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Luke 16:9:

And I say to you, make friends of yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into eternal dwellings. (NASB)

Who are the “friends” one should make and how would they be able to welcome someone into eternal dwellings? In what way is the wealth "unrighteous" and how does the failure of said wealth connect with the concept of eternal dwellings?

Is verse 11 (if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?) referring to the manager's original squandering of his master's wealth or something else?

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To answer this question, let us first crack the metaphor of this strange parable, that taken at a face value, approves cheating for one's personal benefit.

a) Within the context of the parable, the friends are those people whom the clever steward has helped by his unjust reducing of their debts to their - and his - master. They will definitely become his friends exactly due to his compassionate cheating and alleviation of their condition. Thus, in earthly realm, when he will be left without salary, those families whom this steward benefited by his compassionate cheating, will take him in and provide him food and shelter, as friends obliged to.

b) spiritually the "master" is God, to be sure; the "debtors" - all humans; the "steward" - any of those debtors, any particular man. When does one act as a "clever steward" so as to deserve approval of "master", i.e. God? Definitely, when understanding his own sinfulness, i.e. indebtedness to God, a man alleviates this indebtedness to God through his being lenient and compassionate to sins and trespasses of others. Not judging others is a condition of not being judged by God (Luke 6:37). But what does it mean? If I am an alcoholic, which is a dangerous sin, and I am lenient towards other alcoholics, not judging them, does it mean that my sin is blotted out due to my compassion to others suffering the same plight? Not exactly, for only such a compassion does not heal my sinful inclination to the alcohol. My desire and resolve to get rid of this sinful inclination is sine qua non for it to be forgiven by God. But if I have this necessary condition, fight my sin and, moreover, have compassion and solidarity to others who suffer from the same sin, then and only then it means that I fight the sin in Christ's Spirit, humbly and with a thankful reliance on divine Grace, and no only my efforts, and that, moreover, I am ready to help the others through experience of my graceful fight with the sin. Thus, as I myself, through my humility, ask God to show me mercy/grace and not justice, for "if You will give retribution according to what our trespasses justly deserve, who will withstand it? But with You abides mercy" (Psalm 130:3-4); so, also, with respect of others, I "cheat" God's justice, like that clever steward from the parable, and treat other people mercifully, that is to say, just as I wish God to act with me. And such "cheating" is indeed pleasing God whose "Mercy triumphs over His Justice" (cf. James 2:13).

Now, if in the parable the friends are other people whom this steward showed compassion and reduced their debts, in spiritual understanding those friends can be again people, who you were compassionate with and treated with divine mercy; but since you are also a sinner, they will treat your sins and trespasses also similarly leniently and mercifully, and thus, divine Grace will start working towards you through other people, as their thankful answer to your lenient and merciful attitude towards them. For what is to receive somebody in eternal dwelling unless to be ready to forgive this somebody and not grudge for him divine forgiveness, which is the key to the eternal dwelling in the Kingdom of Heavens.

Alternatively or complementarily those friends can also be angels, for if one behaves like described above, then he likens himself to angels, and the latter will definitely become friends of somebody so like them, who treats the people under their protection just like them.

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  • This is a difficult question that I was unwilling and unable to tackle. You have done well (as usual) - many thanks. +1
    – Dottard
    Jan 26, 2021 at 1:44
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    @Dottard Thanks! It is truly encouraging. This parable is very intriguing, showing a flavour of a grace-based morality instead of the Kantian duty-based one. John Chrysostom has an interesting interpretation: "God esteems mercy so much, that even if you help somebody from your unjust profit, even this will be accounted to you as an act of mercy". Jan 26, 2021 at 6:58
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    Great quote - It shows (correctly) that none of our motives are pure but God can use us anyway. I think the Lord appreciates ANY move (no matter how small) toward God and good.
    – Dottard
    Jan 26, 2021 at 7:06
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    This question has bugged me for decades. This answer and the above comments are among the most insightful writings that I have read on this platform. Finally, I understand that this parable is not about tricky but about mercy. Great thanks.
    – user35953
    Jan 26, 2021 at 16:50
  • @TonyChan Thanks, - very glad and flattered for such a positive estimation! Jan 26, 2021 at 19:01
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Who are the “friends” in Luke 16:9?

Luke 16:9:NASB

And I say to you, make friends of yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness so that when it fails, they will receive you into eternal dwellings.

