Summary: The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C; The people of the world live lives that are DOWNWARD and INWARD. As God’s people, redeemed by Jesus’ blood and righteousness, we can live our lives UPWARD and OUTWARD.
Imagine a ship at sea. The clouds are dark, the wind is strong, and the waves are rough. Is the ship in danger? It all depends on direction—which way it is headed. If it is going toward the harbor, it’s safe. If it is pointed toward the rocks, it’s in trouble! Life is like that. Two identical people can be in similar situations. But one’s life can be headed in the right direction while the other’s is not. Time will tell the outcome.
An interesting fact is that in many cases, a person’s eyes can determine their direction—whether driving, walking, or riding a bike. If you look to the right, you tend to turn to the right. If you look to the left, you tend to turn that way. Psalm 119:35-37 is a prayer that says, “Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your Word.” As we focus our attention on God’s Word this morning, our prayer is that our eyes, ears, and hearts would be drawn only to those things which are of real and lasting value. Amen!
Luke 16:1-13 is a story told by Jesus about a manager who faced a sudden change in his employment status. In other words, this man was about to be fired! His boss called him on the carpet for being wasteful. As soon as the he could give an account of his management of his master’s finances, he would be let go.
Time was critical. The decisions he made at that point would determine his future. If he made the wrong decision, he would have to either work with his hands or beg (and neither of those choices seemed very appealing). How would he get out of this mess? Then he had a sudden flash of insight and knew what to do. To say the least, his solution to the problem was rather creative!
One by one, he approached each person who owed his master money. One owed 800 gallons of olive oil—the oil produced by about 450 olive trees. This represented three years’ pay for the average worker. The manager simply reduced the bill to half that amount, effective immediately. Another who owed 1,000 bushels of wheat—the wheat produced by about 100 acres of farmland. This was worth about eight or nine years’ pay for the average worker. For him he reduced the amount owed by 20%, or one-fifth. The result? Needless to say, he suddenly had a lot of friends who could help him out in time of need. When he came before his master and showed him the accounts, the master had to praise him for his cleverness and foresight, even if he didn’t entirely agree with his methods!
The interesting thing about this parable is that it has both a point of comparison and a point of contrast. The contrast is between the people of the world, who are shrewd but often dishonest in their business dealings, and the children of God’s kingdom, who have other values. The comparison is that if that the people of the world a kind of wisdom in their worldly dealings, the children of God have even more reason to show true wisdom in both their worldly and their “spiritual” lives. The people of the world live lives that are DOWNWARD and INWARD. As God’s people, redeemed by Jesus’ blood and righteousness, we can live our lives UPWARD and OUTWARD.
(Some people try to justify what the manager did. They propose that the amount taken off what was owed was the commission, or interest, that the manager had previously added to the amount…not necessarily something that belonged to his master. That may be. However, we can see by the Pharisees’ reaction that Jesus meant to provoke controversy!)
If this life is all there is, it makes a strange kind of sense to be as ruthless as possible in accumulating wealth. This is the “He who dies with the most toys wins” philosophy and way of life. Even if we don’t agree with what the wealthy do to get their wealth—including exacting high rates of interest, exploiting those who have less, and exterminating their enemies—we have to admit that they’re good at it. They have a purpose in life (even if it is somewhat shady) and they are focused and intentional in their efforts to achieve that purpose. To that extent we can admire them. But we dare not imitate their actions or their attitude! Their lives might be focused, but they are focused in a dangerous and ultimately self-destructive direction.
The point of Amos 8:4-7 is that this life is NOT all there is.