Luke 16:1-13 9.29.19
Can we talk about money at church? It is a topic that we tend to shy away from. We try to avoid embarrassing those people who don’t have a lot of it, or those people who do have a lot of it but are not very generous with it, or those people who are very generous and want it to be kept quiet. We don’t want to step on anyone’s toe, and we want to keep everyone happy. Talking about money at church gets a little dicey, especially since what you put in the offering plate goes toward putting food on my table!
But Jesus stepped on toes! All the time. Ouch! We find in the gospel of Luke that Jesus is not afraid to talk about money. It is never the amount that is important, but always the relationship with our money that makes a difference to him. And then how our relationship with money ends up affecting our relationship with others and with God. How do we look at our money? Do we control our money, or does it control us? Do we hoard our money, or do we use it to build relationships with others? Is it a tool or is it a god? Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther wrote that mammon (or wealth) was the most common god on earth. Hmmm, wonder what he would say today with all our excess and waste?
People struggled with their relationship with money in Jesus’ day and in Luther’s day in much the same ways that we continue to struggle with our relationship with money today. We struggle with what is enough and what is too much. We struggle with how to organize it, how to prioritize it, how to save it, how to spend it wisely, or how to teach our children to be generous. We struggle when we have one set of values pertaining to money and we marry someone who has a different way of looking at money! How much marital conflict swirls around money and how it is spent? When Jesus said that we can’t serve both God and wealth, he knew that human beings struggle with money. Maybe all the more reason we should talk about money in church!
This fall your leadership at Hunting Ridge decided it was important for you to hear first hand from each of our ministry teams as to where your money goes when you give to Hunting Ridge Presbyterian Church. Last week you heard from the Pastoral Care Response Team and today from the Justice and Peace Team. Throughout the coming weeks you will hear from 4 more ministry teams to get a good picture of where your money goes.
It seems quite appropriate to focus in this season on this confusing parable about a steward, or a manager of resources belonging to someone else. For indeed, that is what we all do—we manage the resources that ultimately belong to God. We are entrusted with talents, treasure and time as stewards of resources given to us. This parable is so troublesome that it causes many to just skip over it. Some say it is clear that the way the steward changes the amount owed on the part of the debtors is assuming more authority than he really has and ends up reducing the profit for his boss. So, he is often referred to as the dishonest steward. Kind of vigilante management, making decisions that at least border on unethical. Others say that the steward simply wiped off his commission on the debts so that he would enable himself to build friends, and the business owner is not harmed at all. In fact, the boss benefits because he at least gets a portion of what is owed to him and this group of debtors now look upon him favorably as well. Wouldn’t you go back to the same owner if he gave you a deal? Regardless, the impact of his actions is the same: he is commended by the business owner. Could be he doesn’t want to draw attention to the fact that he had been overcharging those in debt to him in the first place?
We may avoid this parable because it makes it seem like the boss commends a dishonest person and we can’t connect that with the way God would have us operate in the world. But it is important to notice that he doesn’t commend his dishonesty. He commends his shrewdness, his creativity, his resourcefulness, his ability to think his way out of the box he has found himself in. He uses money to build relationships with people which will benefit him in the long run, but those same relationships also end up benefiting the folks who are so deeply in debt to his boss that they would otherwise never be able to get out from under what they owe. When Jesus adds a bit of moral teaching at the end of his story, his comment is that we all have things to learn from the people who operate in the “ways of the world”. Being dishonest is not a good quality, but being creative and resourceful is. The children of the light, the followers of God, will benefit from being creative and resourceful.
Maybe we avoid this parable because we prefer stories about people who demonstrate the kind of values we admire, like the generosity of the Good Samaritan or the welcoming attitude of the king who invited the poor and the lame from all over the city into the banquet. We forget that we too are made up of both good and bad qualities. Here we are face to face with a person who had been trusted to care for his boss’s property and has failed to do a good job. Any one of us will have to admit that at times we have failed to do a good job at something. This manager is about ready to get the pink slip and he knows it. He is self-aware enough to know that he is too out of shape for manual labor and too proud for begging. He is about to be on the streets and needs to solidify his friendships in the community, so he will have a support network when he needs it.
The steward has failed to act in a trustworthy way. Whether he was simply careless or distracted or actually devious, we do not know, but he has not cared for his boss’s property in the way he should have. No one wants to identify with this guy, but we must be able to see that all of us at times have not been the best stewards of what God has entrusted to us. Look at the way we humans have ransacked the good green earth given to us to care for. Look at the way we use plastic packaging to excess. Look at the kinds of unhealthy food we put in our bodies on a regular basis. Look at the way we choose to spend our time and our money. None of us has a stellar record, that is for sure. We have been trusted by God to care for all that God has given us. Are we at risk of losing our jobs as stewards because of the way we have been careless or inattentive or even underhanded with God’s property?
