â€œIt Takes One to Know Oneâ€
Sept.23, 2007 â€“ Luke 16:1-13
â€œClean out your desk and leave!â€
â€œDon’t come back!â€
What would you do if you heard these words? Everything you’ve worked for is gone. Where would you go? What would you do next? Who would you talk to?
If Scott called me to his office and told me this internship wasn’t going to work out, it was time for me to go home, I’d be crushed. Would I have to go back to flipping burgers like I did in college? Would I be able to go back to my job at Nortel, or some other company? I have no interest in doing either option, I want to be in the church, I love what I do! I’m comfortable here. I’m sure many of you are comfortable in your life too. In your job, or your lifestyle, you don’t want to change.
In our gospel reading this morning, there is a manager of a businessman. It has come to the attention of the businessman that maybe his manager has not been keeping his best interests in mind. In fact, the manager may be squandering his possessions. So he calls him into his office and tells him to clean out his desk, settle the accounts he’s in charge of, and go away.
Afraid of losing face, and afraid of the inevitable change, the manager quickly comes up with a way to keep his reputation. He gives all the debtors huge discounts in what they owe. Up to 50% in some cases. Why does he do this? Well, he wants to make it easier for himself to find good employment.
The manager says â€œI am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. What will I do?â€ He won’t reduce himself to manual labour, much like I don’t have much desire to go back flipping burgers. He also won’t reduce himself to begging for work or asking for help. So instead he saves his reputation by squandering even more of his masters wealth.
At the end of his day, when he’s settled all the accounts, he goes back to the businessman’s office. And the businessman commends his work. Wait a minute… he fired this guy for squandering his wealth, then after he spends the day doing exactly the same, he commends him? What is Jesus telling us in this story?
That is the question I’ve been struggling over all week with this reading. Thankfully, I guess, I’ve discovered it’s not just me. People for ages have deliberated what they think Jesus means behind this story. There are many theories out there. This is what I have come away with. “It takes one to know one.”
The businessman recognizes in his manager his own qualities. He did what he had to do to save his reputation. He worked the system to it’s full advantages. The businessman cannot go back to his debtors now and say I want the rest of my money. If he does, then he loses reputation. Honour and reputation are above all else in the social structure of Jesus’ day. Those with great honour and reputation are at the top of society. Everyone wants to be with them, everyone wants to do business with them. So if you lose honour, you also lose a lot of business. The businessman has gained honour at the same time as his manager, even though he has lost a lot of money. The businessman recognizes the shrewdness and cunning it took to do this, and commends the traits the manager has exhibited.
Again, what is Jesus telling us? Is money to be used to further our own social status? This is highly unlikely given all we read in Luke pertaining to the evils of wealth. This story, I think, can be boiled down to the term, â€œIt takes one to know one.â€
Jesus says in verse 8 this morning, â€œfor the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.â€ People who are obsessed with possessions, people who are focused on themselves instead of others are better able to communicate and relate with one another than people of faith.
Jesus then says â€œmake friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.â€ Ok, so it sounds like we should act like the manager and buy our friends. That doesn’t sounds like Jesus at all at first glance. If we take this out of context, it certainly sounds like it. But we can’t do that now can we? We need to dig deeper because our Jesus would never mean to say just that.
The words ‘dishonest wealth’ are the problem for me. What is meant by dishonest wealth? The greek is better translated to mammon. Mammon being material things. So it verse could be translated, â€œMake friends of yourself by means of material things so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.â€
Ok, use our material things to make friends. How? Why? So they may welcome us into the eternal homes. The manager was trying to make sure he had a place to live and work to do by essentially buying friends. Jesus is saying, that if we, as children of the light, use our possessions to make people’s lives better we will have eternal homes. Where? With God of course. The manager may have gained a home, but it is not an eternal one. He has gained an earthly home, one with a limited timespan. One he cannot take with him.
Ok, so I think we’ve waded through the parable and made some sense of it. Jesus wants us to learn from the dishonest manager, just as he used money and possessions to save himself from certain poverty, we need to use our possessions to help others instead of ourselves. If we can do it, then we will be saved from eternal poverty, instead we’ll have an eternal home in the kingdom of God.
Jesus closes this parable by telling his listeners, if you are even just a little faithful with the possessions we have, then we are seen as very faithful and God will share in the true riches of heaven. But if we are greedy, and do not share our wealth, then we are not being faithful at all. Well, who would trust us with real riches then? We cannot serve two masters, Jesus tells us that plainly. We have to choose, God or wealth. It’s not so much the wealth that is the problem. It’s what we do with the wealth, how do we use it? What do we use it for? That is how we are judged. Not just by God, but all those we come in contact with each and every day. How do we want to be perceived?
Just as the businessman recognized the shrewd actions of the manager as something he would do… does God recognize His own actions is us? Would Jesus be seen doing the things we do in our lives? When we think about this… remember the playground saying… â€œIt takes one to know one.â€