We had a slight rest on Sunday from the summer focus.
We have spent the summer in the Gospel of Luke, which a number of preachers hate because the scriptures focus on money, wealth, and material resources. It is a difficult topic for most within our private lives, but more challenging in an alb (white robe) standing before the congregation.
Honestly, does any person excitedly look forward to stewardship drives?
I am noting several heads shaking “no”.
So, on Sunday, we had a moment to breath.
Although the scripture did mention a lost coin, but the widow was seeking to find it.
I have argued that although Luke seems anti-money and anti-wealth, he is not.
In fact, Luke is the only Gospel account to address the financial support of Jesus’ public ministry, because ministry is not cheap. The financial support was from the wealthy women, including Mary Magdalene, who traveled with him and the male disciples.
Thus, our material wealth is a necessary piece of our lives and is not evil, but Luke and other authors of Scripture were concerned about how we use our wealth.
Our parable this morning is strange.
It is about a manager who is accused for the mismanagement of his master’s accounts. The manager is held accountable (reasonable) and is notified that he will become unemployed because he has not been a faithful manager.
Then, the manager calls upon the debtors who owe his master.
“I will cut you a deal. You owe my master 100 containers of olive oil.
How about we knock that down to 50?
When I am kicked out from my master’s house, I can come stay with you.”
“Since I am saving you money, you should take care of me.
I am too old to dig ditches and too old to work in the fields.
I am also too proud of an individual for standing on the corner begging.”
“You owe my master 100 bundles of wheat.
How about we knock that down to 80?
Then I can stay with you when I wear out my welcome with this other one.”
The manager is simply looking out for “number one”.
The manager does not care about the accounts of the master.
The manager does not care about the well-being of the debtors.
The manager is only concerned about himself.
Surprisingly, the master is impressed with the shrewd conduct and continues to employ the manager.
This strange parable is about we, humans, as stewards (or managers).
This stewardship literally begins in Genesis 1.
“Adam” in Hebrew is ‘earth creature’.
We, humans, are earth creatures created for the sake of tending to the earth, to all the animals, and to one another. Thus, we are called to be managers held accountable for how we conduct business.
Hopefully, we are not similar to the manager (or the master) in the parable.
We should not desire to cut deals to improve our own situation at the expense of another, for it is a warning about being dishonest in small and large matters.
Another scripture, a text from Amos, supports this theme.
Amos is probably my second favorite prophet because he is the second most straight-forward prophet. There should be credit given to a straight-forward prophet.
- Amos is not a professional prophet hired by the political authority (king).
Thus, Amos is not controlled (influenced) by those in power and authority.
- Amos is not required to ‘soften’ the message to appease the ears listening.
- Amos did not come from wealth. He was a shepherd.
God, however, took Amos saying:
“You are coming over here now. You will speak for me to those in power, who will not like you or the message”.
The theme of stewardship is echoed throughout the Prophets and the whole of Scripture.
Scripture expresses a concern about corrupt business practices, Jesus’ blessings and woes in the Gospel of Luke (compare to the Beatitudes in Matthew) echo Amos.
- Woe to you who conduct business unjustly, trampling the poor.
- Woe to you who conduct business unjustly, selling the needy for silver.
Again, it is about corrupt business practices.
Amos is written during a period of our sacred history when the Israelites were considered to be prosperous and all was well. The wealth of the Israelite people was increasing. The neighbors of the Israelites were not military threats. The Israelite people were continuing on ‘cloud 9’ without stumbling blocks or detours in sight, but the problem is that we become comfortable. In our comfort, we allow and turn a blind-eye to poor behavior and injustice because we do not want to ‘rock the boat’ and do not desire to ‘change course’ which may ‘mess it up’.
However, God through Amos tells the Israelites:
You don’t think I see the on-going corruption.
You don’t think I know your prosperity is due to a lack of care for those in need.
You don’t think I witness the exploiting of the most vulnerable among you.
You don’t think I see the unfair, unjust work practices.
I do. I am calling an end to it.
It is a powerful message, but one that people in positions of power, authority, and wealth do not wish to hear because the bottom line is that money is simply a tool.
The majority of ‘things’ in our lives are neutral tools, including power, authority, and wealth. These can be willed to advance the Kingdom of God through our baptismal commitments:
- to seek justice;
- to act with compassion and mercy; and
- to love and serve those whose backs it is built upon (the vulnerable).
BUT, these tools can also be willed in evil to oppose the Kingdom of God while elevating our personal power, authority, wealth, and social net-worth.
Money is simply a tool to be used, but not loved.
We often hear a scriptural passage read as “money is the root of all evil”, however it is misquoted. The scripture is “the LOVE of money is the root of all evil”. Thus, scripture attests that money is not evil, but it is the loving, hoarding, and focusing on money that is evil.
Again, money is a tool to be used, not to be loved and hoarded.
People are not tools to be used, but should be loved.
So, how are you willing your tools of time, energy, talents, and even your treasures?
Is power, authority, and/or money willing you? Or are you willing it?
Is power, authority, and/or money being used for good? Or for ill?
Is power, authority, and/or money advancing the Kingdom? Or opposing it?
Luke is not anti-money, but he does oppose the love and abuse of money.
It is a significant distinction, for we cannot serve God and money with our attention divided between the two.
I invite you to ponder the above questions this week.