“If you are not faithful with unjust money, how will you be faithful with that which is true and real?” Throughout the gospel according to Luke there is a repeated focus on how faithfulness to Jesus is connected to faithful handling of money and possessions. In fact it is one of the single most recurring themes throughout the whole gospel. To be truly faithful to Jesus requires that we be faithful in dealing with money, which, according to the text, Jesus believes is inherently wicked, unrighteous, and unjust.
In our text for today Jesus addresses this issue of the faithful handling of money and possessions with one of the strangest and most puzzled over parables he ever told. In this parable he speaks of a manager who is faced with the question of whether to be faithful to his wealthy human boss or whether to craftily avoid being put out on the streets. Jesus began, “There was a wealthy man, who had a manager…”
“Manager” is a term that Jesus used to describe god’s people and their role in the world. Earlier in the gospel, Jesus urged his followers to be ready and watchful managers. He said, “Be ready!…Like men and women waiting for when their lord will set them free for the marriage feasts, so that when he comes and knocks they will immediately open up for him.” Jesus said it was vital that his followers be readily doing the right thing when god arrived to check in on them. Then he asked this question, “So who is the faithful, intelligent manager?” Jesus went on to explain that the faithful manager is the one who gives “food rations in season” to those under god’s care. The faithful manager is the one distributing god’s provisions to those in need, even when god doesn’t seem to be watching. The unfaithful manager, Jesus tells us, is the one caught taking advantage of his fellow creatures, his needy neighbors—selfishly living for himself, “eating, drinking, and getting drunk.”
We are told the wealthy man in the parable accused his manager of “dispersing his possessions” and said, “What is this that I hear about you? Give back the record of your management, for you are not able to manage again.” The wealthy man was not happy with his manager. His manager was supposed to be amassing more and more wealth for him, but instead he was found “dispersing his possessions.” Because this manager would not help him accumulate more and more wealth, the wealthy man was going to fire the manager.
Recognizing that he was about to be fired by his boss, the manager said to himself, “What will I do, since my lord is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.” The manager in this parable quickly recognized it was time to transform his life. This manager did not live in denial—he accepted the reality that he was going to be fired and so he needed to do something in order to stay off the streets. Jesus spoke earlier in the gospel about how people live in denial and do not notice that the world is changing. Jesus said, “When you perceive a cloud ascending in the west, you immediately say, ‘A thunderstorm is coming,’ and it happens. And when a south wind is blowing, you say, ‘It will be very hot,’ and it happens. Pretenders! You perceive how to examine the face of earth and heaven! So how do you not perceive how to examine this season?” The world lives in denial of the truth even though the evidence is often right in front of us. The world wants big, flashy signs that things must change, but all god gives them, according to Jesus, is a prophet like Jonah, telling them that if they do not transform they will be destroyed.
So the manager came to a solution, saying, “I know what I will do, so that when I am removed from management they will embrace me into their homes.” So the manager jumped into action and called his clients, saying, “How much are you in debt to my lord?” He then proceeded to work behind his boss’ back and change their bills so that they owed his boss less. These clients were in massive debt. One owed forty thousand liters of olive oil—that is the annual yield of 146 olive trees. One owed thirty thousand kilograms of wheat—that is the annual yield of 100 acres and is enough to feed 150 people for an entire year.
The manager transformed his ways and endeared himself to these clients by forgiving massive chunks of the debts they owed to his boss—possibly forgiving the accumulated interest they had accrued, an interest which was clearly forbidden by the law of god. He changed his way of living to fit the reality of the world around him. Instead of doing “business as usual” he quickly rethought everything, using the “record of management” he still had at his disposal to build friendships through the forgiveness of debt—so that people would welcome him into their homes once he was poor and destitute. This is the kind of recognition and transformation that Jesus says is needed in our lives.
