“Telling a story to make a point”
September 18th 2016
Introduction: A business owner finds out that his office manager is guilty of mismanagement. He calls in the manager and says, “You’ve got two weeks to get ready for an audit. Now get out of here.” The manager knows he’s in deep trouble. Too proud to beg; too weak to work, what should he do?
Suddenly, he has an idea. He calls in some of the company’s biggest customers. “Have I got a deal for you!” he exclaims. The plan is simple. He cuts their bills in half, destroys the paper trail, and writes new invoices.
Now, no one can prove that he cheated, and all the richest men in town will owe him a favor. His future is secure. Of course, when the boss looks at the books, he knows what has happened but there is nothing he can do about it. He knows he has been conned. And here’s the surprise. He says to the man: “I have to admit it, you were pretty shrewd. You got me. Now get out of here.”
Up to this point, Jesus’ story makes perfect sense, especially in these years after the Wall Street crash of 2008, involving loan schemes that nobody to this day can understand. What doesn’t make sense to us is the fact that Jesus seems to join the owner in praising the manager for his dishonesty.
This is where I have always struggled with this story. A careful reading of the text shows that Jesus is not praising the man for being dishonest. Rather, he is pointing to the man as an example of someone with single-minded devotion to a cause, which happens to himself. Jesus’ point here is really pretty simple.
Here is someone who knows how to give his entire heart, mind, and soul to the thing he values most, himself. Perhaps we should be more like that with the things of God! Instead of being self-centered we need to be Christ-centered in all things!
Let’s dig a little deeper! One question is at the heart of this story and it is a question that we all must answer for ourselves. Why do we do what we do? Seems simple enough to me. I can answer it for myself and I am sure you can answer the question for yourself, as well. Just what is it that motivates us? This is the key question for faith and for life itself in my opinion. Just what is it that sustains our faith, that maintains our faith, and even at times re-imagines our faith?
I.) A curious story to be sure. (Title of the message: Telling a story to make a point)
A.) Shrewd or wise?
1. The money manager is either very shrewd or very wise.
2. Clearly he has mishandled his employers money, that much is obvious from the story.
3. He has not kept after the debtors of the boss.
4. He needs to demand payment of the outstanding debt.
B.) Two possibilities
1. First, the “Shrewd manager,” seeing the prospects of unemployment, curries or pursues favor from potential future employers by allowing the debtors to settle for a percentage of their debt.
2. He may have reasoned, “So that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes. (V.4 NRSV)
3. OR second, the “wise manager” resolves lingering debts in a way that benefits everyone – debtors, lender/current boss but to a lesser extent, and of course himself.
4. This settles lots of issues that may have taken much longer to settle in the courts perhaps.
5. He earns the begrudging respect of his employer, because “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light” (V.8 NRSV).
C.) The moral of the story appears in v.9.
Ex. “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations” (v.9 RSV)
1. If the manager is “shrewd,” then this moral seems to be ironic.
2. If the manager is “wise,” then the moral may not be prescriptive, but it could be descriptive of the way things operate in this world, whether we like it or not.
3. This story seems at odds with our understanding of Jesus and his teachings and yet….
II.) Money and business is a part of Jesus’ teaching.
A.) Just before this story, is the story of the Prodigal Son.
1. We know the story of the prodigal son so well.
2. He leaves his father’s home with his share of the inheritance and squanders all of his money on unsavory living.
B.) Just after our story for this week is the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, where the Rich Man hordes all he has, fails to help his impoverished neighbor Lazarus, and ends up in Hades burning in unquenchable fire.
1. Two very different stories about different people, each of whom failed personal finance and common decency, because they put themselves first in all things.
2. So what’s this weeks story all about and how does it fit in with these other two stories about money?
3. The motivation in the stories is the same motivation that we struggle with today.
4. Truly there is nothing new under the sun.
Conclusion to message: Jesus’ point is not that we should be dishonest, but rather more focused and driven in our faith and in the spread of the gospel. Some people will do almost anything to get a leg up on others and pad their bank accounts.
We’re to have the exact same focus and drive, just on spiritual matters. There are two riches to attain, and those riches don’t expire when we do. We should be as shrewd and driven with our spiritual lives as the Dishonest Manager was with preserving his life and well being in the short term. And, as we walk through this life we should be “seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” ahead of everything and everyone else.
The challenge we face is to be rich towards God and the things of his kingdom and poor towards the things of this world that are only temporary to begin with, including this earthly life we live. Very hard indeed!
Matthew 6:31-34 says: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”