Summary: Jesus’ parable of the dishonest but shrewd steward shows us that what people want is something real, not just nice thoughts; and that the use of God’s money is our finest responsibility.
My brother-in-law has a unique ability, a very special talent. He has the ability to go into a men’s clothing store, size up all the merchandise available, and cane out with the very worst, the most atrocious looking stuff that money can buy. What is worse, he does that when he is shopping for me. I have an unbelievably gross collection of woolly argyle socks, ties with gaudy paintings, and sweaters with assorted geometric designs, all of them given by him to me with great gusto on birthdays or at Christmas.
Now of course you know you are supposed to ooh and ah over this stuff, and I have tried. Many times I have tried. But I suspect that my lack of enthusiasm is beginning to be noticed. In the first place, he has commented once or twice that he never actually sees me wearing the stuff; and in the second place, the last time this happened, I had no sooner opened the box bearing some green and orange creation than he grabbed it away from me and said, "It isn’t right, is it? I’ll take it back, I’ll exchange it. Anyway, it’s the thought that counts."
"It’s the thought that counts". That was going to be my line! Now I may not have a sweater to keep warm this winter, but I know that it’s the thought that counts, right?
I had stopped off in the supermarket the other day to pick up a few things, and I ran into a person whom I recognized as someone who is on our membership roll but who comes to worship very rarely. There is a good reason for that in her case, and so I have her permission to tell this story. As we rummaged around together in the longhorn cheese, she said, "I know I haven’t made it to church lately, and I know we haven’t sent in our offerings, and I realize I failed to return your phone calls … but my thoughts were with you."
To tell the truth, the only reason I feel free to tell this story, with or without permission, is that as soon as she had said that – "My thoughts were with you, I was with you in spirit" – as soon as she had said that, she began to giggle, and then laughed, "I guess that doesn’t make any sense, does it?"
Well, sense or not, a lot of us seem to believe it, don’t we? I didn’t do, but it’s the thought that counts. I don’t have a sweater to warm my bones, but it’s the thought that counts. I don’t have a church member in the pews and on the contribution records, but it’s the thought that counts. Hmm.
This week my son called to inform me that the firm where he works was having a cash flow problem, and that he would not be paid on time. The checks would be more than a week late. However, the partners in the firm had called a staff meeting, and the purpose of the staff meeting was just to let everybody know that they cared. No check, but it’s the thought that counts.
My son’s reaction was, "Nice thoughts won’t pay my bills."
Incidentally, every parent in the room can now guess what came next, can’t you? You are wondering what my response was. "Well, I’ll be thinking about you while your credit rating goes down the tubes"? "Well, you’re all grown up now and you’ll have to get out of this one on your own"? "It’s the thought that counts!" You know better than that. He needed a thought and he needed a check!
Reminds me of the time I was trying to get some money together to buy some furniture for the Baptist Student center I was managing. I wrote my supervisor to see if there was anything in the· budget for a table and some chairs, and by return mail I got an envelope with a handful of S&H Green stamps (remember them?) and a single sheet of paper, on which was written a Scripture reference: Acts 3:6. I looked it up. Acts 3:6 says, "Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee."
It’s the thought that counts. That’s the way we wriggle out of many a claim. That’s our avenue of escape when we are caught with our obligations unpaid and our debts escalating. It’s the thought that counts. But is it?
Jesus tells one parable which just turns upside down all of our common sense notions about how we deal with our responsibilities. It’s a puzzling parable. It seems at first reading not even to make good sense. But if you stay with it and study it, it will teach you something wonderful about the Kingdom and about how to live responsibly.