Jesus has been talking to the Pharisees but now turns to his disciples. He tells them a parable about a man whose employment has been threatened. He has been managing the assets of an absentee landlord--and not managing them well in the opinion of the owner. Faced with losing his job, the manager devises a plan. He reduces the amount each tenant owes in hopes of assuring that they will help take care of him after he is fired.
The owner response when he hears about this tactic is surprising. He commends the manager for his cleverness.
What would the disciples have thought at this point? Who would they thought was the owner and the manager? Would they have pictured themselves as the manager responsible for taking care of the Lord's assets? Or did they take it more literally and suppose Jesus was describing how employees should behave or how owners should evaluate those employees' behavior? Surely, he wasn't telling them to be dishonest, was he?
Jesus then says to the disciples, "Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in very much. If you have been unfaithful, who will trust you?" He goes on to warn them that anybody who isn't faithful with worldly wealth will not be trusted with true riches (which we usually consider to be heaven). "No one can serve two masters--it's impossible". Then, he sums it up, "You cannot serve God and wealth."
This lesson seems to fit Jesus' teachings a lot better than praising a dishonest employee. One way of interpreting the parable is to picture ourselves as managers of property that belongs to God. God cares about how we make decisions about our wealth. Do we use it to the benefit of people who are not at our economic level? Sharon Ringe in her commentary on Luke suggests that the parable is criticizing the economy that permits some people to have a lot and a lot of people not having much at all. She says, "As a good manager, then, he has used the very fruits of injustice in the forging of that new community of accountability based on justice that already participates in God's project or reign".