Faithfulness with money
16 Jesus also said to the disciples, “A certain rich man heard that his household manager was wasting his estate. 2 He called the manager in and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give me a report of your administration because you can no longer serve as my manager.’
3 “The household manager said to himself, What will I do now that my master is firing me as his manager? I’m not strong enough to dig and too proud to beg. 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I am removed from my management position, people will welcome me into their houses.
5 “One by one, the manager sent for each person who owed his master money. He said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil.’ The manager said to him, ‘Take your contract, sit down quickly, and write four hundred fifty gallons.’ 7 Then the manager said to another, ‘How much do you owe?’ He said, ‘One thousand bushels of wheat.’ He said, ‘Take your contract and write eight hundred.’
8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted cleverly. People who belong to this world are more clever in dealing with their peers than are people who belong to the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to make friends for yourselves so that when it’s gone, you will be welcomed into the eternal homes.
10 “Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much, and the one who is dishonest with little is also dishonest with much. 11 If you haven’t been faithful with worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 If you haven’t been faithful with someone else’s property, who will give you your own? 13 No household servant can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Thoughts on the passage:
I would be lying if I said I understood this passage the first time I read it. I would be lying if I said I understood it the second time I read it either. Part of what confused me I think is that the punchline, “you cannot serve God and wealth,” did not seem to fit with the rest of the passage. The rest of the passage seemed to focus on people who were good with money, and maybe even a little questionable in their practices. It also seemed to lift those people up. How does that connect to the ending, about serving two masters? It is confusing.
One of the things that is jarring about this passage to me is that the “hero” of the story seems to be more than a little dishonest. He forgives debts owed to his master in order to buy favors with others for when he is no longer employed by the master. For someone like me who values good ethical actions, it is hard to get behind a hero with such a skewed moral compass. Yet, this shrewd individual is lifted up by Jesus. It only adds to the confusion we feel.
The wise trickster is a common figure in many folk stories, but also appears in the Bible. Jacob, the patriarch of Israel, after all cheats his brother out of his birthright, uses deception to get the better or his father-in-law, and is generally not the best moral guide. In our story today we see another wise trickster who then gets rewarded for what he does. He is going to be fired for squandering his master’s resources and yet he uses that perception to his advantage. When he is reducing the debts he is creating further cost for the master, but now the benefit can be clearly seen. Even though it is done for his own profit, rather than his master’s, he displays that he is able to be shrewd when motivated. It is for this, his abilities, that he is rewarded, rather than for what he did with those abilities.
So how do we unpack this passage? What is behind these confusing images? First, Jesus needs us to make good use of the resources and abilities we have at our disposal. We need to be shrewd with our money, our time, our talents, our resources, everything. Second, we need to use those things for the right reasons. We cannot serve two masters, so we need to use our gifts and talents not for our own gain but for God’s.
Do we act shrewdly with the resources we have been given? What does that look like? As a church that means taking seriously how we use each gift and offering that we are given. It means looking at all our needs and deciding how to best use the resources we have to accomplish our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. When I was in seminary I was a part of a national board that met several times a year in Nashville. Our travel costs for the event were covered with funds collected by churches all around the country. We were told to think about that as we traveled. How would that person in the pew want us to spend that money? It meant being smart with the money, so not flying first class, but also not taking the cheapest flight if that meant cutting the meeting short or arriving exhausted after being up at 3 in the morning to get to the airport.
What gifts do we have to use for God’s work? We often think in terms of money, and that is certainly helpful. After all, without money we just cannot do some things, like pay the energy bill. It would be unfair to reduce our gifts solely to money. Take an event like Grandma’s Attic, here we take extra stuff we have around our garages, combine it with the hard work of people to sort and price the items, and the result is some money that we can use for missions as well as another way for people to learn about our church and what we do. As much as I hate to admit it, we often use our gifts to do God’s work outside of the church. Pastors are not the only people who do good in their jobs. Doctors, teachers, lawyers, mechanics, the list of people who help others in their work is endless. We also use our gifts outside of work too, through formal things like volunteering, tutoring, mentoring, and other structured things. We also do it when we just are kind those around us, even if it as simple as a word, a smile, or a helping hand.
For some of us the struggle is to believe we have something to offer and for others the struggle is to use what we have to offer for God’s benefit. Both come with their own challenges. What Jesus wants us to see in this lesson is that both are needed. We need to be smart with the gifts we have. We need to remember all the good things that God has entrusted us with. We also need to remember that we are meant to use these gifts to do God’s work in the world. God gives us dominion over the world, not for our benefit, but as stewards, tending it for God. Do we see the vast array of potential that surrounds us? Are we able to use it for God’s work? What do we need to do, to be shrewd and wise as we are the hands and feet of Christ?
Questions to Ponder:
What gifts and talents do you have to offer to God?
When is a time you have squandered what you were given and why?
What is something that distracts you from serving God with your whole heart?
Loving God, you have entrusted us with so much. Help us to see the many blessings that abound in our lives. Give us the wisdom to use them for good in the world. Help us to not get distracted by our own needs and wants and instead make use of them for your glory. Amen