a small
percentage of elites.
>Perhaps the emphasis should be on the mercyI think this is beside the point. All parties --
>of the steward, and of the master in accepting
>his steward's deed, rather than on dishonesty.
master, manager, debtors -- are operating out of
self-interest and survival. Seeing mercy or
forgiveness as the key to the story does not address
the glaring problem: A man praises (not forgives)
someone for backbiting him.
Loren Rosson III
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