16 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly, for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much, and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If, then, you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
There is an old Indian parable about a guru who had a star pupil. He was so pleased with the man’s spiritual progress that he left him on his own. The disciple lived in a little mud hut. His clothing was a loincloth, a small covering around his midsection. He lived simply, begging for his food. Each week, the disciple washed his loincloth and hung it out to dry. One day he came back to discover the loincloth torn and eaten by rats. He begged the villagers for another loincloth, and they gave it to him. But the rats ate that one too. So, he got himself a cat.
That took care of the rats, but now when he begged for his food, he had to beg for milk for his cat. So, he got a cow to milk to feed his cat, but now he had to beg for hay to feed his cow. So, in order to feed his cow, he decided to till and plant the ground around his hut. But soon he found no time for contemplation, so he hired servants to tend his farm.
Overseeing the laborers became a chore, so he got married to have a wife to help him with the farm. His wife didn’t like the mud hut he lived in and demanded a real house. So, the man had to grow even more crops and hire more servants to keep his wife happy. Happy wife, happy life. In time, the disciple became the wealthiest man in the village.
Years later the man’s guru was traveling nearby, so he stopped in to see his old student. He was shocked at what he saw. Where once stood a simple mud hut, there now loomed a palace surrounded by a vast estate worked by many servants. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked his disciple. “You won’t believe this sir,” the disciple replied. “But there was no other way to keep my loincloth.”
“You cannot serve God and wealth” are the words that Luke leaves us with today. Yet, if we are going to keep our clothes on, we also have to have a little money, right? This passage for today is crazy. I would never pick this passage to preach on if it were not a part of this sermon series. When it has come before in the lectionary, I skip it. But here we are today, you looking at me and me shaking my head. However, I think this is a passage that lends itself to some internal wrestling more than a feel-good story. I just cannot wrap it all up, put a bow in it and say here you go. But at the same time, it is something that we should look at in our personal and community lives.
We have to begin with a short reminder that when the gospel was written there were not chapters and verses. Not even seasons and episodes like when you binge watch a TV show. Chapters and verses came in the Geneva bible written in 1560, less than 500 years ago. That being said, this passage comes on the heels of the story of the Prodigal son. God, the Father doing everything right to make the wayward feel welcome all the while trying to make amends with the son who stayed home.
Now we have a rich man who how has a manager. This is the story of how not to handle our money. The manager is accused of mismanagement and is going to be fired. He cannot work in the fields and he is too ashamed to beg, so he concocts a plan to make friends and really to steal from his boss, the rich man. He calls them in and says, change your accounting on your bill, put less than what you owe so that whoever takes my place will not charge you as much as what you owed. He was like a Garth Brooks song with friends in low places. The rich man is impressed but he also does not give him his job back. The moral of the story is are you going to make your friends happy by being dishonest or, are you going to do what is right and serve God.
Helen Montgomery writes, “Once a year, we shout, He is Risen, He is risen indeed. And then we go back to being us. Somewhere in the middle of our journey we stopped living for Christ. We stopped believing that Jesus died and was resurrected and that life was made new. Somewhere along the way it became easy to serve all those pressing demands: of people, of schedule, of money. Somewhere along the way, the vision for God’s call became cloudy and muddled. We stopped hearing God’s voice and joined the crazy survivor-take-all mentality. Somewhere along the way, the challenges seemed so much bigger than the answers. So, we huddled in an effort to save whatever was left and forget about living for something greater. We buried our treasures.”
We live in a society that the prophet Amos warned about so long ago. We are the ones that feel the woe, not just personally but as a society. Because let’s face it, I love all of you but we are not rich according to the real wealth in the world in terms of net worth. We are rich in many ways, but not when it comes to money. Yet our world has been very good at keeping the rich and rich and expanding the number of poor in the world. It is called systemic poverty.
We all know that there were many places in the world that are poor. Now we add to it the effects of a global pandemic, rising temperatures and changes in the climate and now a war in Ukraine and other constant fighting in the Middle East. Poverty is growing and the systems that fuel poverty are either remaining prevalent or are growing. According to World Vision the 10 major causes of global poverty are:
- Lack of access to clean water and nutritious food
- Lack of access to basic health care
- Inequality or social injustice
- Conflict and instability
- Lack of education
- Lack of access to jobs and livelihood
- Poor basic infrastructure
- Climate change
- Lack of government support
- Lack of personal safety nets
Over 40% of the world lives in poverty and the United States has one of the highest rates of poverty in the developed world despite its collective wealth, and the burden falls disproportionately on communities of color, according to an article in Frontiers in Public Health website article written one year ago. Many of the sociologists of the world who study poverty believe that until we can get to conquering the systemic issues all of our individual food banks, soup kitchens, TANF and SNAP benefits are nothing more than band-aides.
If each one of us sitting here today took every dime we had and gave it to help fight just one item on the list of systemic reasons for poverty, we would not even make a dent. Changing the way, we view others in the world and loving one another is what Jesus was trying to get the disciples to understand. When systems are put in place and upheld for centuries it is going to take a long time to dismantle those systems. One person, one family, one generation that can move from poverty to more than subsistence living is where change takes place for that group.
A willingness to serve God instead of our things is always a struggle. The prophets of the OT prophesied and Jesus taught more about the rich and powerful than any other group of people. Taking time to sit with this, pray about this, ruminate on this teaching is not easy. Neither is being a disciple of Jesus. However, the gifts of grace, love and mercy cannot be bought. Amen.