One cannot help but call the manager in our parable today a rogue. Firstly he has mismanaged his master’s accounts. How, we don’t know. But then, when his mismanagement is discovered and he is sacked, he uses his master’s accounts to provide for his own future. When he is found out you would think that his master would be furious. But he isn’t, he is praised by his master for being shrewd.
He’s not the only rogue that appears in the bible who is seemingly rewarded for his questionable behaviour. In fact the very foundation of Israel is based on a rogue character named Jacob. Israel is the new name given to Jacob – the second born son of Isaac. Being the second born Jacob was never happy with his position in the family. So he tricked his older brother into selling his birthright by selling him a bowl of stew when he came home starving after being out hunting all day.
Jacob took advantage of a person in need. Then when it came for the blessing of the first born son before Isaac died, Jacob, along with his mother, tricked Isaac into believing Jacob was his brother Esau and stole the blessing from his father reserved for the first-born son.
So Jacob is a rogue and his conniving continued including taking advantage of his father in law Laban and being audacious enough to insist God bless him during a wrestling match that lasted all night. Jacob refused to let go of God unless God blessed him. God blessed him by giving him his new name – Israel – one who struggles with God.
And I believe it is that audaciousness or confidence to claim a blessing from God that Jesus is referring to. Just like the writer to the Hebrews who says – Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
Let’s remember that this is a parable that Jesus spoke. It’s not a real life example. As a parable it’s supposed to evoke discussion not a moral teaching. And as I read this parable several times I keep getting from this that Jesus is saying that we are sometimes more worried about our earthly future than we are our eternal future.
That we should be as sure about our eternal future as we are about our worldly future. How many will work tirelessly to the detriment of their heath and family life to have that financial security for the future? How many will go into massive debt to secure that home for the future? How many are prepared to sacrifice their time and leisure to finish that project at home?
Are we as concerned about our eternal future? We see families go to war over the division of a will forgetting family ties. Jesus is highlighting that while we are very much concerned about our earthly future we should be as zealous regarding our eternal future. Jacob used the same audacity in securing his spiritual future as he did in securing his worldly future.
Are we as anxious to ensure our future with God as the dishonest manager was to ensure his future in this world? Are we prepared for eternity like the shrewd manager was for his worldly future? Jesus again shows that the pursuit of money is often at the heart of where our commitment lies. Around 1/3 of Jesus’ parables and sayings concern the relationship between faith and money often telling people to sell what they have and give to the poor. To free ourselves from the domination of possessions.
Jesus talks so much about money because loyalties are often revealed by what people do with their money and how they feel about it. There was the rich young ruler who was so concerned about how to achieve eternal life but left Jesus because he was rich? Jesus said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. (Luke 18:22,23) His possessions became his line in the sand regarding commitment to God.
That was so different to disciples like Levi – who left everything and followed Jesus. Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
So did Peter and Andrew, James and John, the fishermen: As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22)
And the Widow who gave everything she had to the Temple Treasury. There are many examples in the bible about commitment and what is important to people and what they seek – God or wealth. The good news is that we can have both – it’s a matter of what is your first love and concern. Jesus is not worried about our possessions but when they become our master and says: “No slave can serve two masters; You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Those whose love is money will do all that is required to look after themselves and they will use all their money and all their power to get more money and more power.
But there’s another point aimed at Christians – children of the light as he calls them. As Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem and is punished and dies, what will his followers do in that crisis? Will they be “children of light” and keep trusting Jesus after he has died? Or, will they return to being “children of the world” and go back to their worldly security?
What will we do when crisis occurs in our lives? Where will we go to find hope and security? That’s what determines who we are truly serving.
In explaining the first commandment Luther says: What does it mean to have a god? A god is whatever a person looks to for all good things and runs to for help in trouble.
Material things can trap us and divert our attention from what truly matters in life. We’ve seen families divided over possessions and inheritances; marriages ruined by a spouse preoccupied with business dealings; wars fought over land and resources; lives ruined for the sake of the “bottom line”.
Money changes people even faithful Christians. A classic example is in the book of Acts with Ananias and Sapphira. They had the heart and love of God to sell their property but Ananias after seeing the money kept back part of the money for himself.
Money and possessions can easily become our masters. They are not evil in themselves but they can quickly become our masters. They are gifts from God but like so many gifts from God they can turn us against God.
Jesus says to build up treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. That’s the heart of what Jesus is teaching today. Yes it’s a difficult parable to understand but dealing with money and possessions is a difficult topic especially in the church.
As is often said, Jesus spoke more about money than any other topic because money is so often what people are prepared to give up their faith for. Money will come and go and even the rich must face God and give an account of their life before God. They cannot buy their way in.
But money can soon turn to greed as St Paul warns about the love of money – not money itself – he says: For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:10) Like everything we have, money is God’s gift to us but it is not to become our master.