Summary: In perhaps the most challenging parable to understand, Jesus calls us to use our worldly wealth for divine purposes, to be faithful where we are, and to keep God first in our lives.
Wisdom in Wealth
What if you came to church one Sunday, and your pastor got up to give the sermon and said, “I don’t have a clue what this means!” Well, I’m pretty close to that with today’s passage. Maybe you could relate to that kind of pastor, since sometimes the Bible is just hard to understand. Truth be told, I chose this passage out of today’s Lectionary readings because I wanted to understand it better. Most parables make sense intuitively, even if they include some exaggeration for effect. We looked at three last week that talked about losing something of value, and then finding it, and all the joy of heaven that follows. The point: God loves lost people and will go to great cost to bring them home. That makes sense.
But today? What are we to make of a manager who has been accused of being dishonest, and then engages in shrewd business dealings that cost the owner, all to better his future prospects after he is let go? And then the absurd happens: The owner commends him for it?!? That is strange! The great reformer John Calvin described this parable as “hard and far-fetched.” And the more I looked at commentaries this week, the more confused I got. Apparently, a lot of people have a lot of different ideas about what this parable means.
So thinking about our church, and thinking and praying through God’s word, as confusing as it sometimes is, and considering various ideas about what Jesus might have meant, here are some life lessons I’ve come up with. See what you think. First,
1. Use wealth to build relationships.
Read with me from your outline verse 9: "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."
Does this mean buying friendships? Well, in a sense, yes. The shrewd manager bought some closer business relationships. And remember, we don’t know he was dishonest, merely that he was being accused of being dishonest. He could have been completely innocent of those first charges. But when he cut back on some of the debts owed to his master, even though he did so for his own self-preservation, that wasn’t necessarily “dishonest.” In fact, Jesus called it “shrewd.” In the Greek, it’s the same word interpreted elsewhere as “wise,” as in Jesus telling his disciples to be “wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove” (Matthew 10:16). The owner commended him for his actions. You see, in all likelihood, these debt cutbacks not only favored the manager; they also bought good will between the owner and those who owed him. This sale may have gone a long way to keep customers and generate future business. If you view it like that, no wonder the owner is impressed. Perhaps for the first time in a long while, this manager is managing wisely!
The NIV accurately translates the description of wealth in verse 9 as “worldly wealth,” unlike some translations that call it “dishonest wealth.” Jesus is saying you can use the kind of wealth this present world values to buy into things that God’s kingdom values. God loves people. So when you use money to bless people, you use your money wisely or shrewdly. Pastor Robb McCoy writes, “Jesus is reminding them that there are things in this world more important than wealth.”
Use wealth to bless people, building relationships with them. Then you build a bridge over which the gospel can cross. People can see more clearly the love of Jesus in your life when you buy them lunch! Be a blessing!
Last night we watched a documentary on Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. He and his wife Melinda, through their foundation, are seeking to eradicate polio and create safe sewer set-ups around the world. One of his largest outside contributors is Warren Buffet, who gave some $30 billion dollars to the effort. When asked why he gave so much, Buffet commented, “When you understand that every person on the globe matters as much as every other person, it changes your way of thinking about things.” Spread your worldly wealth in ways that impact the Kingdom! Give to good causes. Bless people. Build relationships. And then #2,
2. Manage whatever you have well
Listen again to verses 10-12: 10 ”Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?”
Here Jesus draws a relationship between how faithful we are in small things and how faithful we will be in huge things. Many a church member has told me that when they win the lottery, they are going to tithe to the church. Truth be told, if they’re not tithing now, there’s little chance they would tithe then. When we manage what we have well, God gives us greater responsibilities, because our overall style of management does not change.