Earlier in the gospel, Jesus had warned his followers, “Unless you transform you will all be destroyed!” The way the world invites us to live leads to destruction. Last week Jesus told three parables about god’s intense desire to rescue us from this path of destruction. Jesus spoke of a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son who were spared from the path of destruction by being brought back into the fold. The lost son had chosen a path of destruction, but when his world totally collapsed around him, he came to his senses and saw his life for what it was. He totally transformed his life—he returned home to his father, who had been waiting for his return and was eager to welcome him back from the path of destruction.
Amazingly, the boss who fired the manager in the parable then went on to praise the manager’s shrewd act of transformation. And Jesus himself also said, “The children of this era are more intelligent than the children of the light in dealing with their own generation.” Surprisingly, Jesus himself commended this manager, who worked behind his boss’ back in order to save his future. To be truly faithful managers in god’s eyes, we must be ready to be unfaithful managers in the eyes of the world around us. From a business perspective, this manager was terrible—he dispersed his boss’ possessions and he forgave the debt of his boss’ clients. For Jesus, it is this manager, the one with the terrible business practices, the one who was unfaithful to his human boss, who we are to learn a lesson from.
Jesus then went on to tell his followers the main lesson from this parable and the manager in it. He said, “I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of money, which is unjust, so that, when it fails, they will take you into lasting tents.” Money and wealth are unjust in Jesus’ eyes and so his clear advice is to use it to make friends before it fails and comes crashing down. Earlier in the gospel, Jesus told all his followers, “Guard yourselves from all wealth,” and “Sell your possessions and give compassionately! Make a money-bag for yourselves that is not becoming useless.” Money must not be trusted, relied on, or held on to, for Jesus tells us very clearly that it is going to “fail.” Trusting in money to bring happiness, security, or comfort is only a dead end—it will let you down. And so Jesus urges us to get rid of it and to use it to build something more lasting—relationships of love. In Jesus’ eyes, the world’s way of holding on to money and wealth only leads to death and destruction. Jesus wants us to be rescued from this destruction by handling money and possessions in god’s way.
So what is the faithful way to handle money and possessions according to Jesus? It is to give it away to those in need. It is to invite the poor and outcast to a banquet. It is to forgive the debts of those in debt. It is to help those who do not have their daily bread. It is to be the faithful manager who gives “food rations in season” to those under god’s care. It is to use unjust money to make friends.
Jesus then continued with his teaching, “The one who is faithful with the least, is also faithful with the greatest. The one who is unjust with the least, is also unjust with the greatest. Therefore, if you are not faithful with unjust money, how will you be faithful with that which is true and real? If you are not faithful with the thing which belongs to another, who will give to you the thing which is yours?” According to Jesus, money is the “least,” for it is nothing but an imaginary concept with imaginary value. What is truly great in value is god’s beautiful creation—land, sky, sea, plants, creatures of all kinds, and yes, human beings. So if we aren’t faithful in handling worthless money, how will we be faithful in caring for god’s priceless creation? If we aren’t faithful in handling possessions and resources, none of which actually belong to us, then how can we expect to take part in the inheritance of our heavenly father?
Jesus concluded with these thoughts, “No house-manager is able to be a slave for two lords. For she will hate the one and love the other or she will cling to one and look down on the other. You are not able to be a slave to both god and money!” Jesus is calling us to see that god himself must be our only boss and lord. We must serve god in all things and stop serving ourselves, the world, and unjust things like money. We serve money when we value it, accumulate it, or work to amass it. We serve god when we love our fellow creatures as much as we love ourselves—we serve god when we give our resources away to our neighbors in need, when we make friends by forgiving those in debt.
So what kind of manager will you and I be? Will we serve god or our human bosses? Will we serve god or money? The manager in Jesus’ parable was commended for dispersing his boss’ property, recognizing that he was going to be fired, and then forgiving the debts of his clients. Will we be managers who go on with “business as usual” and walk blindly to our destruction? Or will we trust Jesus’ life-giving word that the world is on a path of destruction and so to be rescued we need to radically change the course of our entire lives and follow him? “If you are not faithful with unjust money, how will you be faithful with that which is true and real?” Amen.