I gave a talk nearly two years ago now that I just read again for the first time in a very long time. I thought it would be worth posting.
Luke screws the rich. Plain and simple from the get go is that if you have wealth and means you are not on the easy road for the Kingdom of Heaven, if you’re on the road in the first place. And the punches simply keep on coming throughout Luke: the rich are sent away empty in Mary’s Song, the rich are Woed during the Sermon on the Plain, the rich man who builds storehouses simply dies and cannot give adequate account of his life, and more that we have yet to come to. But by chapter 16, we’re getting to the idea that we who are rich, or at least well off, don’t have to be screwed and, in fact, can do something constructive with our resources that can be marked as faithful.
Something that must be realized first, and Jesus mentions it in the tail end of tonight’s parable, is that there is absolutely nothing we have that will not one day pass away. Our money, our stuff, our very lives are finite in nature and their destruction is mostly out of our control. A previous parable had a man who built larger storehouses to keep ownership over what he had labored hard to claim as his. In the end, he couldn’t hold onto his own life, let alone the barns he had just built. Tonight, we see the actions of one who knows full well that the things of this world are fleeting. The manager’s job is coming to an end, his way of life is in jeopardy; his life itself could hang in the balance depending on his choices. Nothing is permanent for him in a very sudden fashion. And what does he do? He blesses people, and richly at that. How many of us with our school loans or car payments or house payments don’t ever dream, even slightly, of having those debts erased or at least shaved a little. And how would we then feel about the people responsible for such a gift? It’s easy for me, at least, to place myself at the receiving end of the manager’s generosity, dishonest as it may be.
But Jesus doesn’t let us off there. We are not to enter the role of the debtors for this little story. We are to be like the manager himself, of all things. It’s not given so much as a command, but as good advice from, as Jonathan pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the smartest human being to have ever lived. Use dishonest wealth to bless others so that they might welcome you into the heavenly homes. What a loaded phrase. First off, it’s what to do with your money (or whatever else could be considered wealth). It’s not going to last and if it happens to last long enough to see your death, you can’t take it with you anyway, so spend it on that which is capable of being eternal: people. The three preceding parables, the lost sheep, the lost coins, and the prodigal someone or other (depending on who you talk to) teach us, as Bill said excellently this last Thursday, that people are of immense value to God. Value that staggers the greatest of imaginations and is capable of rocking the very foundations of the cosmos in the death of the being who laid them. These valued people, of which we are included, worth the life and death of Jesus, God incarnate, are the only thing worth our resources. These people are worth more to Jesus than all the money or things in the world, even his life itself. They are to be the same for us, be it the people in this room, the homeless of Redlands, or people we will most likely never meet in person. How we do this is up to us. We can give to missions, or even go on missions. We can give people who are easily overlooked not just one good dinner, but many good meals over the course of months or even years. We can put the energy into remembering what these valued people value themselves and invest time and strength into supporting their passions as much as we continue to support our own. This is the wise investment of what we have. And the returns that are capable from such an investment are explored more in Jesus’ statement.
Use dishonest wealth to bless others so that they might welcome you into the heavenly homes. Those valued people that you’ve invested your resources in during a life on earth may be there to welcome you home when your life is demanded of you. The evangelistic flavor is hard to avoid at this point. It’s plain to see, our wealth can be used to help others enter, along side us, into discipleship with Jesus. The salvation of people we interact with on any basis can be influenced by our showering them lavishly with what we have to give. We aren’t told the whole process that allows them to be present to welcome us to eternal homes. The only weight of responsibility given to us from this passage is to bless others with what we have to bless them with. This boggles my mind. Jesus can, and quite simply will, work with the seed planted in someone when we seek to bless them. And for no other reason than that these people were of more value to us than the resources we showered on them. What’s more is that with any luck, they will, in turn, pass on that blessing to others. Iga comes to my mind at this point and the joy that we might share not only in being welcomed home by one such as him, but also to see who is there to welcome him home.
Finally, these folks are welcoming us into eternal homes. Yeah, they’re there and that’s great, but, lest it pass us by, we’re there too! What we do with our resources becomes more intimately tied to how our salvation is worked out in our discipleship than we might be comfortable with. And this is the carrot, of all things, that Jesus hangs out there for us. Blessing others will alter our fate in eternity for the better. It’s our asses that are on the line, and if we’re good at anything, we’re good at making sure our asses stay high and dry.
