September 22, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
The manager was out on his rear. Dismissed, fired, sacked: that was his fate. Why had this befallen him? Why would the manager lose his position and no longer receive a living from his master? Because of his acts of squandering the master’s possessions: “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’”
Squandering the master’s possessions is the exact opposite of what a manager is supposed to do. A manager is meant to oversee what his master has entrusted to him, to use the property or money to bring benefit to the master. But if the manager has been blowing the money or using the master’s assets for his own purposes, then he has acted unrighteously and foolishly. His control over the master’s possessions will be removed. He loses his job.
So when this manager is dismissed and called to turn in the ledger book, he knows that his fate is sealed: “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.” The manager knows that he is losing the source of his living. But before he surrenders the ledger book, the manager figures out a way that he will survive: “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.” His plan is to manipulate the accounts by reducing the balances of his master’s debtors: “So summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’”
What it is the outcome of this? The manager’s plan benefits the debtors. They have their debts lowered, so they are able to keep more of the crops and oil that they had been working to produce. They are made richer by this plan. And the plan benefits the fired manager also. When he no longer has a job, he can go to these debtors and remind them of how he reduced their bills. And out of gratitude, they will welcome him into their homes as a friend, giving him something to eat and a place to stay. Perhaps there may be a job for him.
And what does the master think of this? “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” The master praises the dishonest manager for the clever solution that he invented. The manager carved out a living by once again using the master’s property. But this time, the manager did not squander it on himself; he used what didn’t belong to him to benefit others. And in return, it benefits him. The rich man’s assets will be lower after all this, but the fired manager actually ends up not suffering the full consequences of his actions. And all the master can do is shake his head and commend the shrewdness of it all.
So why does Jesus tell this story? Why does He use it as a teaching tool? Remember, the parable was not told to the crowds in general, but “to the disciples”. So what does Jesus want His followers to learn? The answer is seen in what Jesus says immediately after the story: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Now, this doesn’t mean that Jesus wants you to be embezzlers or squanderers. That’s not the lesson to be learned; his dishonesty is to be avoided. But Jesus does want you to be shrewd with how you use money and possessions in this world. The manager’s shrewdness is something to imitate.
The dishonest manager in the parable shows just how shrewd people could be with money and possessions. He manipulated them for his own benefit. He lived high on the hog before being fired. And when he was dismissed, the manager figured out a way to use the master’s assets to create a soft landing spot. But how shrewd are Jesus’ disciples with money and possessions? Do you use them to your benefit? Or have you squandered them?
Jesus teaches how He wants you to use money and possessions: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” What does He mean by that? How is it done? Jesus’ statement is a call to charity, to giving. That’s how you make friends. By being generous to others, an atmosphere of gratitude is created. They thank you. They welcome you. They want you in their presence. They may even seek to know why you would act this way toward them. Then there is the ability to speak about the proper understanding of earthly possessions—that they are merely instruments and tools that you have been given to use by God in this lifetime before you receive the greater treasures that are eternal. This is the faithful use of unrighteous wealth that Jesus speaks about.
Jesus emphasizes the importance of using the wealth of this world: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” What you do with the unrighteous wealth reflects what you believe about it and about God who has entrusted it to you for the time that you spend here on earth.
Faithful use of money and possessions means that you avoid it becoming your god. Jesus warns against that: “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Loving money and possessions so much that they become the chief purpose for your lives reveals a false faith. That was seen in the Old Testament Reading with the description of the merchants: “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?”
Those statements showed how these merchants had become devoted to the false god of Mammon. When those thoughts or similar ones are found in you, they reveal that you have become a worshiper of the idols that fold into your wallet, sit in your garage, or lie in your safe-deposit boxes. Unrighteous wealth becomes an unrighteous god. The outcome of such devotion is to miss the true riches that God wishes to bestow. It means losing a place in the eternal dwellings that have been created for you. Ultimately, it is a squandering of the Master’s things.
But when your money and possessions are used to benefit others, when they are used within the boundaries that God has set, those actions reveal the true faith. They show that you trust in Him and not in things. Such actions reveal that you are expecting to receive true riches that God has promised to you. Your works display the belief that money and possessions actually belong to God and that you are meant to be managers of them, putting them to use as He wishes. This is the shrewd way of using unrighteous wealth. Then Jesus’ words apply to you: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.”
Jesus’ parable and teaching have to be seen through the prism of what He has done for you. That is the reason why He can tell the story to His disciples and give them instruction. When Jesus speaks about a person being faithful in a very little and in very much, that statement testifies about Himself. Everything in the world belonged to Him. And yet, Jesus uses what He owned according to His Father’s will. He employed all the assets entrusted to Him for the benefit of the world, as the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”
That testimony about Jesus is what you have received. It’s what you have come to believe. It’s what causes you to think rightly about money and possessions. The ransom given for you by Jesus reveals where true riches are to be found. Jesus’ acts grant you something greater than anything in this world. What Jesus has done shows how much God has loved you—not only that He provides you with earthly goods, but with eternal ones also. Your fate is set; you have an eternal home full of good things. That is why you can use the wealth of this world to make friends for yourselves, why you can use your possessions to benefit others. And when you do, then Jesus’ questions get turned around to become statements of commendation: “Because you have been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, I will entrust to you the true riches. Because you have been faithful in that which is another’s, I will give you what is your own.” He will praise you for your wisdom and shrewdness and welcome you into the eternal dwellings.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.