"Story Time: The Dishonest Manager"[1]

LUKE 16:1-13

Jun 1, 2014

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            A couple of weeks ago I came across an article titled "Twenty-five Athlete Quotes that Make Absolutely No Sense."[2]  Here are my favorites from the list.  Of course, there's a nonsensical Yogi Berra quote.  He said, "I never said most of the things I said."  Then there's this one from a soccer player who said, "I took a whack on my left ankle, but something told me it was my right."  A professional basketball player said, "Left hand, right hand, it doesn't matter.  I'm amphibious."   Former college football coach Bill Peterson, who coached at Florida State among other places ... Bill Hutto's alma mater ... said, "You guys line up alphabetically by height."  One more.  Murray Walker in announcing an automobile race "...and Schumacher has just completed lap 77 out of 73." 

            As far as we know, Jesus never played sports.  That may have been a good thing given what sports may have done to these people's brains, but he told stories, lots and lots of stories.  The Bible calls them "parables" which we are defining as "earthly stories with heavenly meanings."  As Jesus nears Jerusalem, Luke has Jesus telling more and more of these stories.  Today Jesus tells a story that doesn't make much sense.  It's difficult to interpret particularly because it is a story about a group of folk who leave a lot to be desired.  The leading characters are an unjust land owner, a shady steward and a group of opportunistic debtors.  The land owner was a Jew, and for that reason, he was not supposed to lend out money. Therefore, he hid behind an agent, a steward, to break the laws of his religious faith. The steward was grafting so much of the money for himself or mismanaging it so miserably that the land owner was suffering a business loss. The debtors were so anxious to get out of their debts at a reduced rate that they gladly entered into a conspiracy to pay less.   Furthermore, Jesus seems to commend this behavior.  I draw your attention to verse nine.

 

            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.

 

            What?  "Make friends ... by means of dishonest wealth?"  What in the world does that mean?  This parable is so upsetting that some scholars have felt obligated to offer remedies or excuses for it.  For example, some scholars suggest that some of the verses which belong in the passage have been accidentally omitted, while others indicate that some of the verses which are included were not a part of the original text and were added by editors.  One scholar even suggests that the whole parable may have been told as comic relief.  Others think the manager is simply giving away his commission so that the part of the price that the debtor owed was his commission for managing the resources.  Still others think some of the debt was usurious interest so all the manager does is decrease the interest rate and make it fair. 

            And perhaps these interpretations are correct, but I still don't think so.  I think the key to understanding the parable is focusing on the manager's shrewdness.  Note how Jesus does not commend the manager for the swindle.  Jesus commends the manager for being shrewd.  In other words, Jesus is encouraging his followers (note the parable is addressed to his disciples not a crowd), he encourages his followers to be shrewd in using our master's money.  His key point is this: use the Master's money shrewdly to win kingdom friends. 

            As we do this we need to keep certain things in mind.  First we need to realize the only money we have is the Master's money.  We don't have anything stashed under the mattress, or in a 401K, or in the kid's piggy bank that isn't the Master's money.  The Psalmist put it this way: The earth is the Lord's and everything in it.  The Scriptures are clear.  All we have belongs to God, and it's entrusted to us to manage. 

            At the beginning of this parable the problem was the steward was not managing his master's money properly, and ran into trouble for it.  Wayne Watts wrote a book about giving, and in it he tells a story of a man who had assets in oil fields.  One day he hit a gusher, and suddenly he was worth twice as much as we was before the gusher.

            A couple of days later a friend asked, "What's it like to wake up one morning and have twice as much as you had the day before?"

            The man, who happened to be a man of faith said, "My assets haven't changed.  I didn't own the first money, so I own the same amount now as before.  What I feel is added responsibility to God to manage his new asset well."

            We've got to get that straight.  The only money we have is the Master's money.

            Another thing to keep in mind from the story is the wealth we have we won't have long, so use it shrewdly now.  When we die we can't take it with us.

            The weirdest book in the Bible, in my opinion, is the Book of Revelation and the eighteenth chapter tells about the fall of Babylon, specifically the collapse of the world's economic system, and there's this line in Revelation 18:11:  "The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over Babylon because no one buys their cargoes any more."  Verse fifteen adds, "These merchants and others will weep and mourn and cry out, 'Woe, woe.  Oh great city dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet, and glittering with gold and precious stones and pearls.  On one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin.'"  What we have will not last forever.

