One time Jesus told a strange parable. It’s often referred to as the Parable of the Unjust Steward. The parable is about a fellow who is about to lose his job because of a bit of chicanery. He learns of his imminent termination, but before the pink slip arrives he goes to his boss’s customers and renegotiates the terms of their contracts in a way immensely favorable to the customers and much to the detriment of his boss. Of all things, instead of condemning the unjust steward, the owner of the business commends him for his shrewdness! With other people’s money this character was buying himself some favors that he could cash in at a later time.
Reasonable people wonder how Jesus could use the metaphor of a dishonest man as an example of something to be praised. Here’s a clue from Jesus words. “The sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.” The Message, a modern paraphrase, renders Jesus’ explanation this way: “Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits.” This passage explains why so many followers of Jesus have a difficult time in the world of politics. They just aren’t shrewd enough. Like Nathaniel, Christians tend to be men in whom there is no guile. They are not wired to think the way an unjust steward thinks, putting them not just at a disadvantage but at personal risk. They are unable to manipulate the system because their yes is yes and their no is no. They are prone to tell the truth, they will shun bribes and political pork, all the while running the risk of being co-opted into the system.
While Mr. Smith went to Washington and overcame evil with good, many a good public servant has been sucked into the vortex and made a two-fold child of corruption. The instruction to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves should be posted before the eyes of anyone in the affairs of this world. The absence of such wisdom or the loss of one’s integrity is why decent, honest people have such difficulty in succeeding in the political affairs of this world. Their hearts are simply incapable of grasping the labyrinths of this world’s machinations, or for reasons of integrity are unable to follow paths laid before them. But Jesus tells us we must learn how these machinations work so that we can defend against them. Learn their devices, but don’t live them.