You have been weighed on the scale and found wanting. (Daniel 5:27)
Jesus tells a story about a rich owner that had a manager, and charges were brought against him that he was squandering the owner’s property. So he called the man and said, what is this I hear about you? I need to see the books. You need to give me an honest account of your management, because if you have been misappropriating funds, then you cannot be my manager anymore.
Then the manager said to himself, now what will I do, I’m not a physical worker, and I am too ashamed to beg? Let me think…. okay, I’ve got it…hmmm, this just might work. I will go to the boss’s customers and cut a deal. That will give those customers trust in me. So one by one he contacted the owner’s customers. He asked the first: How much to you owe my boss? I owe for one hundred barrels of olive oil. Quick sit down and change the bill that you only bought fifty barrels. Are you sure? Yes, I’m sure. It will be my personal gift to you.
Then he goes to the second customer and says: What do you owe my boss? I owe for 100 barrels of grain. Quick, sit down and change the bill to 80 barrels! Are you sure? Yes, it’s okay—go ahead, but just remember who your real friends are. The idea was for the manager to make friends with these customers, so that they might assist him once the owner dismisses him.
And, the parable says that instead of firing him, the rich owner commended this dishonest manager, because he had acted shrewdly. “For the children of this age are shrewder in dealing with the people of their own generation than the people 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.”
Alright, what in the world does he mean when he says, ‘make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone they may welcome you into the eternal homes?!’ Does that mean that Jesus, like the man’s boss, is commending the manager for his dishonest behavior? So – what do you think Jesus is talking about?
In the gospel of Luke sometimes Jesus said outrageous things, just to get people’s attention, to get them thinking? I think this may be another of those times. Perhaps Jesus is being cynical here, saying, ‘Hey this is how the world works, am I right? This is the world’s idea of ‘business as usual’. But, we know that in all of Luke Jesus has been showing people how the kingdom of God is different than the kingdom of this world, right? Look at what he says right after he tells this story, in v 13. “Whoever is faithful in a little is also faithful in much, and whoever is dishonest in a very little will also be dishonest in much.”
So – what do you think Jesus is talking about? Elton Trueblood, who was a Quaker theologian and writer in the mid 1900’s wrote in his book, The Humor of Christ, that there are many teachings of Jesus which are practically incomprehensible when regarded as what he calls ‘sober prose’, or just plain talking, but which are luminous, in other words, they shine from within, once we get over the idea that Christ never joked. He agreed with me that in this parable Jesus was presenting a cynical view of what not to do with wealth.
And, what about the ‘friends’ we make with ‘dishonest wealth’ welcoming us into their eternal homes? Some people say he’s talking about heaven. Think about it – does this sound like heaven to you? Where are these ‘eternal homes’, and do we really want to be welcomed into an eternal home that is different from the one that God promises?
So – what do you think Jesus is talking about? He says, ‘Whoever is faithful in little things is also faithful in much. Whoever is dishonest in a little thing will be dishonest in big things. If you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, then who will entrust you with the true riches?”
A good rule of thumb in trying to understand difficult passages, as well as difficult situations in life, is to ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” Look at what Jesus said, and how he lived, and ask yourself that question – “What would Jesus do?”
I’m not saying that asking that question will always make things easy, or clear. Life isn’t that simple, and neither is scripture. But asking that question – and answering it honestly, to the best of your ability – is a really good place to start when you’re faced with an intellectual, spiritual or moral dilemma. This, in plain talk, means – when you don’t know what to do, or what to think.
He doesn’t say it outright, but I think Jesus is criticizing both the rich owner and the dishonest manager. Because he goes on to say that the most important thing is knowing what ‘true riches’ are. True riches come from right relationship (remember, Jesus has been telling us all along that that is ‘the most important thing’, right?) – right relationship with God, with others, with things – and that those right relationships will characterize the way we live our lives.
Jesus says, ‘You can’t serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and money ‘. I don’t see Jesus shaking his finger at us when he says this. Rather, he’s shaking his head, “I’m sorry, but it won’t work. That’s just the way it is.”
This parable about the dishonest manager reminded me of money scams like the Wells Fargo Bank debacle, when over 5300 employees were fired for dishonest money transactions. Similar to the employee who demanded am accounting of his financial transactions with his owner or boss, sales agents were trapped into this extremely competitive industry and forced to open up new credit card accounts and set up savings accounts with current bank customers without them knowing about it.
I listened to an interview by one of the sales agents that actually worked for Wells Fargo back in 2006, and he said this was nothing new. Mangers demanded that their sales agents open up a certain quota every day, and some of the practices were in the gray area, and some were just down-right illegal, but managers with high production numbers got promoted and offered jobs at other banks. This is now new, and it did not start in 2011, and it is not related to just one bank. The Consumer Foundation Protection Bureau is now looking at all the other major banks.
One thing leads to another, and another, and first they tell ourselves ‘it’s not that big a deal’, then they may say, ‘it’s not really wrong, is it?’ That’s how dishonesty sneaks up on people, how someone loses their integrity, wholeness – and we need to be on guard. It’s a slippery slope, and it starts out with the small things and transactions in what is known as the grey area.
So, how do we guard against attacks on integrity? It’s that ‘most important thing’ Jesus has been telling us about – right relationship with God and others and things. No slave can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and money. When we are weighed on the scale will we be found wanting?
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen