In Luke 16, Jesus told a fascinating parable about a dishonest manager of a rich man’s estate. When the dishonest manager found out he was about to get fired for wasting the rich man’s possessions, he went out and made deals with people who owed the rich man money. The dishonest manager did this in order to win favor with the people, so that they would “receive him into their homes (v. 4),” once his managerial power had been taken way. Jesus concludes the parable with a curious observation.
For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.Luke 16:8
This is one of the more ambiguous parables in the Gospels, and the precise meaning is not immediately clear. Clearly, the manager was dishonest, and Jesus was not praising him for his dishonesty. Many commentators think the parable is about the ironic observation that unbelievers (“the sons of this world”), are often more wise at managing their worldly affairs than believers (“the sons of light.”)
Whether this was the true intent of the parable, I have observed this to be true in my interactions with people of faith. People of faith may be amazing people, but they often lack earthly wisdom in comparison to their unbelieving peers. They don’t seem to save as much money, prepare as much for the future, and take as much resourceful action to achieve their goals. I know Christians whose belief that the world was going to end kept them from opening up investment accounts and making sound financial and life decisions.
If people of faith have greater access to divine resources, then why the contradiction?
As people of faith, we often use divine help as a substitute for, rather than a supplement to, human action. We don’t fulfill St. Ignatius and St. Augustine’s admonition, Pray as if everything depended on God; work as if everything depended on you. We expect God to do literally everything for us.
This would have been akin to the Hebrews not training in warfare because they expected God to defeat their enemies; or King David, the author of Psalm 91, not carrying a sword because of his faith in God’s protection. God answers prayer, but he more often than not does so using material means.
In 2 Chronicles 20, we read the story of Jehoshaphat, who was a righteous king who sought God when defeat from enemy armies seemed imminent. God responded saying “You will not have to fight this battle” (v. 17).
Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. . .2 Chronicles 20: 15
This story is remarkable, not only because Jehoshaphat’s enemies supernaturally started attacking each other, but because the outcome required no cooperative action on the part of the faithful to achieve. This model is the exception, not the rule. The rule, as we see throughout the Bible, is that we fight our own battles with God’s help, barring some special divine mandate.
Let me know your thoughts on this one down below!
Has it also been your observation that the “sons of this world” are better at managing their worldly affairs than “the sons of light?”