Shlemiel, Shlimazl, Shmendrik

Editorial
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There’s this schemer, this shlemiel. He squanders his employer’s funds, which, of course, makes his boss the shlimazl (loser).

The boss finds out about it and fires the shlemiel.

But get this. The boss still leaves the shlemiel in charge until the books are closed. Not smart! Once a shlimazl, always a shlimazl.

The schlemiel realizes his days of sumptuous living are numbered. So he buys himself some long-term friends by paying a visit to the boss’s debtors. Grandly the shlemiel pares down their credit notes. You owe an entire year’s crop of olive oil? Here now, we’ll forgive half of that. Who knows, someday you might return the favor . . .

With his creative accounting he’s put half the village into his debt, all at the shlimazl’s expense.

Now a big surprise. “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly” (Luke 16:8).

Why not hang him from the rafters instead? Because by now the whole village is celebrating the shlimazl’s generosity. The townsfolk naturally assume that the manager’s doing all this with the boss’s blessing. In a face-saving society the boss can’t undo the damage without being branded a shmendrik—a miserly cheapskate. No way. To keep his dignity the shlimazl must go with the flow and publicly praise the shlemiel.

Now the real kicker. Our Lord also commends this crook and sets him up as a role model for all of us decent, respectable folks. Huh?

Of course not by being dishonest shlemiels (Luke 16:10-12). But Jesus challenges our smug complacency. Even a crook knows to keep his eye on the future and act decisively now to prepare for it. So why don’t we? The schlemiel invested what he could not keep in what he could not lose. So why do we cling to our earthly wealth like it’s our salvation?

Here’s Jesus’ own application: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).

When we stand before God’s judgment throne, the earthly goods God loaned us won’t be there. Just the people. Will they say of you, “Oy, what a shmendrik (cheapskate)!”? Then you’ll be the shlimazl! Or will you have friends who stick up for you and say, “Yah, she was a bit of a schlemiel, but she had her Father’s generous heart”?

And what will the Judge say? “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,…I was in debtors’ prison and you paid my way out” (Matt. 25:35-36). And he’ll explain: “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (v. 40).

During this Lenten season let’s reflect deeply on the reality that our exalted Lord still continues to suffer (see “Ignoring an Ongoing Horror,” p. 36). Let that reflection bear fruit in a truly shrewd investment.

P.S. There was a bank on one side of a cemetery and a church on the other. The bank placed a sign: “You can’t take it with you, but you can lie next to it.” The church placed a sign too: “You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.”

About the Author

Bob De Moor is a retired Christian Reformed pastor living in Edmonton, Alta.

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