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Jesus Turns the Black Hat into the White

Updated: Jun 15

Photo by Marco Antonio Casique Reyes:

Do you remember the old spaghetti westerns? The bad guy bullies and kills the townsfolk until a mysterious stranger wearing a white hat rides into town. He usually finds a love interest, saves the town and rides off into the sunset.

The old westerns used the white and black hat to identify the hero and villain. The black hat identified the villain. When Jesus tells stories he often has the white hat enter town and leave at the end wearing a black hat. The audience’s expected hero is identified as the villain at the end.


A great example is the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The priest, wearing the white hat, passes the broken, beaten and robbed soul without offering help. So too a Levite, wearing the white hat, passes on the other side of the road.


Finally, the Samaritan, wearing the black hat, stops and helps the half dead man lying in the road. The audience’s expected villain becomes the hero while the other two are confirmed as the villains with the closing question, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”


Everyone has swapped hats. The audience’s expectations have been turned on their head.


Jesus was very good at making religious people uncomfortable. You wouldn’t think this would continue to be possible today after studying his teaching for two thousand years. Unfortunately, to this day religious leaders struggle with who their neighbor is.


In the shrewd manager parable, Jesus goes a step further (Luke 16:1-14). The characters swap hats and then Jesus completely changes the narrative’s anticipated direction. In the beginning, his listeners believe the story is about justice. The audience expects the slippery manager to receive double punishment when he tries to use his position to manipulate those who owe his master money. Instead, he gives the shrewd manager the white hat and the audience (children of light) the black one.


The shrewd manager is an odd story that seems to conflict with the audience’s understanding of justice and money. Historically, justice is defined as an eye for an eye and do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you (according to tradition prior to Jesus' positive spin, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" Matthew 7:12).


Why would the shrewd manager be commended for mismanaging his master’s accounts and then using his position to reduce the debt owed to his master?


It’s important to note this is not an allegory. It’s an exposition of eternity and the impact of today’s (here and now) decisions. The parable Jesus tells following the shrewd manager is of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man did not care for Lazarus, though he suffered just outside the rich man’s gates. The rich man found himself in torment after death while Lazarus rested in the “bosom of Abraham.” The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his family so they may repent and escape his fate.


Abraham responds, “They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them.”


“But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will listen.” The rich man pleads.


Abraham concludes, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead (Luke 16:31).”


Today’s decisions have an effect on eternity.


The point of the parable about the shrewd manager is not justice or money. It’s about value and our ability to use tools available to us today, in securing eternal value. The shrewd manager was not commended for mismanaging his master’s money, he was fired. He was commended for recognizing the value of others and using his position as a tool to secure a better future for himself and others by reducing their debts.  


Finally, the parable ends with a dichotomy between God and money. God is often mistaken in superstition as a tool, “if” I give ten percent, “then” God will bless me. “If” I live in righteousness, “then” God will give me all that I desire, including money and possessions. This line of thinking puts money at the center and God as a tool. It is also attempting to leverage an old obsolete covenant made with a nation. That philosophy attempts to hold God to a covenant He has already fulfilled through Jesus.


 We cannot have two masters.


It’s impossible.

Here is maybe the most interesting correlation in this parable for today. We cannot serve two covenants. We cannot live under both the old law (covenant) and the new law (covenant). Today's religious philosophy often reaches back to the old testament covenant while shielded by the grace of the new one established by Jesus. This leads to the two faces of Christianity and today's highest hypocrisy.

We hold food in one hand and hide a big stick behind our backs with the other. We send aid to other countries but secure our borders and make it almost impossible for an alien to become a citizen. We fight for the sanctity of life while neglecting the orphan and those who need fostering. We welcome everyone in our churches and call them hospitals for the broken while we hide inside its walls and blame those who didn't attend our services for their suffering. If they don't give us authority in their lives then they don't deserve our blessings.


Security and life only come from God. Joy and peace come from our father in heaven alone. Living for money and power or a fulfilled covenant of wrath and flesh leads to death as it did for the rich man in the story of Lazarus. The value of the old covenant was in actions while the new covenant's value is the heart where actions are poured out of. The rich man may have met his religious obligations, but he missed the heart of the covenant suffering at his gates.

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;

your assemblies are a stench to me.

Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them.

Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,

I will have no regard for them.

Away with the noise of your songs!

I will not listen to the music of your harps.

But let justice roll on like a river,

righteousness like a never-failing stream!"

-Amos 5:21-24

New wine cannot be poured into old wine skins, they will burst. "No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse (Mark 2:21)." Everything has its season and time.

"If we are not to follow the old covenant and ignore its statutes, then what use was it?" You may ask.

It was for a certain people at a certain time to accomplish what God set out to do since the garden of Eden. It spoke in a way it could be understood to a people it could protect at a specific time in history. It did three things, it taught, it disciplined, and it protected in preparation of its fulfillment. This is the pedagogy Paul referenced under the "guardian" or "paidagogos" (in the Greek), of the law (old covenant).

"Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian (Galatians 3:23-25)."

The word Paul used for guardian in Greek is "Paidagogos" who was a trusted Roman slave responsible for disciplining, educating, and training the children in a wealthy family. They were bodyguards, teachers, and disciplinarians. Paul explains this was the role of the old covenant or law. It served its purpose and was fulfilled through the brutal death and sacrifice of Christ. In that death a new covenant of blood was made. A covenant of maturity that binds our spirit and raises us to sons and daughters of God. From dust in creation we have been elevated above the dark elemental powers of this world. The spirit of God now lives in us through Jesus in this new covenant (Galatians 4:3-7).

From dust in creation we have been elevated above the dark elemental powers of this world. The spirit of God now lives in us through Jesus in this new covenant (Galatians 4:3-7).

The spirit of God lives in us, intertwined with our spirits in an eternal adoption that spans the cosmos. It is in this interlocked relationship of eternity that we bring the kingdom of God to earth as it is in the air and in all and through all.

This kinship redefines our understanding of the cosmos and the trivialities of things like money and a fool's illusion of power. Value resides in honoring one another, caring for our neighbor, and the wisdom of the eternal. We have been given a sacred responsibility to manage creation. The old covenant has no place in the renewing of our minds and the metamorphosis into God's good, pleasing, and perfect will (Romans 12:2).

If you have been living for your own will, using the old covenant as a bludgeon and hiding behind the shield of grace, repent.


Someone has risen from the dead to tell you about life, his name is Jesus.


Do you believe?

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