“Who Can Be Trusted?”
Sometimes, not very often, when I sit down to write my sermon, I wonder, “What was I thinking when I picked this one?” This week was one of those weeks.
We have this reading that most people aren’t really sure what to do with. Jesus tells a story of a property manager who is a cheat. He rips off his boss. He rips off the suppliers. He rips off the customers. He just can’t be trusted.
So what does he do? He thinks of himself. “I’m too weak to dig. I’m to proud to beg.” So he tries to save face. He figures out a way so people may still respect him. He calls up the debtors and makes them an offer.
He asks each one of them, “How much do you owe?” Then he gives each one of them amazing discounts between 20 and 50 percent of what they owe. Talk about a going out of business sale! How I wish I’d have met this guy when we bought a car last week!
This guy has been a selfish, cheating, dishonest employee for years and he’s still trying to work the system to save his reputation. And for all this, he is praised.
What? He’s praised? This is where we get lost in the story. This is where we get confused and can’t quite understand what this story is about.
What I like to do when I get a bit confused with scripture is look around to see what happens before and after to help shed some light on the situation.
What happens before this story is the parable of the lost son. You know, the one who takes his inheritance, squanders it then comes back home to a father who never stopped looking for him.
After the dishonest manager is the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The story of the the change in the hierarchy of the two after they die. The rich man who lived lavishly on earth finds himself in hell while the poor man Lazarus finds himself living lavishly in heaven. A story of how one should use their wealth and health while they have it.
But this week we are looking at the one in between. The cheater who wins.
First, there’s these deep discounts he offered when he was caught. 20% for one, 50% for another. What’s the deal here? How is this saving face with his boss when he lets the debtors off so lightly?
The discounts were where he was most likely cheating. In other words, he made his dishonest money by charging far more than he should have. So he cut his profit in order to save himself. So all of a sudden, in the eyes of his boss, he managed to get all the books in order. No more outstanding payments. They were nicely balanced.
The boss is happy, he has his money. The debtors are happy, they got a deal on what they owed. And the manager is happy, because everyone else is happy. In the panic of being caught, he somehow comes out smelling like roses, and he is praised.
I turned to my study bible to see what it had to say about this parable. Here’s what it said, “The point is plain: if unsaved people spend all their time looking to their material interests and promoting their own welfare, believers should use their energies and talents to advance their spiritual interests – the only ones with lasting value.”
“The point is plain”? It is? Sure, their explanation makes sense, but I’m not sure it’s plain.
I did a little more research. One preacher said this, “I wish I had scheduled a guest preacher for this Sunday!” I can’t argue with her there.
So what do we make of this parable. When we look at what Jesus says after the parable, we can see a number of explanations. The first is in verse 8, “His master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”
Here we are being told that this guy was shrewd, and therefore commended. This guy was so set on receiving goodness, he did very drastic things to keep his money and his possessions. How do we, as Christians, look in comparison?
Do we work as hard as he did in order to be close to God? Do we make the sacrifices like he made in order to serve those God asks us to look after?
In verse 9 Jesus adds, “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.”
Make connections. Use what you have to build relationships. Make the connections, then use what you have to solidify them. Bring people close to you. Let them know who you really are. Let them know about you and your relationship with God, and how that is important. The material things are secondary. It becomes more about the spiritual connection and being a supportive and encouraging relationship. So even when you lose your material things, you still have a strong relationship with the other person.
Verses 10 and 11 offer another view, “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?”
How you treat the small, unimportant stuff tells a lot about how you will react in tough situations. If you are shown that you are inept at handling a simple task, who is going to give you something important to do? If you are faithful in what God gives you, then more responsibilities may come. More work can be done.
And finally, verse 13, “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.”
Where is your devotion? Do you love your stuff more, or do you love God more?
These are interesting interpretations of the parable. The fact that there are four different lessons, or morals to the story, could indicate that even Luke himself wasn’t sure what to do with it.
Again, we look at the parables that come before and after.
The parable of the prodigal son shows us a God who loves His children more than any lost possession. God longs to be close to His children.
The story of Lazarus and the rich man shows us a God who loves the poor and weak and cares for them deeply.
This parable this morning is again about a God who loves, forgives and is more generous than we could ever imagine.
We are the manager. Every day we squander the gifts God has given us. We fall short. We miss the mark. We get greedy and try to make things for ourselves, and it comes at the expense of others. It may not be just money. It could be in our relationships with others. It could be in the way we spend our time.
We are continually called to account in the teachings of Jesus Christ. We are continually shown the right way to act. The right way to use our possessions. The right way to be in relationship with others. And we fall short.
The amazing thing is God still commends our work. He still loves us. He still works with us. We don’t get fired. We get another chance. Each and every morning is a new day. A new opportunity to share the blessings God has shared with us to the world. Talk about God’s amazing grace and mercy. It’s almost unbelievable how much we receive.
The title of my sermon is, “Who can be trusted?”
The simple answer is, “no one but God.”
Thankfully this truth is what gives us hope. No matter how much we screw up, we still belong to God.
And we can trust in Him.