Last night at our Community Gathering for New City Covenant, we talked about money. One of the passages we talked about was Luke 16:1-13. In these verses Jesus tells a parable about a shrewd manager in order to explain why we cannot serve two masters, God and money. You can read the parable here. It’s weird, and it’s hard to understand why Jesus commends the dishonest / shrewd manager’s behavior. It’s based on the understanding that the manager was likely considered dishonest because he was charging interest on the money he was lending out.
Billy became a broker at a bank in Beverly. Beverly was a small town and there were only two banks. The one Billy worked for, First Bank, and the other bank across the street, Second Bank. First Bank had much more money than Second bank, which allowed them to lend money at lower rates. They could make more money than Second bank because they had more of it and needed smaller margins to cover their costs.
When Billy first started working at the bank, they only needed to charge 3.5% interest on their mortgages to recoup their costs. Second bank was charging 5%. And while Second Bank provided nicer services and other perks most people just wanted the cheaper rate so they would go to First Bank and Billy for their loans.
Billy wrote mortgage after mortgage at 3.5%, but then he realized people would still come to him if he charged 3.6%. Anything above the 3.5% rate would become an excess and go towards Billy’s year end bonus. Over time, Billy started to increase the mortgage rate. Year after year he became wealthier and wealthier through bigger and bigger bonuses. The interest rate at First Bank kept rising until finally it was equal to that of Second Bank
The customers started to complain to the owner of the bank. They provided worse service than Second Bank and now they were no cheaper. Billy was accused of wasting the owners possessions because he was a dishonest manager. He was charging too much for the mortgages. The owner setup a meeting with Billy for the next week. He told Billy that he should be prepared to give an account of his business practices.
For the rest of the week, Billy worked at a feverish pace. He called every single mortgage client of the bank, and set up meetings with them. In the meeting he said he had good news, the bank was going to slash their interest rate to 3.5%! For some people with longer mortgage terms he was cutting their debt in half!
When he was finally called into the owner’s office, he had all the documents ready to present to him. He was ready to give an account of his business practices. He was ready to plead for his job. But he didn’t have to. The owner was elated with Billy’s shrewd business practices. He had received twice as many positive phone calls about Billy in the previous week than he had received in any week prior complaining about Billy. Business was already starting to pick up again, and the owner was ecstatic.
Billy learned a lesson. He couldn’t work for the Bank and his bonus. It was impossible for him to work for himself and the owner — he could only have one boss. The money that he lent out was the owner’s money and not his own. He was an employee of the bank, and if he wanted to keep his job he had to write mortgages in the best interest of the owner’s assets.
What I also find interesting is Jesus comment after the story, “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” I wonder if he means something like this: If you mess around with your boss’s money at your job you will get fired, but the church doesn’t hold people accountable when people misuse God’s resources. I wonder if he is challenging us to be a community that pays a little more attention to the way we each spend our money.