We do need to talk about money. We need to talk about how we use it, where we use it, when we use it. We need to think through our relationship with money and how that affects our relationship with God and with those around us. It is all connected. Are we creative and resourceful in our use of the resources we have control over? What can we learn from the creativity of people like the steward in Jesus’ story? The church as a body and individually the people who make up the church are always going to struggle with our relationship with money. As you make plans for the use of your own money, remember the instruction to be creative and resourceful, planning ahead. Pay attention to how your use of money intersects with your faith. Thanks be to God for the resources we have been entrusted with. Amen.
Parable is vv. 1-9 and then there is a bit of moral teaching.
Steward was a trusted overseer of master’s property, but betrayed the trust. He knew himself well—would not be able to dig or to beg. So he his feathering his nest so that he will be protected when he is thrown out in the cold.
Commending the steward would have been a surprise to the listeners. No one would have expected that turn in the story. “He knew deftness, quick thinking, unflustered action when he saw them.”
Martin Luther—mammon is the most common god on earth. 16th c. the issue is a focus on the way the poor were treated—hidden interest added to their loans, particularly on goods. Cutting it back to just lose his cut in the deal? Making it now more fair, equitable for the debtors? Becomes a win-win situation.
David Lose—a prominent theme in Luke is our relationship to wealth and how it affects our relationship to others. Before he was only in it for himself. Now he is making life better for others AND creating a relationship (albeit, self serving) that enriches them both. In a moment of desperation he uses his financial savvy to make friends.
This parable—characters have mixed motives. They too struggle with money.
This dishonest steward is an example for the “children of light” to follow. Say what? Maybe the confusing nature of this parable is an invitation for us to begin to talk about money in church… how do faith and finances intersect, impact one another?
God has different ideas about money than we do. Reckless mercy—generous to a fault (previous parable is the prodigal son). So what if the steward cut the losses? At least he collected something!
NT Wright: business practices to avoid lending money with interest (against Jewish law). Some lent “in kind”—oil, wheat, etc. So maybe the steward deducted the interest that the business owner had been charging to them, reducing the bill down to the principal. Making it a no-interest loan—good for borrower and the owner would not have gotten upset about it because he would not have wanted to acknowledge his shady business practices.
Remember this is a parable, not a moral teaching about how to use money. Business owner is God, steward is Israel. Israel is supposed to be God’s property manager, steward of God’s possessions. Israel has failed in many ways, facing imminent dismissal. Instead of hoarding money and land—use it as far as you can to make friends…
Really this has nothing to do with commending sharp business practices or personal finance. Advises us to be less concerned about extra rules and regulations that the church tends to put on people… think unconventionally, creatively, make friends across traditional barriers.
Money is not a possession, it is a trust– God entrusts property to us to be used for God’s glory and for welfare of others, not for personal glory or glamour. Key is to be faithful with what God has entrusted us with—be a good steward.
Jesus uses questionable characters.. the manager is a scoundrel whether he was doing the reduced bills to help his boss collect more quickly or setting up the debtors so he could blackmail them later. He is looking out for himself. Debtors cooperate with a shady scheme, boss even praises the manager’s misconduct.
This is not a story about how to be a manager, a debtor or a boss. Not giving business advice.
Pharisees are offended.. seems to be told against them. They were the managers of Judaism. They were doing a poor job, squandering God’s property.
We are the managers of God’s property.. stewards. God is the rich business owner. We make the decisions in our own little world… our time, our money, our resources, our abilities, our gifts.
Manager in parable was squandering, misusing, careless, incompetent. Carelessness caught up with him…. turned in. expecting a pink slip. Found a creative way to work things out—should have been using his ingenuity, creativity all along in caring for his boss’ property.
The boss is happy to see the manager now producing something. “maybe all he needed was a wake up call. Now perhaps he will amount to something.” It is a summons to better management. God will ask all of us to give an accounting of our stewardship. What have you done with what I lent you? The earth, your children, your money, your gifts, your intelligence, your personality, etc. have we used these resources in the name of God or have we squandered them?
The manager woke up. At least he was doing something.
Jesus is en route to Jerusalem. His parables are taking a no-nonsense approach. Time is short.
God is saying: what is wrong with my managers? The ones who are in charge of my people? The ones who will manage the route to eternity?
You can not serve God and wealth.