Sunday, September 19, 2010

living wisely

Luke 16: 1-13

Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” And 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. And 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. ‘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? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 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.’

In the last few months I’ve become addicted to Monopoly, which is a really cool way to spend your time when you’re 29 years old. Monopoly is a game of acquisition. Accumulation is the name of the game, which ends when one person acquires everything. And I’m serious when I say that Monopoly is addictive – taking someone’s last dollar, watching him quit in utter despair; it’s great. But it’s addictive – it’s so easy to get lost in the game. Yes, the money is paper. The property is cardboard. You are a plastic hat. But when you’re in the game it just feels so real. You lose touch with reality. You convince yourself that everything belongs to you – that your stuff is your stuff and that someone else’s stuff needs to become your stuff. And so you spend. Acquire. Hoard. Trade. You wheel and Deal. Build a Kingdom. Make a name. Round and round the board you go – conquering and counting. It all feels so good – until the game ends because then so does the illusion. And everything goes back in the box.

Now on the surface tonight’s parable from Luke is strange but Jesus’ point is actually pretty straightforward. “In light of my arrival on earth and what I’m here to do,” He says, “think twice about losing yourself in the world’s game of acquisition. The money you hoard – its paper. The property you acquire – compared to the true riches, its cardboard. Your stuff,” He says, “is not your stuff. You’re just managing what belongs to God. And so don’t waste your life going around the board without stopping to think about what’s important. Because sooner or later the game’s going to end and everything goes back in the box.” Now that being said, let’s take a look at this four-part parable.

Part I – “a rich man had a manager.” Jesus’ audience would have known from the beginning that this parable is about God and humanity. God is the rich man. We are the managers. Now, if you need convincing just think about how the Bible begins. God creates a perfect world and puts Adam and Eve in charge as managers. In the words of Psalm 8, “You’ve given humanity dominion over the works of your hands; you’ve put all things under their feet.” In other words, first God creates a perfect world and then He creates us for a purpose – to manage His stuff. To love His stuff. To care for His stuff. To find joy in our work as managers.

Part II – the rich man discovers that the manager isn’t doing that great of a job. Now, I doubt you need convincing that we humanoids haven’t been faithful in managing God’s stuff. We spend. Acquire. Hoard. Trade. We wheel and deal. We make our lives comfortable and think very little at how others are put out. And God knows we conquer – nations conquer nations and people conquer people – physically and psychologically. At some point the human race fell – we got lost in the game. We stopped being managers and went into business for ourselves on the false premise that everything belongs to us – that my stuff is my stuff and that success is about your stuff becoming my stuff. Part II is about the manager’s rebellion against the true owner.

Part III – this is the crisis. The rich man confronts the dishonest manager and demands an account. Now, remember – the rich man in the parable is God. And so we need to see how radical this parable is coming from the mouth of Jesus. “In me,” Jesus says, “through me, God is back and He demands an account. The jig is up. That stuff isn’t your stuff; it’s my stuff – what have you done with it?” In other words, in the person of Jesus Christ God has returned; and He demands an account for how we’ve managed his stuff.

Finally, Part IV – the manager is forced to decide; the rich man’s return demands a decision. And as I read the parable what the manager does in reducing the bill is repent – he changes his ways. Commentators point out that in reducing his master’s bill, the manager is actually cutting the interest that he had charged on something that wasn’t even his, which according to Jewish law was prohibited. “Look,” he says, “I know I gave you a bill for a hundred bags of wheat even though you only borrowed eighty. But – it’d be wrong to take twenty bags for myself. After all, that wheat wasn’t mine – it belongs to my master. I shouldn’t have run up the bill.” And so that is why Jesus praises the dishonest manager. In light of his master’s return he acts wisely – he repents and repairs the damage.

Now, that’s the parable – what’s the lesson? Well, Jesus says two things that demand our attention. First, “the children of this age are a lot more shrewd than the children of light.” In other words, when people in our world cheat or act dishonestly and it becomes clear to them that they’re going to get caught – that their master, whoever that is, is coming and that he demands an account; they’re not just going to sit there. They’ll do something. They’ll apologize or make amends or change their ways. But they’re going to do something. The point Jesus is making is this. “God created you to be managers, you’ve acted dishonestly, and guess what – you’ve been caught. The Master knows everything and in Me, right now, He’s here to confront you. Do something! Wake up! Repent! Start playing the game with integrity!”

Second, Jesus explains that repentance means living faithfully now. “If you haven’t been faithful with dishonest wealth,” he says, “can you really be trusted to handle real wealth?” In other words, “Compared to the true riches of the Kingdom of God what you’ve been asked to manage now is paper and cardboard. And so don’t build a life around paper and cardboard. If you can’t be trusted with the little God’s given you, how can you ever be trusted with an inheritance of your own?” And so notice – eternity isn’t just clouds and harps! We were made to be managers. Each of us will have a huge part to play in the Kingdom of God. We’ll be entrusted with true riches. But, there does seem to be an organic connection between who we are in this life and how fit we are to take our place in the next one. And so as you go out into the world this week, please remember – your stuff isn’t your stuff. It’s Gods. We can’t keep it. One day we’re going to die, the game is going to end, and we will be put in a box.

And so make a decision. Decide for yourselves what it means to be faithful with what God’s entrusted to you – with what you have been given to manage. In a couple of years you’ll be making some money. Do not keep it all for yourselves. God’s bottom line isn’t the same as Wall Street’s. In a similar way, each one of us gets 168 hours a week. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that’s your time. No, time is a gift. It belongs to God. Share some of the time you’ve been given with other people, especially the needy, and share an even bigger chunk of that time with God. Some of you are really intelligent, and because of that really powerful. A strong intellect can be used to build up and encourage, or to intimidate people and make you feel superior. What will we do with the stuff God’s given us? Either way, we’ll have to give an account.

Now, like most parables there’s always a twist. In the context of Luke’s Gospel Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem where he’ll die on a cross for the sins of the world. Here’s the irony. We humans weren’t just entrusted with God’s stuff. We were entrusted with God. You see in the person of Jesus Christ God became human; He became vulnerable and allowed himself to be mismanaged by his own image-bearers. Our primary sin is not that we squandered God’s property. Our primary sin is that God became human in Jesus Christ and we squandered God. On the cross He was conquered and counted as nothing. I mean, think about that. We killed God and put Him in a box!

The good news of the Christian Gospel is that box couldn’t hold him. Jesus was raised from the dead, and because of that all things are His. As Paul says in Colossians, “all things have been created through him and for him.” Everything belongs to Jesus. Our money. Our time. Our body. Our intellect. What are we going to do with that stuff? Either way, we’ll have to give an account. We can spend, acquire, hoard, trade, wheel and deal, and make our life about acquiring paper. Or, we can live wisely. We can build our lives around things that matter. We start preparing now for that future promotion and become people capable of handling the true riches.

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