To top the whole thing off, the actions of that lying manager (dishonesty not exactly being the kosher thing to do) are marked as faithful actions by the Son of God himself. People seeking to be faithful to this one please take note.
At the last is a warning, and one of particular note for me. The week after Easter Sunday, I sat down to work out my finances for May and pay the bills and such. To my surprise, my savings dropped to under a third of where I’d like it to be, which is to be able to pay for three months of living expenses should I find myself without income. This happened mostly due to extra expenses for switching car insurances and some extra cash spent during the month of March. The shock was harsh and the encroaching fear of what could happen if I didn’t have enough money was quick to grip me. The questions quickly arose, “Which of these is really my master right now? In whom do I trust?”
There are two masters to be had, according to Jesus. On the one hand is God. On the other is not the horned devil that sits on the shoulder of so many cartoon characters opposite the halo-ed angel, but the almighty dollar sitting in each of our bank accounts. Let’s be very clear: we have a choice. We are not bound to the Woe presented in the Sermon on the Plain. We do not have to be screwed because we have extra cash. But it must be a choice between the two; it cannot be both. Even if we try to submit to both, we will end up on one side or the other eventually, and at least for me, it’s clear which side I’d end up on by nature. One bids us to store and keep and own that which is fated to rust and decay and burn. The other bids us to give lavishly to that which might not pass away. Here, it is even clearer to me: our money has much to do with working out our salvation in fear and trembling.
The manager in the parable had a plainer choice than we do. For him to trust that the money he had power over would save him would be idiotic at best. For one, it isn’t his to begin with. And secondly, his power over it is about to cease. That money’s ability to do anything for him extended only so far as he could manipulate it. As soon as that ability is lost, he cannot trust in that money to do anything for him. In the context of the parable, his trust lies in those whom he uses his fleeting power to bless. He realizes that the debtors and the goodwill he may inspire in them with this plan will last longer than the money he is using. The choice isn’t as plain for us today. Our money doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, even when the economy doesn’t do as well as some would hope. It becomes difficult to see the finite nature of wealth and thus harder to put our trust into something better. We would do well to remember that our wealth isn’t ours to begin with, but even if it is, we are going to find ourselves one day dead and our money inaccessible. One of the masters given in the choice does not have the power to do much on its own or care for anything and will reach its end someday. The other is eternal with great power to act in the world and to value you. Maybe the choice for us is plainer than we think.
But in America, we don’t talk about money or wealth or our resources, unless we are doing so to show how much better we are than those who don’t have what we have. Money is a private matter, in nearly every aspect of our society. But I question that. If we must choose between wealth and God for our master, how can we not talk about it with each other? We talk about other weighty matters of our faith; what it means to care for others, or to trust Jesus more with this or that, or how we claim our identity, all very important things to discuss. But all of those come back to wealth in some way. Hoarding wealth is an enemy to trusting Jesus. Wealth is means of caring for others richly. Wealth is something that can define us in ways Jesus does not desire. Our resources are not the center of those matters of faith we normally find ourselves discussing, but they are joined to the matters of our faith, and they are often joined at the hip. We should be talking about what we have and what we think Jesus might have us do with what we have. Not as a means of justifying what we do with our wealth, but as a way of bringing our wealth to Jesus through the community that we surround ourselves with and thus be able to affirm one another in our decisions. To pray and talk with one another over this dangerous commodity capable of such good, but also of tearing us away from a God who values us as much as those we are asked to bless. We, in this room, have more wealth and means than many in this world just by virtue of living where we live. That still stands true even if the American economic system would call us poor. Quite simply, we are the rich, even if we don’t feel like it. The Woes from the Sermon on the Plain are spoken for people such as ourselves. Our salvation and possibly that of others hangs in the balance of what we do with our wealth, so I ask why we should not talk about this with others in the same situation. There is hope, we aren’t destined to some heinous demise in eternity simply because we were born here. Our wealth can be a gargantuan blessing, not only for us, but also for everyone.
The choice is hard; Jesus does not ever say that it can be easy. But there is hope. Those gathered for the Sermon on the Plain (which most likely include some of the rich from the area) were there not only to hear his teaching, but also to be healed and Luke tells us that power came out from Jesus and healed all who had gathered. The rich may be Woed, but we are given the chance to escape that fate. Let us seek to bless others with what we have, even if it’s what would seem to be just a little, and to support one other in the task. Nothing else is worth the riches we have to spend.