Here's the passage: Luke 16:1-5 in the NIV or below from the Message: (both by way of BibleGateway)
The Story of the Crooked Manager
Jesus said to his disciples, "There was once a rich man who had a manager. He got reports that the manager had been taking advantage of his position by running up huge personal expenses. So he called him in and said, 'What's this I hear about you? You're fired. And I want a complete audit of your books.'
"The manager said to himself, 'What am I going to do? I've lost my job as manager. I'm not strong enough for a laboring job, and I'm too proud to beg. . . . Ah, I've got a plan. Here's what I'll do . . . then when I'm turned out into the street, people will take me into their houses.'
"Then he went at it. One after another, he called in the people who were in debt to his master. He said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'
"He replied, 'A hundred jugs of olive oil.'
"The manager said, 'Here, take your bill, sit down here—quick now— write fifty.'
"To the next he said, 'And you, what do you owe?'
"He answered, 'A hundred sacks of wheat.'
"He said, 'Take your bill, write in eighty.'
"Now here's a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you'll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior."
God Sees Behind Appearances
Jesus went on to make these comments:
If you're honest in small things, you'll be honest in big things;
If you're a crook in small things, you'll be a crook in big things.
If you're not honest in small jobs, who will put you in charge of the store?
No worker can serve two bosses:
He'll either hate the first and love the second or adore the first and despise the second.
You can't serve both God and the Bank.
When the Pharisees, a money-obsessed bunch, heard him say these things, they rolled their eyes, dismissing him as hopelessly out of touch. So Jesus spoke to them: "You are masters at making yourselves look good in front of others, but God knows what's behind the appearance.
What society sees and calls monumental, God sees through and calls monstrous.
God's Law and the Prophets climaxed in John;
Now it's all kingdom of God—the glad news and compelling invitation to every man and woman.
The sky will disintegrate and the earth dissolve before a single letter of God's Law wears out.
Using the legalities of marriage as a cover for lust is adultery.
What's a bit frustrating is that all the commentaries seem to think this is about money. Now, of course, it is about money. Even the NIV has v14 as "The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus." The Pharisees thought it was about money, too. After all, it has one of the great lines of the bible: "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (v13, KJV)
But Jesus straightens it out for the Pharisees. It's about idols. And money is certainly a popular idol. But how do we communicate the idea of an idol to middle schoolers? They have hints about money at this age, but mostly it hasn't taken on the importance it will later.
What do we do with difficult material in studies? I feel the temptation to just skip it. I also feel the temptation to take it on, no matter what. Probably, if we do it, it should be a demonstration. Me sharing my process in a think aloud. This feels like a passage for which questioning is a good focus, and maybe we can use it to get at other questions. Questions about the church, the liturgy, the Bible and who knows what else.
Of course, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this passage in the comments, if you're willing to share.