Cedric was quite the character. I met him years ago when I lived in Philadelphia. He was thin and wiry and wore a dirty tan fedora. (I found it amusing, however, that his wingtip shoes were always freshly shined.) Cedric didn’t have a regular job, but he always had cash. He was what you’d call streetwise: selling information in back alleys to crooks and cops alike; giving half-priced historic tours when conventions were in town (and fabricating most of his “facts”); delivering unsolicited lunches to high-rise offices on rainy days, then charging twice the price. Cedric was always dreaming up a new scheme — some witty idea aimed at getting a few dollars out of someone else’s pocket and into his own. And it often worked.
If I told you Cedric was the kind of guy whose style you should emulate, you’d say I need a new role model. But that’s exactly what Jesus told his disciples. Take a look at Luke 16, verses 1 – 9.
This was another one of those times when the radical Rabbi was telling a story — the kind that usually befuddled his disciples and infuriated the Pharisees. In this particular tale, Jesus said a certain rich man had a manager whose malpractice was proving to be a problem. The expenses were apparently piling up. When the rich man realized what was happening, he fired the manager, demanding a review of his books.
The manager, nearing panic, came up with a pre-audit plan to endear himself to those who owed his former master money. He called them in, one by one, and wrote off a portion of their balances due. With the debtors now beholden to him, he knew they would surely provide his bed and bread in the days ahead.
Let’s pick it up in verse 8 from The Message. Jesus is speaking. “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.”
Now get this. Jesus is still speaking. “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 just complacently, just getting by on good behavior.”
It’s no secret that the folks who run life-transformation ministries for street people have always been entrepreneurial. Do you want an example? Just take a look at what Blake Barrow is doing in El Paso, Texas, with Hallelujah BBQ. He represents the savoir-faire that we must never lose. I want to encourage you to never abandon your iconoclastic tendencies. Keep being creative. Don’t give in to store-bought solutions.
This passage not only gives permission to be shrewd and ingenious, it also imparts a directive — noting, of course, that it has to be for the right purposes. To all mission and ministry leaders: Don’t be afraid to be sanctified Cedrics. Don’t be predictable. When a new challenge comes, be streetwise. Look for angles. Survive by your wits so you will really live — and through you, others will also really live.