As you might have noticed, we have been hearing a lot of parables from Luke in the last few months; this is Year C in the revised common lectionary. . . the year of Luke. And Luke seemed to concentrate on Jesus and his parables as teaching tools for his disciples and anyone who interacted with Him. Jesus used parables to convey a moral truth, a lesson for the hearer on how to live their lives. We started out with some gentle parables (the Parable of the Sower of seeds in Luke 8, and the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10) and have progressed to today’s Parable of the Unjust Steward that has a lot more substance. I often wonder if the tone of the parables become more complicated because Jesus is tired of having to answer the same questions all the time.
In today’s gospel, we just heard:
Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ (Luke 16:1-2)
The manager’s gig was up – he had been caught stealing from the rich man. He was being rightfully fired for cause: theft. Yet, a few lines later we hear this:
And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly (Luke 16:8)
Did we just hear that the rich man commended the manager who had ‘cooked the books’ and cheated him?
You have got to be kidding!!
That doesn’t make sense! If someone cheated you, would YOU praise their shrewdness? I don’t think so!
Of all the parables in Luke, this is probably one of the most difficult parables to try to understand and, certainly, to explain to you. Most preachers try to stay as far away as possible from preaching on this. But here I go.
It’s an interesting story; here’s a con artist, caught cheating his master, shown to be guilty by his silence (he says absolutely nothing when he is accused by the rich man and summarily fired). Yet he ends up being commended for his smart thinking. At first, we might think Jesus is condoning the theft by the manager. In fact, Jesus says
for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. (Luke 16:8)
in other words, the dishonest manager was more shrewd than Jesus’ own followers. This man, doing his evil deeds, was far more dedicated to his self-preservation than Jesus’ disciples were in spreading the good news of the gospel.
So what’s the point of the story?
In my opinion, the point of the story is that it is NOT OK to be a con artist, even if you get away with it in the end. Nor does it teach us to manipulate events for our own benefit, as it seems to. As much as that may have been the dishonest manager’s method, Jesus isn’t suggesting that it’s OK for us to manipulate or cheat, even if it is appears to be in the service of God’s kingdom.
The people who use this parable to justify underhanded or dishonest methods are simply misrepresenting it for their own purposes.
The end NEVER justifies the means.
Let me repeat that:
The end NEVER, NEVER, NEVER justifies the means.
If the parable is not about justifying dishonest behavior and the end justifying the means, what is the deeper meaning of the parable?
What the parable is also about is money, the power it brings, and how to use it in our lives. It’s about understanding that there can honest and dishonest uses of money and power.
Even in Jesus’ day there was this idea that money was an evil thing; some people thought if you got involved with money you would be tainted, would have committed a serious, maybe, mortal sin. In Matthew 19:24, Jesus himself said
it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
But he didn’t say it was impossible. Just having riches doesn’t preclude you from salvation. What matters in the end is how wisely you use money and the power it brings. In other words, don’t be put off by the thought that there’s something wrong with wealth, as though wealth is a hindrance to entering God’s kingdom. Rather, make sure that what wealth you have is used for godly purposes. Make sure that your use of your wealth results in your making friends that will last for an eternity, that is, children of the Kingdom of God. God is about relationships and interactions with others.
All of us live in this blessed and, frankly, rich country. We enjoy independence, freedom, and material goods far beyond those of most people in the world. Jesus is warning us to make sure we use our wealth well, to bring people into the Kingdom of God.
Despite the way the manager behaved, life’s purpose is not solely about making our own individual and family’s lives more comfortable. Many people look at their wealth and think it exists for their use only. Whether it is inherited or worked hard for, a sense of fear of the future or the overwhelming need to look after ourselves or our family, encourages us to hoard our wealth for fear of loss. But that isn’t at all what Jesus is talking about here. He’s talking about using our wealth for others; not just our family, but for those we many not know, for causes we did not start, to benefit people not directly connected with us. This parable encourages us to look at life as not just caring for #1, but to use all the resources we have to bring this world into the Kingdom of God.
Life is NOT about accumulating wealth. Rather it’s to make sure that the wealth we have is used properly. Life is about looking beyond ourselves to the needs of others and to causes and actions that bring people to the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God is many things; but if we learn anything from the teachings of Jesus, we learn the Kingdom of God is one where no one is hungry, no one is homeless, no one is suffering or sad. The Kingdom of God is one in which there is no war, no greed, no cruelty. All are included in the Kingdom of God; there is eternal compassion, forgiveness and mercy, and most of all there is joy. Jesus taught is to pray:
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10)
And this is the work of a Christian, to use his or her money, time, knowledge and energy to bring this kingdom closer to earth.
So, what are you living for at this moment?
This parable is not only about money, it’s also about having a long term vision. It’s about expanding our horizon, getting the big picture of life. It’s about understanding where we’re going, long term, so we can know how to live our lives here and now. Think about what the manager did. He realized what life will be like when he was fired and he did something about it. He personally sacrificed some things so he could do right by his master and his friends. He took the opportunity he had while the opportunity was there, to create for himself a secure future.
How are we to apply this strange parable to our own lives?
Life is about the grace and forgiveness of God given so freely and so unearned. You will hear in the communion anthem:
There is a wideness in God’s mercy,. . .
there’s a kindness in His justice, . . .
the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind,
And another point Jesus is making with this parable is, if the crooked people of this world go to so much trouble and effort to be wicked, to be dishonest, to cheat, and to be so selfish — why can’t his disciples and us put as much or even more effort into being His followers, the “sons and daughter of the light”.
We are here to plan for eternity; we are here to bring people into God’s kingdom. And one way of doing that is to use our money, our wealth, and our time to support God’s work. We mustn’t fall into the trap of being ashamed of our wealth or, at the other extreme of thinking that we don’t have enough to spare for God’s work. Rather we should rejoice that God has made it possible for us to give our resources to support his work, to make friends for eternity.
- Have you thought about the fact that when you spend time working with our youth you’re making friends for eternity?
- Have you thought that when you put your money in the plate each week, that you’re helping to support a witness on Worthington’s Village Green for the Kingdom of God?
- Has it occurred to you that when you put hours of time and energy into our Vestry, our Choir, any of our committees, or prepare food for the homeless you are making friends for the Kingdom of God?
- When you support with your money, political candidates that believe in the service and love of others, do you realize you are working to bring God’s kingdom on earth?
- Do you know when you stop to help a child, to help someone in need, listen to someone who needs an ear, or take a stand in a public gathering for the principles of Jesus, that you are using your wealth to win people for the Kingdom of God?
Jesus concludes with a sharp statement as a way to sum up what he had been trying to say all along:
“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:13)
Jesus doesn’t want half-hearted discipleship; He wants total discipleship on our part.
Can you put forth the effort to serve Jesus?
That is what he is asking in the parable, “where is your effort?”, “where are your priorities”?
Is your priority in things that will fade away?
Or is your priority to build the Kingdom of God here on earth and for eternity?
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church Worthington and Parts Adjacent, 18 September 2016
 Frederick William Faber & Maurice Bevan, There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy.