14th Sunday after Trinity Luke 16 1-13
Commentators on this parable in Luke 16 go as far back as Ireneus a Bishop in the 1st century and all admit that this is a notoriously difficult parable to understand.
There is a saying amongst teachers - “If you’re not sure about what you are saying, say it with conviction!” alternatively “If you don’t know what you are talking about, keep it short!” so I shall attempt to say my brief sermon with conviction this morning.
On one level this is obviously about money and our use of it, but there is something else hidden in here. Money shows us what we are like: mean or generous, shrewd or silly, to be trusted or not to be trusted. What we spent it on and gather around us reveals the sort of person we are. If any of you have been watching Bear Gryls programme on channel 4 you will see how money corrupts people. There are a group of people from all walks of life and all ages on an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean. Every few days a helicopter drops a case of money on the island. There will eventually be £100, 000 to be found. They all agreed that whatever they found they would share equally amongst the group – BUT you guessed it. The ones who have found money so far have hidden it and intend to keep it to themselves.
In this parable we’ve got a dishonest manager who works for a very rich man. But it transpires that this man has been dishonest. In Jewish Law it was not allowed to lend money with interest, so they got around this by lending commodities like wheat and oil. The manager had been adding extra money to the bill and keeping it for himself, all was well until somebody found out blew the whistle and told the master. The master calls the manager in, asks him to explain himself and then gives him the sack.
That was a very big deal in those days; it is likely that he would have lived with his master, so losing his job would also have made him homeless. There would have been no job seekers allowance, no benefits system. So the manager is clearly very anxious. He says to himself what shall I do now? I am not going to be able to dig for a living and I certainly don’t want to start begging – that’d be way too humiliating.
So like Baldrick in Blackadder he comes up with a cunning plan. He calls in some of the people who owe his master money. He systematically reduces the debt they owe – and of course they are delighted. What they don’t know of course is that the scheming manager had added extra to the amount they owed in the first place for himself, so in actual fact they now owed the right amount of money. Can you see what the manager is doing? He is following through with his cunning plan he is acting the generous manager in order to make friends for himself: so that these people will welcome him into their houses in the not too distant future.
Now perhaps the thing that makes this parable hard to relate to is the rather unexpected response of the Master who commends the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly – really, commended him? We would have expected the Master to be outraged. The manager had cooked the books and used for his own gain money that was not his, yet by reducing the debt his Master still gets the right amount of money and the manager assures himself of friends for the future. He was a shrewd dealer.
The dictionary definition of shrewdness is ‘the ability to judge people and situations well and make good decisions. Jesus expects us to be wise, shrewd stewards of God’s world. It is not ours to possess but ours to use for the benefit of others and for the glory of God. Sadly we see more investment and energy spent in gaining and keeping wealth and stuff than we do in investment in spiritual wealth and our eternal future. If you want to check it out you only have to look at how much time is invested in work, sport, recreation and how much time is spent in prayer, reading God’s word, and working for the furtherance of the kingdom of God.
There was a rich man who dreamed he arrived in heaven? Anxious to see his mansion, he asked the angel to take him there. As they walked the golden streets, past mansions beyond description, he kept asking, “Is this it?” “No,” the angel answered.
They walked on to the outskirts of the city, where the mansions were not nearly as nice, then into the suburbs, where they were much more understated. The rich man was certain they had missed his mansion, but the angel assured him they had not. They finally arrived at a small hut in the country. The rich man was flabbergasted to hear the angel say, “Well, this is it. It’s all yours.” “Surely there must be some kind of mistake!”
“No, this is yours.” “Why? Why didn’t I get a mansion?”
“Well,” said the angel, “this was all we could afford to build with what you sent ahead!”
In a previous church where I served as Deacon a couple came to me and asked if I would put their collection in the plate for the next 6 weeks as they were going to their holiday villa in Barbados. I agreed. When I opened the envelope the following Sunday I saw that they had left £6. 50p a week each for 6 weeks! We must invest more in eternity than we do in tomorrow. But how do we do that. By investing more in people than in things, by investing more in the soul than in the body. It is a proven fact that generous people have more friends, forgiving people are more forgiven, and loving people are more loved. This is the way the spiritual universe works.
In the parable, Jesus clearly states that there are some things that last, and some that don’t. Some things are of true value, but others are only of passing value. There is a time for fun and games, and there is a time to be deadly serious about the future.
The manager was called to account and so will we. Those who are found faithful and trustworthy in small things will be trusted to be responsible for greater things. If we misdirect our worship to earthly things and neglect spiritual things we will have to give account.
The good news is if we are truly serving God and not our money, we will be shrewd servants and we will be welcomed into our eternal home.