Sermon, September 22, 2019
Since in various Bible versions words may be translated slightly differently let begin with synonyms in today’s lesson.
· Rich man = Master
· Steward = slave = manager & stewardship = management
· Wealth = Mammon = “that in which one trusts” (Semitic)
· Dishonest wealth = Embezzled wealth
· Prudent = shrewd = astute
· “sons of the world” = unbelievers
· “sons of light” = believers
Unlike the audience of the past two Sunday’s parables, in today’s scripture lesson, Jesus is talking directly to his disciples. It is the story of a dishonest manager. Having spent spend the majority of my career in the hospitality industry as a manager, and having dealt with both honest and dishonest other managers, this story resonated with me. I did not start out as a manager similar to when a master wood carver after training his son would test his son’s skills on clay before entrusting him to on fine oak, I honed my skills as I worked my way up. As a part of being a manager there is the expectation and necessity of being responsible for controlling and/or administering that which belongs to another so that the goals and objectives for which one was hired would be achieved. By so doing the manager makes provision for both present and future needs in the form of pay or commission. There are limitations and constraints that present challenges along the way such as personnel, scheduling, time, and budget and mistakes will be made but squandering what belongs to another is not tolerated.
In the first reading of today’s lesson it just does not seem right that Jesus seems to be commending the manager’s dishonesty. Whenever there is a supposed disconnect it is a call to dig deeper. In today’s lesson the master is not commending the manager’s dishonesty but rather the shrewdness he employed. And the we can understand that shrewdness applies to both this earthly life and our eternal life. Shrewdness (astuteness) is having or showing an ability to accurately assess situations or people and turn this to one's advantage. Both the prodigal son and the dishonest manager had accurately assessed their situation and were taking action to turn things to their advantage but in totally different ways. The son who after a self-assessment took responsibility to acknowledge his squandering of the resources he had received from his father, decided to repent, return home and face the consequences. But unlike the son, in today’s account after the manager became aware of the charges brought against him for squandering his master’s property, after also doing a self-assessment, did not consider taking responsibility, repentance, and making a plea to be returned to a position in the household of his master. By his own accounting he was not strong enough for manual labor and too prideful to beg. And he assessed the debtors as being in over their heads and willing to be brought into his deception. So, he went to his master’s creditors to strike a quid pro quo bargain. In exchange for the debtors falsifying what they owed not him but his master they in return would take him in either because of gratitude or blackmail and provide for him in the days ahead when he lost his job. As a byproduct of his dishonesty the manager made the debtors as dishonest as himself as they went along with this deception to lessen their own responsibility.
What if rather than bringing the debtors into his dishonesty the manager went to his master, confessed his mismanagement, and proposed that he would forgo what would have been his commission on the full amount the debtors owed, thereby returning to his master his rightful due, keeping the debtors honest, and at the same time reducing the overall amount of each debtor owed. By so doing by his honest shrewdness the manager could have most likely been allowed by his master to continue in his position. But despite the manager not taking this path the master nonetheless commended him for his shrewdness.
At this point in the story Jesus says, “For the sons of this world are shrewder in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” In using the terms “sons of the world” and “sons of light”, as we mentioned at the start of today’s sermon, He was referring to unbelievers and believers. The truth of the matter is that sadly, unbelievers tend to be wiser in the things of this world than believers. When we take an honest self-assessment what actions will result the best outcome both in this life and in the life to come?
We are God’s stewards. Just as the unjust steward in the parable was “shrewd” in benefitting materially, so we should be “shrewd” in benefitting spiritually. We are to use the Master’s resources to further the Master’s goals. We have been entrusted with resources both temporal and spiritual to use for the eternal benefit of all. If God is our Master, then our wealth is at His disposal. One quote that resonates with me is that true wealth is to be measured by the scarcity of one’s wants. When we have the assurance of our salvation and an ongoing relationship with the Father, Son, and Hoy Spirit, we have contentment and gratitude for what we have both temporally and spiritually. The faithful steward whose Master is God will employ the wealth entrusted to him in building up the kingdom of God. Jesus says to make friends, that is, to bless others by means of the wealth we have in our earthly life makes friendships that endure into eternity. When earthly life is over those whom we have blessed may receive us into our eternal heavenly home. Being honest managers lays up treasures in heaven.
Here’s the basic point: Don’t embezzle or worry about being a shrewd investor in this age, where you can provide a future that will only last until it is gone. Instead, be a really shrewd investor by investing in people’s lives. Use your resources to do as much good as you can for the glory of God and the eternal good of others
Jesus concludes by telling his disciples that we are all slaves to one master or another but that we cannot be slaves to two masters at the same time, and “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” Faithfulness and unfaithfulness are proportional. What is the case with a little is the case with a lot. I have found that wealth or the lack of it amplifies rather than changes a person. Those who are stingy in a little become misers in a lot and those who are misers in a lot when they lose it become hoarders. Those who are generous in a little become philanthropist in a lot and when philanthropists lose what wealth they have nonetheless share what they have such as the widow with her mite. The same can be said when in addition to wealth of money we consider wealth of love, forgiveness, respect, and gratitude.
When we are not faithful in:
· Love – we become calloused & hard hearted
· Forgiveness – we become Revengeful
· Respect – we become bigoted or racial
· Gratitude – we become conceited
When we trust God, seek first the Kingdom of God, and invest whatever wealth we have in others we become welcomed into the homes of relationships, peace of mind, serenity, gratitude, awe, spiritual assurance, faith, and eternal life.
We must take care not to squander what belongs to God.