When we read the Gospel of Luke 16: 1-13, we hear about an employee who cheats on his employer. A manager who manipulates his master’s money to make friends for his forced retirement and a master with Jesus’ approval, praising the dishonest manager because he acted shrewdly. What brand of business ethics is this? If you know something about the economic realities at the time of Jesus you would realize that what the manager is doing is reducing the interest; interest that he would have undoubtedly shared in if he had remained on the job.
So, in fact, the master did not lose any of his original investment, just the excess padding. The owner shakes his head in admiration, clever little fellow. I fire him and he trades on disaster to ensure his future. He approves. What precisely is Jesus approving? What has this parable to do with the Kingdom of God?
Simply this: the dishonest manager at a critical moment in his life-when his entire future was at stake-acted decisively to cope with the crisis. He planned shrewdly to secure his future.
So for Christians Jesus preaching of the Kingdom brings a crisis in our lives. We have to act decisively, plan shrewdly, to ensure a place in God’s kingdom. It sounds a little abstract. What does it say to you? What does it mean in the here and now? I think we might want to recall the end of the parable.
There is the meat; no servant can serve two masters. You cannot give yourself to God and money. For, to this end, Christ died and lived again. Yet, the President of Harvard tells us that the stated goal of the incoming freshmen is money, power and reputation. I do not think that the streets of Cambridge are unique. Money, power and reputation are not evil.
Joseph of Arimathea, who boldly buried the Body of Jesus, had money to burn. The Pope possesses incomparable power. Mother Teresa had world-wide reputation years before she died. These can be wonderful gifts; but also, perilous possessions. Why, because they can lead to evil, to dishonesty, injustice and self-love. They can lead to the devastation of the human spirit. This happens whenever goal number one is not God but myself.
Whenever you’re primary purpose is not reverence and service to God my primary purpose is me. You and I may never be people of great wealth, power or reputation. But we might have false gods, someone or something that we worship other than the one true God.
Some of us do not feel worthy, to come closer to God. One man said, “Some of the things that I get mixed up in during the week are so bad. That I would feel strange going to church on Sunday, even my family calls me a shady character.” Jesus often used shady characters in His stories. And we have one today, but take a deeper look at him.
Yes, he is a crook; he is accused of wasting the master’s possessions. The very same words of accusations used in the parable of the prodigal son who wasted his father’s possessions in a far country. Is this steward a sign like the prodigal son of the incredible and underserved Grace of God? John Newton called it amazing grace.
And, indeed, it is; if our Lord knew us so well why would He care enough to die for us? To that question, the gospel gives one answer. There is no greater love than this to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Christ looked upon all our wheeling and dealing that nailed Him to the cross. And we expect Him to judge us for our sin. Instead, He saves us with His grace. Jesus was considered unrespectable during His earthly life. He was executed on a cross among thieves.
He was not afraid to eat with sinners, He was not afraid to use sinners in His stories. For this, we can be grateful, what if God was like a respectable bookkeeper? What if all of us ended our lives audited before a God who only rewarded those whose accounts were paid in full? What if perfect lives only were allowed in the record books of heaven? Think about your life, aren’t you glad that Jesus can see good even in a crook? We are all called to be Saints and what is a Saint? Just a sinner who keeps trying.