The story of the crooked manager in Luke 16 is a parable, and a very odd one. We can’t ask: “Who is represented by the rich man?” “Who is represented by the crooked manager?” because these questions don’t make sense when applied to a parable. It is just a story that illustrates a truth; Jesus used a lot of them. The useful question is: “What is the truth that this parable illustrates?”
Jesus seems to be saying that the habits of religious people are not the only useful ones, that they are not always useful, and that we can learn a lot from the habits of unscrupulous people. For me, the message is: “Make friends whenever and wherever you can with whomsoever you can”. Making friends usually begins with some small act of kindness that has no obvious benefit to the donor. Following that, in conversation, we must make what is important to them, important to us. The professional who excels at this is the car salesman. S/he first offers us a cup of coffee and a comfortable seat. Then conversation begins with inquiring about our needs, sympathy with our situation, praise for the car we wish to trade in (without necessarily offering a good price for it, but making it seem like a good price anyway). We can learn from these good people, who are trying desperately to sell just one more car so that they can adequately make provision for their own families and be seen by their life partners as successful.
This is how we should greet anyone who is in need, or who will stop for a chat. This is not solely, or even mainly, in order to get them to “Come to Church”; it is to strengthen the web of community throughout the land; it is to ensure that everyone we meet goes away with a positive impression of someone, perhaps very different from themselves, but someone who understood. It has the byeproduct of deepening the reservoir of people who might come to our aid in different circumstances.
Notice, nothing in this approach requires us to divulge details of our medical conditions, our medication, our recent operations, or even of the wrongs we have suffered at the hands of our family, or of public or private bodies.
I am sure that, if Jesus were telling parables today, His next one might be about the example of the car salesman.
We can be better people, nicer people, more attractive people, people who show an interest in the needs and situation of others. These techniques of making people feel comfortable in our company are those also pioneered by confidence tricksters, serial users of dating agencies, and cold callers selling double glazing. Jesus would commend their techniques, we don’t have to approve their aims, just to study their techniques and to use them for good.