The rich man in Luke 16 would have had very clear priorities. Having secured somewhat diversified revenue streams, and in addition from maintaining profitable friendships with other wealthy persons, the next most critical challenge would have been finding and keeping good help. Education and status being more exclusive in ancient times, good managers were even harder to come by than they are today, and yet they were also more important.
The more properties any wealthy man held, the more variables came into play and the more things could go wrong. Thus, the broader one's portfolio of investments and operations, the more critically one needed quality managers to help supervise it all. And once having acquired a truly large number of holdings, the primary job of a rich man becomes managing his managers.
Thus, again, the challenge of dealing with so many factors means relationships once again take on central importance.
This point brings us, now, to the steward of Luke 16.
Clearly implying that this nondescript rich man was typical, Jesus goes on to describe a steward who we quickly see is atypical. Rich men did not stay wealthy by keeping on poor managers, so most stewards must have been competent, but this one has to be fired. That part is surprising. Qualified managers were hardly expendable, because they had to be well connected enough to deserve trust. Beyond that, they had to be competent AND socially capable. One could only hire certain people to manage valuable assets… especially to help manage those profitable relationships with one’s wealthy friends.
This may be harder for some of us to grasp because many post-industrial business systems instill policies and procedures so that managers can be interchangeable, and today we implicitly trust that most corporations are certain to outlast their current operators. In contrast, the ancient world’s landowner was more like today’s small business owner, who does not pay lip service to platitudes when she says “we are only as good as our people” or “quality managers are worth more than their own weight in gold”. Like small business, today, the longevity of ancient business operations depended completely on individual actions and relationships.
Therefore, to understand the failure of this one particular steward, we must understand that he had not only failed to go around collecting revenue. This steward was unsatisfactory because he had not gone around managing the rich man’s business relationships. His laziness was not in avoiding the doing of tasks, but because he avoided interactions with important people.
To be continued…