Please, pray tell, what on earth did you mean?
This would be my question for Jesus that this text provokes. Commending the dishonest steward for being even more dishonest and self serving is not the stuff of good old Gospel preaching. I've always struggled with this text, and am again today. Some thoughts:
Shrewd: "Having or showing sharp powers of judgment; astute."
Is Jesus calling on us to learn from the world 'best practices'. An observation: This is no way to run a business! These words ring true for most of our congregations. To put it differently, if businesses were no more effective at what they do, than the Church often is in what it does, the business would quickly be bankrupt.
Know your market. Know your message. Invite (advertise) your business. Deliver what you promise. Keep ahead of the curve. Innovate. Efficient use of resources. Avoid waste. How many basic business principles would greatly enhance the Church's effectiveness if we simply applied to our mission, what is common place in the world.
We Give thee but thine own,
whate'er the gift may be.
All that we have is thine alone,
A trust O Lord from thee.
Whatever we might make of the dishonest stewards motives and management, one point that comes through is that he was playing with the Master's money. And so are we. If there is any truth to this wonderful hymn it is this, that all we have is God's and it is only entrusted to us to manage as stewards. The gifts I give, the car I bought, all this is part of my stewardship.
And finally, money is only a means to an end, not the end itself. What we have been given is to be used to accomplish something. Our wealth is to be used in the service to God, it is not to be the god we serve. "You cannot serve God and wealth."
Perhaps the best that comes from this text is not the answers that it offers, but the questions surrounding stewardship that it raises. Can we wrestle faithfully with those questions and live our lives in the midst of the struggle. What is so offensive about the dishonest steward? And what does that say about our own stewardship. What is to be commended.
Even to address the question of stewardship at all, is to achieve something. It's not ours folks. And whate'er we do, we are to seek to be faithful.