            Years ago, Trudy and I both had cassette players in our cars.  We also had a cassette tape player as a part of our sound system at home, and I can still remember a pastoral visit I made to a home, just north of West Center Road and 84th Street, not far from Westside Middle School.  While there the husband showed me his new CD player ... not his new cassette player ... but his new CD player.  He told me about how much better the sound reproduction was on a CD than on a cassette tape.  He put a CD into his player, and it sounded great.  Trouble is, Trudy and I had invested hundreds of dollars in cassette tapes.  Where those tapes are today, I haven't a clue.  We tossed them out and invested in CD's, and CD players.  I bet in our lifetime those will become obsolete as well.  They nearly are.  The wealth we have won't last long, so use it now.

            There is another element to all this, that Jesus wants us to ponder.  Use the resources at your disposal to reduce people's emotional, financial, spiritual debts to debts of gratitude.  That's what the shrewd manager did, and that's what Jesus commended him for. 

            There are many things money can't buy, but there are some things of eternal significance that money can buy.  Money can buy Bible and Sunday school materials.  Money can support missionaries and evangelists and churches.  Money can feed and clothe the poor.  Money can encourage somebody who thinks God has forgotten him or her.

            In other words, money can buy us Kingdom friends.  That's the point.  Use the Master's money shrewdly to win kingdom friends.  A less than shrewd Christian asks, "So, how much do I have to give?"  A shrewd Christian asks, "How much of The Lord's money can I invest in future friends?" 

            Do you recall Jim Elliot's famous line?   Jim Elliot was one of five missionaries killed while participating in Operation Auca, an attempt to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador.  He said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."   Let me repeat that, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

            The last thing I want us to keep in mind from this parable is when we use our Master's money shrewdly, it pays off.  It pays off in a number of ways.  First, when we use our master's money shrewdly, more people in heaven will be excited to see us.

            Imagine being greeted by people in whom we have invested.  When we think of stepping into heaven we usually think of that moment when we reconnect with loved ones.  And that's true, but we will also be people there waiting for us in heaven who will thank us for reducing their debt to a debt of gratitude.

            What would it be worth us us to have someone grab us by the hand in heaven and say, "If it weren't for you, I wouldn't be here"?   What would it be worth to have someone excitedly explain how our gift, when they were broke or broken, taught them of Christ's love?  What would it be worth to have someone introduce us throughout eternity as, "This is the person who helped me through school," or "This is the person who supported the missionary that told me about Jesus", or "This couple provided money for us when we thought we were going under, and we knew it was a gift from God"?

            That's one of the payoffs of using our Master's money shrewdly.  Let me offer another.  When we are shrewd with money, we are trusted with riches of our own.  I'm referring to Luke 16:10-12.  Look at those verses with me.

 

            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. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?

           

            Notice how God uses money as a test of our integrity.  You've heard of parents or employers, and maybe you did this yourself, who leave money lying around just to see what their kids, what their employees, will do with it.  That's what God does.  God leaves money lying around and let's us use it.  He watches what we do with worldly wealth. 

            So, payoff number two is, if we are shrewd with our money, God will trust us with true riches.  One last payoff, and we are done.  When we use our Master's money shrewdly, it demonstrates our undivided devotion to God.  Luke 16:13-15.  Note Jesus' words.

 

            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. The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.

 

            I'm reminded of Jack Benny's famous bit.  Jack Benny, who was always thirty-nine years of age and a tightwad, was accosted by a thug in one of his television skits.  The thug had a gun, pointed it at Benny and said, "Your money or your life."

            Benny doesn't move.  He just freezes and the thug says, "Come on.  Come on.  Your money or your life" to which Benny responds, "I'm thinking.  I'm thinking."

            Similarly, God says, "Your money or me" and our typical response is, "I'm thinking.  I'm thinking."

            It's a hard decision to make, but the more we give to others, the more our hearts are warmed to God.  Until we learn to invest money in others, we'll always be torn between two masters. 

            Let's close with this.  One of my good friends grew up in Deadwood, South Dakota.  I've never been there, but Hank tells me all kinds of stories about it.  I'm told there's a museum in Deadwood, and it contains a bunch of information about the gold rush that took place there years and years ago.  In the museum is an inscription scratched out by a beleaguered prospector that says, "I lost my gun.  I lost my horse.  I am out of food.  The Indians are after me, but I've got all the gold I can carry."

            Now that is a foolish man.  Let us pray.  Amen.



[1] Much of message taken from "Buying Friends," a message by Lee Eclov from Preaching Today, Tape 193.

[2] Bleacher Report.

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