Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!
As we look at our world today we see a growing gap between the rich and the poor. In fact, we now see ultra-rich and ultra-poor people in our world. Inflation, gas prices, food costs, it’s getting harder and harder all the time for many people. But there is also the other side of the coin, the elite segment of society. The ultra-rich. They are incredibly powerful families of billionaires and even trillionaires that seem to be able to control the world by buying off governments and politicians for their own financial gain and agendas. The Rothschilds. The Rockefellers. George Soros. Bill Gates. … Colonel Saunders! You know who I mean. They’ve got more money than any of us will ever dream of seeing in 1000 lifetimes. And more often than not, they don’t use their fortunes for good. They might pretend to do so through the media optics of their foundations and charities, but it often comes to light that they use their vast sums of money to manipulate and control world markets and even entire countries! They have the power to bankrupt industries and buy them back for pennies on the dollar, thus making even more money in rather unscrupulous ways.
But then we read the Gospel reading from Luke for today. And then it seems like these kinds of financial manipulators are being praised for their unscrupulous behaviour! A rich man catches one of his managers with his hand in the cookie jar. “That’s it! You’re done! Gimme the books right now!” says the rich man. Two weeks notice is given. … The manager knows that the igjay is upsay! What’s he going to do? He can’t go out and get a real job, he’s had it too good for too long! He’s ashamed to beg from the people he used to lord over. So, he decides to put his shyster ways to good use for himself.
He does a roll call through the accounting clients, calls them up one by one, and starts cutting them sweet deals, slashing their debts that they owe the rich man. You owe 100 measures of oil? Write 50! You owe 100 bushels of wheat? Write 80! What a deal! In effect, this dishonest manager was “buying favours” from the debtors. He was securing his own future by making friends in high places who would no doubt remember the deals he made! They would remember and pay him back, “welcoming him into their houses.” The rich man, upon seeing the shrewdness of the manager, commends him for his “sweet heart” deals – even though it cost him dearly!
On the outset, it’s a really, really weird Bible text. In fact there are hardly any others sermons out there on this text. Most Pastors prefer to skip over it for something easier and more fun. But here’s the real deal in a nutshell: it’s a sermon on stewardship. It’s not about buying friends with dishonest dealings. It’s about using the resources that God has given us wisely. Jesus says that “the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (16:8). He makes the point here that worldly, dishonest and corrupt money manipulators are shrewder than God’s people, the sons of light.
The big picture point of this weird reading is that money is to be used. Not hoarded. Not manipulated. Not unrighteously wielded like a weapon. It is to be used for God’s glory in accordance with His Divine purposes. Just like our various time and talents that God gives us, blessing us in many and various ways, we are to use the blessings to glorify Him and get the Word of the Gospel out! Churches and Christians fail when they fail to do this. When the treasures of God are hoarded and kept to ourselves, we are indeed like that manipulating manager. Instead all of life must become stewardship, always seeking ways to use God’s resources that He richly gives us for the good of His Kingdom and preaching the Gospel and forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.
You probably remember the movie ‘Schindler’s List.’ It was about a guy named Oskar Schindler who owned an enamelware factory in occupied Poland at the time of the second world war. He was also in the Abwehr, the intelligence service of Nazi Germany. As the war went on and was nearing defeat for the Nazi’s, Schindler bribed the SS officials to prevent the execution of his Jewish workers until the end of the war. By May of 1945 he had spent his entire fortune on bribes and black-market purchases to keep his doomed Jewish workers alive. In the last scene of the movie, Schindler is lamenting the fact that he could have saved more than the 1200 people he spared from certain death. He looks at his car and sees ten more people. He looks at a gold lapel pin and sees two more people. He breaks down and weeps. He could have done so much more to save even more people.
This is the idea behind Jesus’ parable. Have we as God’s baptized and confirmed people devoted our lives to the proclamation of the Gospel – the only message that will give eternal salvation to a dying world? Have we spent our money on missions? Have we examined our lives to see if we have become mindless consumers – buying stuff we don’t need with money we don’t have? Have we used the grace and money that God has richly given us to make sure that our neighbours and friends have heard the news that Christ was crucified and resurrected for them? Because this is what it’s all about! Will we be like Schindler, full of regret that we could have done so much more to spread the Word of God’s Kingdom? It’s a pressing question for us.
And, the majority of us are guilty as charged on this one. We have been the consumers. The people who blindly go after the world. We’ve wracked up debt buying stuff that we really don’t need, with money we don’t have, thinking that those new things will make us happy and content. But they don’t. They never do. Eventually, we will need more and more and more stuff. We apply this to human relationships too. Adultery follows soon after. Gotta chase that feeling of new and exciting! So we spend all of our money seeking after anything but the Kingdom of God. It’s completely backwards! For Jesus tells us plainly “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (MT 6:33).
The Lord gave His life on the cross to forgive our sins and move them as far as the East is from the West away from us. Even our sins of consumerism and poor management of God’s resources. The parable tells us to look into our hearts and route them out. It encourages us with God’s blessing to be shrewd managers. To look at all the ways God has blessed us in life with money and possessions, and in turn spend them on the Gospel. We can support the missions of the church. We can see that the world needs the message of Christ and His forgiveness. We can devote ourselves to being shrewd and faithful stewards of God’s stuff.
Jesus summarizes His parable by saying “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” (MT 6:24). Worldly wealth is a very little thing, compared to the riches and glory of life in the age to come. One must choose. God or money. Godliness or worldliness. Pursuing the Kingdom of God means a ruthless determination to keep money in its place – as God intends it to be. It is to treat it like a mere instrument in the service of God’s purposes. It is to use money, wisely and shrewdly for the proclamation of Jesus Christ from the lowest valley to the highest mountain. For this message of sins forgiven and eternal life is truly what makes us rich. Thanks and praise be to God, now and forever more. Amen!