There’s a certain parable that’s always intrigued me. Ok, more like, bothered me. It’s the parable of the shrewd manager, the one where the guy basically defrauds his boss and is applauded for it. (Huh?) The parable is made all the more intriguing because of the unexpected twists and turns that come in the scant interpretation that Jesus offers afterward, which mainly leaves it to the audience to connect the dots. As such, it’s a parable that has always felt elusive to me somehow.
That is, until now.
The latest episode of Ya Boy Kongming not only embodies this parable, but Jesus’s somewhat obscure commentary too, giving us a picture of what shrewdness looks like when used with integrity toward eternal ends. Together, Kongming, Eiko and Nanami bring this parable to life.
I’ll be honest. This week’s episode made me uncomfortable, but not for any of the usual reasons when watching anime, like fanservice or questionable relationships. Instead, it made me uncomfortable because in this episode, my beloved Kongming—who has until now been the very picture of poise and honor, wisdom and generosity of spirit—suddenly…cheats.
First, the spoilerific recap. Azalea’s manager, Karasawa, has cooked up a plot to essentially buy the “likes” necessary to gain a spot at the coveted Summer Sonia music festival by giving away 1 million yen to 100 fans who engage with the designated social media post. The QR code linking to the prize giveaway is to be unveiled in the middle of a surprise concert, with fans being told only the day and general area in which it will be held, no doubt to stir up more buzz as fans and influencers roam the foggy streets in search of the band.
These vagaries play right into Kongming’s hands, as he readies his own mobile stage, QR code, and surprise concert, which kicks off exactly where Azalea is due to appear, ten minutes before they arrive. (He has good intel.) All that remains to complete the deception is for Eiko to open with an Azalea song, “Underworld”, and then scoop Azalea’s “likes”. Kongming is using Karasawa’s resources—his social media reach and his financial capacity to essentially bribe the audience—to gain 100,000 “likes” for his own team.
This is precisely what the shrewd manager does in Jesus’s parable (Luke 16:1-8a). Finding himself about to be kicked to the curb for having mishandled his boss’s funds, the manager puts on his scheming hat and cooks up a plot to use his final moments of gainful employment to feather his own nest. He pays a visit to his employer’s business associates, and cooks the books to reduce their debts, currying enough favor to ensure a cozy retirement for himself. In short, he uses the resources of his soon-to-be former employer to provide for himself what he could never have achieved on his own.
It’s not like Kongming hasn’t used deception before. He has dissembled and misdirected his way to victory every episode, after all. But this time, he implicates Eiko in the deception, and that’s what made me particularly uncomfortable. Until now, Eiko’s role in their partnership has been simply to have faith in Kongming, to trust and follow his advice, and learn to stand on her own two feet in the way he’s encouraged her to do. But this time, when Eiko steps onto that mobile stage, it seems to be with the intent to deceive her audience; to pretend to be someone she is not. This runs counter to everything she’s been learning and struggling for the entire series. What is going on?
Well, it turns out that everything I’ve written so far is not actually what’s going on. For starters, the plan was not to steal 100,000 “likes”. It took a moment for the penny to drop though for both me and Owner, and I don’t think Karasawa and crew ever really got it.
Kongming’s real goal in highjacking the surprise Azalea concert is to disrupt his opponent and position himself and his team to deliver the killing blow against Azalea: “to divide Azalea… tearing them apart from the inside,” through something he’s named the Alienation Stratagem. In other words, Kongming intends to go a step further than the shrewd manager in the parable and take out Karasawa and Azalea (the “boss”) altogether.
But at the last moment, Kongming stays his hand, and the scroll of the Alienation Stratagem remains furled. Instead, he shares a new plan with the team—one that stops short of destruction and simply blocks his opponents’ devious plan to crowd-bribe their way to success. As the “likes” trickle to a stop, neither side has achieved the 100K target. But the playing field has been leveled.
Why does Kongming change his plans? A picture is worth a thousand words…(or maybe just one):
You see, Kongming has always acted with integrity, and this episode is no different. First, he has consistently sought to treat his opponents with honor. His intent has nearly always been to win over his opponents rather than simply outmaneuver them, whether it be the lead singer of the boy band whose spotlight he steals, yet to whom he ultimately provides a soothing concoction for his strained vocal cords, or Kabetaijin, whom he manipulates into a rap battle, only to have him join the team.
Second, and more importantly, Kongming has always sought to honor Eiko’s dream, even helping her to articulate it. This is why he changes his plans in midstream during the Battle of the Surprise Concerts: he recognizes that Eiko’s dream has shifted and crystalized into something new (more on this below). And he chooses to honor that new expression of Eiko’s heart.