Who are the “friends”: It is God and Jesus that can welcome you into eternal dwellings.

Matthew 25:34 (NASB)

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

"By means of the wealth of unrighteousness", A wealthy person should use his material wealth to make friends with God and Jesus that can welcome you into eternal dwellings.

How?

Matthew 19:21 (NASB)

21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be [a]complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

1 Timothy 6:17 (NASB)

17 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to set their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.

Luke 12:20-21 (NASB)

20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night [a]your soul is demanded of you; and as for all that you have prepared, who will own it now?’ 21 Such is the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich in relation to God.” uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.

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In Jesus’ commentary on this parable of the dishonest steward (Luke 16:1-13), the word "friends" was not used to refer person but rather to a behavior, the act of “making friends”:

  • Verse 9: 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.

When his mismanagement of the master’s property is discovered, the dishonest steward worries about his future and sets out to "make friends" of those who are indebted to the master, by reducing the amount of their debt. He does not do so because he likes them or out of kindness; he does so in hopes that they will return the favor help him when the master turns him out:

  • Verse 3-4: Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’

Instead of getting angry, the master unexpectedly praises the steward, not for his goodness, but for his shrewdness. If the master indeed represents God, then perhaps his response is not so surprising. God wants us to use what is by right his to alleviate the burden and debts of others.

However, the steward’s actions and motives are consistently selfish and self-serving. Thus the commendation of the master serves only to cement the steward’s identity as a child of this age, as distinct from the children of the light, who by inference are less shrewd and calculating:.

  • Verse 8: And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.

The other question asked is what makes the wealth unrighteous or dishonest. My interpretation is based on the distinction that Jesus makes between true wealth and unrighteous wealth, with worldly wealth being equated with unrighteous wealth:

  • Verse 15: For what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.

The parable illustrates the problem with worldly wealth through the two-fold error of the steward: first, he mismanaged that which belonged to his master, and secondly, he desired that which he was doomed to lose and which would fail him in the end. Thus the issue with worldly wealth is one, we are only stewards of the things of this world; and two, worldly wealth is not considered true wealth in the eyes of God:

  • Verses 11-13: 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?”

If the steward saved himself from ruin in the end, it would not be by his own merits but through his objective acts of mercy:

  • Verse 9: 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.

The question is: Can the mercy we offer one another using the resources or authority that God has entrusted to us be the key to our entry into “eternal dwellings”? The answer seems to be “yes.” If we apply this interpretation to the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Lk 16:19-30), which immediately follows this one, I wonder what the outcome would have been had the Rich Man acted more shrewdly?

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The Parable of the Shrewd Manager (Luke 16:1-8) end in verse 8. Luke 16:9-13 is the lesson Jesus taught His disciples how to use the worldly money for the better good. Jesus concluded the lesson: "You cannot serve both God and money" (Luke 16:13b NIV). The message is clear, let go the money and serving God.

To understand this parable, avoid thinking the Shrewd Manager had any role in the subsequent narrative (Luke 16:9-13). The whole lesson is telling the disciples choose wisely, choose serving God and not the money. The judgement of the Shrewd Manager is not a prime concern in this teaching.

In verse 8, Jesus was saying 'even a sinner (son of this world) knows how to make a good use of money'. As His disciples (sons of the light), they should be better than a sinner. In other words, Jesus is telling His disciples to spend the money on the needy, helping the poor, widows and the sick.

'Friends' in Luke 16:9 is specific referring to people who are beneficially able to receive the donor into eternal dwellings. These people could be persons who were once benefit from his help, or likely be Jesus Himself.

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40 NIV)

14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:14-15 NIV)

Interpretation to Luke 16:11-12 (words in bracket added for illustration)

11 So if you have not been trustworthy (do as Jesus commanded) in handling worldly wealth (use the money helping the needy), who (God) will trust (give to) you with true riches (eternal dwellings)?

12 And if you have not been trustworthy (do as Jesus commanded) with someone else’s (God's) property (eternal dwellings), who (God) will give you property (eternal dwellings) of your own (eternal dwellings the person may inherit)?

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  • Maybe 'someone else's property' in verse 12 is about Caesar's money and not about God's eternal dwellings?
    – Riemann
    Oct 22, 2023 at 15:47
  • @Riemann - Caesar's money is worldly money. If 'someone else's property' means that, it doesn't fit into the context that 'you cannot serve both God and money'. Oct 23, 2023 at 2:44

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