Friday, September 20, 2013
Jesus also said to his disciples, 'There was a rich man and he had a steward who was denounced to him for being wasteful with his property. He called for the man and said, "What is this I hear about you? Draw me up an account of your stewardship because you are not to be my steward any longer." Then the steward said to himself, "Now that my master is taking the stewardship from me, what am I to do? Dig? I am not strong enough. Go begging? I should be too ashamed. Ah, I know what I will do to make sure that when I am dismissed from office there will be some to welcome me into their homes." 'Then he called his master's debtors one by one. To the first he said, "How much do you owe my master?" "One hundred measures of oil," he said. The steward said, "Here, take your bond; sit down and quickly write fifty." To another he said, "And you, sir, how much do you owe?" "One hundred measures of wheat," he said. The steward said, "Here, take your bond and write eighty." 'The master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness. For the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light.
There is no way to make perfect sense of this story. Why should the dishonest manager be praised? Jesus and the Gospel writer, Luke, demonstrate consistent concern for the proper use of money. They understand the seductive lure of wealth and the power of greed in the human heart.
The manager from this story seems a likely to subject of their denunciation, unless the point has less to do with money than in his reaction to crisis. He is wise. He uses what is at his disposal to make friends, to build relationships that will sustain him.
His boss tells him to settle his accounts because he is being fired for his misuse of company money. Facing a crisis, he sees that full payment of the debts is not important. What is important is protecting his future so he is safe and welcome.
I am not sure if this Jesus point here. The differences in culture between first century Palestine and 21st century United States is a dense fog preventing modern minds from penetrating what Jesus is saying.
But one thing is clear: the manager used wealth in the service of life-giving relationships.
Perhaps this is one way this strange story works. Wealth must be used not to separate ourselves from others but to build connections and friendships among us as members of the human family. This is God’s intention for our wealth and possessions.
Our possessions are misused when hoarded. They are life-giving when shared to bring benefit to others. They can be used for our own personal advantage or shared to make connections and build a community of mutual benefit.
In this light, it is interesting that sharing of property and a common treasury to which everyone contributed were characteristics of the earliest Christian communities. This is still practiced among some groups of Amish and Mennonites.
There is another way to look at this story. Jesus preached the kingdom of God, which overturned relationships. He precipitated a crisis. The poor were the favored of God. The rich and powerful were cast down from their lofty perches.
Perhaps when the kingdom comes, when God ushers in a new order, the favored and powerful must surrender their privileges and seek justice and mercy for the little ones who have not known societal privilege. They can do it willingly, or they will lose what they have as the new order is initiated.
The wise willingly surrender their privileges because they see what is coming and align their lives with God’s new order.
Either way, with either interpretation, the wise use wealth not to insulate themselves but to build relationships of greater equality and justice, leading to the question: How do I use my wealth? As a too to build life-giving relationships with a wider community, or is wealth my own privilege?
In contemporary United States, there is great accumulation of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer hands than at any time since the Great Depression. It seems Jesus message about how wealth is to be used is being widely ignored.
Pr. David L. Miller