In other words, Kongming embodies the kind of integrity that Jesus calls for in his commentary on the parable (vv. 10-12), when he enjoins us to be faithful in all things, however small they may be; to act with integrity consistently, no matter how insignificant the stakes may appear. Kongming, the shrewd manager, acts with integrity in this singular, small moment as he is about to defeat Azalea, and changes directions.
And so Kongming does not cheat. Nor does he destroy. Instead, he simply prevents his opponent from doing so—from stealing votes and destroying Eiko’s dream through trickery. And then Kongming steps aside and hands the battle over to Eiko. Now, it is up to her and her voice alone.
In addition to integrity, Jesus highlights another factor that enables us as believers to be shrewd and yet honorable. To paraphrase the key verse, Jesus tells us to be shrewd with eternal rather than worldly aims in mind: money only lasts in this world, but the way you use it can have eternal implications. You can win friends not just for this life, as the shrewd manager did, but for eternity—all through the way you use money and other resources. For the believer, then, the motivation for acting shrewdly is to make friends, and specifically the kind of friends who will be with us in eternity.
This is exactly what Eiko is aiming for. She doesn’t want a win today, or a bounty of “likes”; Eiko wants a friend for eternity. That’s what Kongming realizes, and why he pivots. He is realigning his stratagems with Eiko’s dream—a dream that has changed since she went in search of her own voice, seeking out a purpose to give meaning to her singing.
Eiko found her voice with the help of Nanami, a skilled street musician. And she found her purpose when she learned that Nanami was the lead singer of Azalea, and more to the point, that in leading Azalea, Nanami was actually a prisoner of her manager, Karasawa, forced to hide her true self. Nanami’s friendship and support changed Eiko’s life, and now Eiko is determined to return the favor and free her friend from the fakery that is holding her captive.
In other words, Eiko has her sights set on a friendship that is eternal.
Here’s where the parallels between Luke 16 and this episode get even more interesting. Jesus’s commentary takes another abrupt turn at verse 13, as he speaks about the impossibility of serving two masters: “Either you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.” Nanami is serving two masters, to the point where she even has two personas: hip bucket-hatted, cargo-pants-wearing street singer Nanami, and masked pinup Azalea girl Kuon. The former loves music as her master, the latter hates Karasawa as her master. The problem is, Karasawa knows it and he doesn’t care. He’s perfectly happy for Kuon to serve two masters. In fact, he’s banking on it. He’s relying on her love of music and determination to be a professional in order to keep her trapped in her contract with him. The enemy doesn’t lose anything when we attempt to serve both him and God, or acquire for ourselves both worldly and eternal riches. He knows that it’s impossible to do both, but like Karasawa, he’s also confident that as long as we believe we can still honor God (music) while serving money (Karasawa and the contract), he (the enemy) is in control.
Nanami needs someone to show her that she must choose her master; that she cannot continue to serve both. She needs someone to come and rattle the prison bars that cage her in, shaking her awake to the truth of her predicament, and empowering her to step into freedom, leaving the life of masks, shame, and clothes that don’t suit her behind. And Nanami knows it. This is why she is horrified when she realizes that Eiko is seeing her in such a state—so much so that one mask is not enough to cover her shame; she must also hold up her hand to block Eiko’s gaze.
But Eiko is exactly who she needs right now, because Eiko wants to sing the gospel, the good news, to her friend. A gospel song that will break the chains that have Nanami wrapped up in a costume and persona and lifestyle that do not reflect who she truly is. A gospel song that will tear away the mask of deception, set the captive free and dress her in the right clothes.
And so there we have it. Kongming, the shrewd, yet integrous manager, has used Karasawa’s resources to level the playing field. And Eiko, her heart set on a friendship that is eternal, has used the Battle of the Surprise Concerts to create an opportunity for Nanami to make a choice. All that remains is for Nanami to decide: who will she serve? For whom will she sing? Luke 16 in a nutshell.
So let us be shrewd yet with integrity, dedicating all the resources we have toward the beautiful goal of helping friends—both those who are already known to us, and those yet to be made—to recognize the choice set before them, and support them in choosing the master who sets them free for eternity.
Then one day, we’ll all celebrate together in heaven, and maybe rewatch this episode.
Ya Boy Kongming can be streamed on HiDIVE. And you should do it because, *controversial opinion*, it’s the best series this season.
- SPY x FAMILY & Hearing from God - 06.20.2022
- Ya Boy Kongming, Ep. 11: The Parable of the Shrewd Manager - 06.13.2022
- SPY x FAMILY & the Glorious Tension at the Heart of the Gospel - 06.09.2022