Summary: Making a choice to serve Jesus (Luke 16:1-13)
This is one of the more difficult passages of Luke’s Gospel, and the interpretation of it divides commentators and preachers.
What are we to make of it? I think the key to it is, once again, to look at it in the context of the central theme of Luke’s Gospel – what does it mean to be a mature servant of Jesus?
The recipients of Luke’s Gospel were a group being persecuted, both by the Roman authorities, and also by the Jewish authorities. At this point in the young church’s history those following the Way of Jesus were still largely Jewish, and still largely formally worshipping in the synagogue. The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem led to an exodus of members of the Jewish authorities, to Greater Antioch, which we think is the first place Luke’s Gospel was circulated. These Jewish authorities faced a huge challenge – how to maintain the Jewish faith in the absence of the temple, which had been all important. One of the things they thought was important was to ‘purify’ their faith, and that meant getting rid of Jesus’ followers.
So when the hearers and readers of Luke’s Gospel heard about the dishonest manager who had to ingratiate himself so that he could be cared for and safe, they probably heard something that touched on their circumstances quite directly. For them their world – their very lives – was under threat.
What about for us? What are we to make of this passage?
Jesus is very up front about the purpose of life. He leaves neither his disciples nor the hearers of his words in any doubt about it. The purpose of life is to be God’s. It is to, as he said “love the lord your God with all of your heart, all of your mind and all of your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself”. There is absolutely no doubt about where Jesus says you need to put your time, your energy, your enthusiasm, your money and your goods.
This Gospel reading is about that, really. Jesus is telling his disciples that they need to make a choice – the same choice that each of us needs to make. They need to decide whether they serve and belong to God, or whether they serve and belong to the world – in this passage symbolised by money. There is no half-way measure here. You’re either a servant of God, in which case everything that you are and have is devoted to that end, or you’re not. The consequence of not being a servant of God is clear – being outside the Kingdom of God.
Each of us, probably every day, if we’re taking God’s call to us seriously, struggles with this choice every day, and it comes down to hundreds of little choices. Do I put watching Junior Masterchef above praying? Do I put reading the paper above reading the Bible? Do I spend as much time praying, worshipping and serving God as I do watching TV? Do I accumulate money and goods in God’s service, or to make me feel better, or more secure, or to prop up my self-esteem? Do I hold my tongue and guard my thoughts, or do I lash out?