An employee had abused the trust of his employer and had been caught. The boss told him he was going to be fired. So, the employee figured out a way to get more of his boss's money while he could.
That story is not particularly shocking to modern readers, and I doubt it would have been then, either.
The boss's reaction, though, is surprising. Rather than having the employee sent to prison, he commends him for his shrewd actions. And, even more difficult to understand is Jesus' comment, "And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes."
It doesn't help much that commentators disagree on whether that comment was made by the boss or Jesus talking about the boss. Either way, Jesus is offering it to his disciples. We would have been more comfortable with a parable in which the dishonest employees was caught and repented and tried to pay back his boss and so on.
So, I was relieved to read the interpretation offered by Ronald Allen & Clark Williamson in their Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews. They disagree with the standard assumption that the owner in the parable is a representation of God. Rather, they propose that Jesus is using the story to "cast a negative light on some Pharisees (and other Jewish leaders)". Thus, in their view, "The dishonest manager is not a model but a foil for the Pharisees. They are as misguided as the manager."
Allen & Williams tie this parable to the one in chapter 15 of the Prodigal Son. They interpret the story of the older son resenting the acceptance of his brother as a parallel to that of some Jewish leaders who resented the inclusion of Gentiles in the early church.
In any case, I know I would be more comfortable if Luke had just left this story out altogether. I am not helped much by the commentators who try to convince me that the employee was cutting his commission out of the debt and that's what the boss was commending.
But, whether I get the intended meaning of the parable right or not, I still am grateful for verses 10-13. They sound a lot more like what I am accustomed to hearing from Jesus.
Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."We didn't create this world; God did. We didn't create the wealth on the earth, but God has entrusted it to our care.