Scripture: Luke 16:1-15,19-31
When I was in high school, my basketball team, at the end of the season, would play a basketball game against a wheelchair basketball team. They would bring in wheelchairs for us, and we would get in them and play.
As much as I would like to say that the high school provincial champions would give the wheelchair team a run for their money… we didn’t. Sure on the scoreboard at the end of the game it would say we lost by 10 points. But in reality the other team would take pity on us. They would go to the score table and say “Give them another 10 points” whenever they got too far ahead. Truthfully, if the score said 60-50, we probably scored maybe 20 points.
It was a whole lot of fun, but we just weren’t as good playing from a chair as we were playing regular basketball. And we were okay with that. We learned something that day. We learned respect, and we learned what life might be like for someone living in different circumstances.
It’s kind of like what happens on the show, “Undercover Boss”. Now, I’ve not seen much of it, but it seems somewhat interesting. If you’ve not seen the show, they take the head of a company and dress him or her up in a disguise. They then send this person to do the jobs which are considered entry level or front lines of their company.
These are the jobs people start at, but eventually might try and move from to get into an office or a management position. They’ve featured companies such as Subway, United Van Lines, the Chicago Cubs, restaurants, cruise and hotel lines, all sorts of different corporations.
The boss, or high powered executive, spends a week doing different entry level jobs in their company, at different locations. What is most powerful is that they also get to know the lives of the people who work these jobs and the struggles they face daily.
A life these executives would never know in their fancy offices and big houses. It shows them, while they live in the 1%, how real life employees can struggle day-to-day to provide for their families and how the company either helps or not in those lives. And just maybe, maybe the executive will do something about it.
In our reading from Luke today, Jesus tells us two stories.
Both of them feature a man who is wealthy and has significant influence. In the first story the master hears of a manager who is squandering his wealth. The manager is trying to take advantage of his position and make some extra money for himself. To try and save face when the master wants to fire him, the manager seeks to make himself look good by giving great deals to those who are in debt to the master. This way, if he makes good friends with his shrewdness, he’ll be able to get a good job when he’s fired.
It’s pretty unethical business dealings, but in the end the master commends the manager for his work.
Jesus shares that this manager has been unfaithful, and his unfaithfulness grew from just a few little mis-dealings to many.
So what if we were faithful in just a few things. Would that not also grow in to being faithful in ALL things? That would be our hope!
In the second story we hear of another rich man who ignored the pleas and pain of Lazarus, a poor man who sat at his gate. The two men died. Lazarus, the one who suffered through life, was carried to heaven. The rich man, who lived an opulent life, ignoring the needs of those around him, was sent to hell.
It seems the rich man had a window into heaven, where he begged for Lazarus to come and give him some sweet relief from the pain he was enduring in hell. The request was denied because he was so reluctant to share his wealth with those in need while he was alive.
The rich man then asked, “Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.”
To which he heard in reply, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”
Unsure if that would be enough, the rich man said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”
The reply again was, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Today’s “Genius of Jesus” is the topic of balancing the power.
In the first story, the manager took an opportunity to better the lives of others while he had the chance. Now sure, it was a bit of a selfish endeavour, but he still acted in a way Jesus often taught us live.
We live to serve others.
We see the warnings in the second story. Live selfishly, ignoring the needs of others and we will pay the consequences, not here on earth, but for all eternity.
These are some pretty harsh words.
We need to look at how Jesus set the example. Think of the times he gave of himself despite what societal norms were of the day. Think of the times he healed people on the Sabbath, the day of rest. Think of how he fed people with only a few fish and a little bread.
Think of how he walked into the temple and flipped over the tables of those who sought to take advantage of the people coming to pay tribute to God.
And sometimes it’s even the simplest of gestures. Jesus talking to the foreign woman. Jesus welcoming children.
With power and money comes the incredible temptation to look out for ourselves and no one else. Pride, ego and greed are powerful sins. These are sins which destroy businesses, families, relationships, friendships, even churches are not immune to these sins.
We need to continually look to Jesus and his example.
What did Jesus say was the greatest commandment?
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.”
It begins with God. It begins with an understanding that God is creator, sustainer, and THE priority in all our lives.
And then we love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
Did the rich man love Lazarus as he loved himself? Of course not!
And he certainly did not love God because he admitted to not listening to Moses and the prophets during his life.
Does this mean we’re all evil, horrible, selfish people? No, I’m not saying that at all.
Does it mean we need to continually watch what we do and say? Yes.
Does it mean we have to change our lifestyle? Maybe. Probably.
For some the change may be more drastic than others. For some of us, we may be really stuck in our pride. We may need some significant prayer and help from God to get us to live more like Jesus asks us to live.
There are people in need all around us. We don’t have to look very far here in Cape Breton. 10 days ago I had a funeral for another drug overdose. I saw some pretty broken people that day. People without hope. People with no where to turn in times of tragedy and distress.
I’ve also had a few conversations with people over the last few weeks about where society is leading us, and how the church is being left behind as people seek other treasures, other spiritual homes. And the world is suffering because of it.
So if Jesus is about balancing power, how are we going to be part of it? None of us here are millionaires. None of us run international corporations. What can we possibly do?
When we had confirmation last week, the youth picked one of the scripture readings. They told me it was a story that really stuck with some of them.
It was Matthew 13:31-32
“He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
It begins small.
We don’t have to be millionaires or CEOs to change the world around us.
Remember Jesus wasn’t a millionaire. He wasn’t seen as powerful in terms of what the world sees as powerful.
Jesus walked the streets and reached out to those in need. He talked to the widows. He talked to the broken. He sat with the sick. He laughed with the children.
That’s his example of balancing the power of the world. He didn’t hide in the palace or temple. He walked the streets and got to know the people he met. And then he did something to make their life better.
We might not be able to do miracles, but we can bring a smile to the face of a stranger. We can offer hope to someone who is hopeless. We can provide food for the hungry. We can provide clothing to those who are cold.
We can help bridge the gap, the chasm, between the have’s and the have not’s.
We can be like Jesus to the world, in simple acts, or big one’s if you choose. But one thing Jesus did not teach was to ignore the needs of others.
From that we learn we can help balance the powers of this world. One simple act at a time.
That my friends, is the genius of Jesus.
Acting in a way which is completely unexpected to bring healing, love, and hope to a world in need.