The Parable of the Shrewd Manager is much deeper than a simple call to put our love of God above our love of money. It is a call to be wise in balancing the claims of law and love in our judgements and actions. At one extreme upholding the law without love is tyranny and destructive. At the other extreme, love without the law is chaos - and equally destructive. Balancing the apparently opposing claims of law and love in our daily lives is critical to our spiritual life.
1. Law without love is tyranny
How did you respond to the Parable of the shrewd manager? You might have been surprised to hear Jesus apparently suggesting dishonesty is good. Were you upset at the dishonesty of the manager? If you were, as I was, then you are probably reacting out of the “law” side of the “law - love” balance.
- Law is good when it brings order to life. If there was no sense of trust in the law, modern commerce would cease to exist.
- Law brings security into our lives – we know what to do / not do
- God is a God of order. To see this you can just look at any part of creation - a tree, your hand or a flower. What you see is order - order based on rules or laws of nature. The best proof of the existence of God is the argument from creation. If creation follows laws, then there must be a creator who makes the laws.
- Law is good but can become destructive if it is interpreted out of context and used to control or manipulate others
- Narrow interpretations of law can lead to destructive actions. For example in the Parable, the manager would be fired and possibly without friends to help him get employment. This would be legally correct - but destructive to him as a person.
2. Love without law is chaos
Imagine what would happen if every manager was full of love and just forgave all debts. This would be very loving - but there would be chaos. The system of commerce would collapse. Nobody would be willing to risk giving credit or lending money.
- Jesus mission was to show God’s love by paying the price demanded by the spiritual Laws of God law for sin. The penalty for sin was and still is spiritual death.
- Jesus was willing to die to honour this law and provide a way for people to come to forgiveness and right relationship
- Jesus did not abolish the “Law” - the Ten Commandments and moral laws - but to fulfill or complete the Law.
- If you love God, you love everything about God, including His Laws, His holiness and His creation.
As we look around the Anglican Church today we can see an example of two very different interpretations of this balance between law and love. Those who oppose blessing same-sex relationships for example see this as an error of love without law. Those who affirm same-sex blessings see opposition as an error of law without love.
3. The parable illustrates this balance of love and law.
While the manager is breaking the law in arbitrarily reducing the debts, he is also maintaining the law in not forgiving the debts entirely.
- Balances law and love because the Master is more likely to collect the reduced amount – debtors defaulted gets nothing.
- Manager is using his control over worldly wealth to make friends. When he loses his job he will need friends to survive.
- The manager is breaking the law in order to gain in love. If we knew that he had a large family facing starvation we would of course be more sympathetic. The point is that the manager sees the bigger picture in life. While money and position are important, in the long run it is friends that we need most.
Life is a challenge to stay balanced and focused on Jesus
It is very easy to get distracted by the temptations of money, power and position. It is also tempting to get our way and “be right”.
- People who need to “be right” all the time are often tempted to use weak arguments based on the law - can be destructive.
- Others are tempted to “be nice”, set aside the rules, do the “loving thing” - love without law that can be destructive
- The “Special option for the poor” is a modern day statement by the Roman Catholic Church that the rich have a moral obligation to occasionally set aside the laws of debit and credit
Our love of Jesus requires us to both maintain the law with love and also, in some situations, to excuse the law. In the end we are all laying up treasure in heaven.