We visited a church today. The pastor invited some of local youth theater kids to lead worship. It was a small, but sweet congregation. The kids did a great job, just being themselves, and singing their hearts out, which is what they do. God has gifted them with musical talent, good voices and really good friends, and they aren’t afraid to share their talents.
Everyone in the church today was blessed.
The sermon was on a parable not often referenced found at Luke 16:1-9:
Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ “‘Nine hundred gallons[a] of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels[b] of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
What a weird parable! The manager is called “dishonest”; but he is commended for his “dishonesty”?
The clue to unlock the meaning is in the opening line: the rich man was critical of the manager for wasting “his” possessions. The phrase “his possessions” on first blush means the rich man’s possessions, but use of the pronoun, instead of “rich man” or “manager”, leaves open the possibility that they could be the manager’s possessions. Jesus doesn’t clarify.
The parable only makes sense when we understand that God is the rich man, and we are the manager. The possessions are God’s, but we are entrusted with them. We have nothing that doesn’t originate from God. The gifts (talents) we are born with are from God. Even the things we work hard to “earn” ultimately come from God. God created the universe out of nothing, and everything that exists, including the gift of life, was created and given to us by God.
God gives everything to us; and, ultimately, we “can’t take them with us”, as the saying goes. We are only the managers of the stuff we have.
The manager in the parable is commended for using the “worldly wealth” to gain friends. The manager knew that he was only a steward of the things the rich man left him, and those things would eventually be taken from him, so he used those things wisely to build relationships for the future. Jesus commended the manager and said he will be “welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
A clear implication of this parable is is that relationships are more important than the things we have. The things we have are temporal. They are subject to rust and rot, but relationships are lasting.
The “moral of the story” comes several verses later:
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13)
The most important relationship we have is with God, and a relationship with God is more important than money. We can’t take money with us when we die. Money and possessions will only benefit us while we live. They are ours to manage during our lives. If we use the things we accumulate only for our own benefit, the benefits are only enjoyed (if at all) during our lives.
This isn’t God’s purpose for us. God isn’t happy when we choose the temporal over the eternal.
He also gives us good things to share with others. Sharing our talents and wealth with others is what God wants us to do.
Jesus said it a different way when he told people to store up treasures in heaven where moths and vermin cannot destroy them and thieves cannot steal them. (Mark 6:19-20) If we use our riches for ourselves only, we have our reward, but it is a temporary reward. It’s of no use to us when we die. It is “here today, gone tomorrow”; or maybe more accurately, we are here today, gone tomorrow.
Using our money to bless other people, and thereby build relationships, is the eternal work of God. I don’t believe this principle applies just to money: substitute any other “possessions” (gifts) innate or “earned”, like musical talent, property, whatever it is. If we use what we have on ourselves, we have ultimately wasted and squandered those treasures away. If we use what we have to bless others, we have God’s blessing and we will be welcomed into eternal dwellings!
As pastor Mark Flory Steury said in his sermon, the manager was a “rascal”. He used what the rich man left him to endear himself to the people who owed debts to the rich man. We all owe debts to the rich man (God). The manager collected payments that might not have been paid if the manager had not offered the “discount”. When we use our gifts for other people, we only build relationships with other people, and we “collect” from them thankfulness to God for the generosity that is shown.
Jesus told us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. He said whatever we do for the least among us, we do for God. When people are filled with gratitude for the things we do and the generosity shown to them, are they not also being thankful to God ? Jesus said they would know us for the love that we show to one another, and that love points to God. When we use what we have for the benefit of others, we store up our treasures in heaven – we are rascals for God.