Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Monday, 12 August 19:
Luke 16:8, 9 — “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are shrewder in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
The dishonest manager was a steward to the master, responsible for representing the master’s interests and responsible for dealing with those indebted to the master. Jesus’ parable of the dishonest manager is directed at those who are unfaithful representatives of God and “those who justify [them]selves before men” – “God knows [their] hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15)
This parable was a real attention getter particularly because the manager (who is commended for his shrewdness) is an unsavory sort, the type that was particularly loathed by the poor crowd also listening who had regularly been victimized by such unscrupulous middlemen. Jesus wasn’t commending the manager’s dishonesty but rather his willingness to recognize his perilous situation and change his ways before his judgment came. Though this parable applies to stewardship and generosity, I think it is first about humility, forgiveness, and mercy.
Sin is a debt that cannot be repaid by anyone but Jesus. “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) The dishonest manager was shrewd because, recognizing his guilt and his doomed position before his master, he showed mercy to those indebted to him, though their debt wasn’t even ultimately to him but rather to the master he served (Psalm 51:4). The Pharisees did not share this attitude. In their “unrighteous wealth” (self-righteousness and worldly position), as dishonest managers (pretending to be right with God themselves, pretending to be faithful managers), they demanded every “penny” from those in debt (sinners), even adding debt penalties for themselves (a common practice was for debt collectors to add large penalties to pad their own pockets, and the self-righteous Pharisees added burdens of traditional rules God never required). Jesus was essentially saying that the Pharisees were worse than the highly unscrupulous manager described in the parable. Although the dishonest manager was forgiving debt merely out of self-interest, at least he was shrewd enough to do it, while the Pharisees were oblivious to the judgment that awaited them.
This parable reminds us that, being totally dependent upon God’s grace, we should only give grace to others as God’s faithful managers while we await the return of the Master. We have no righteousness of ourselves, but righteousness is imputed to us through Jesus Christ. Self-righteousness is “an abomination in the sight of God.” In our position of owning nothing (having no righteousness but only that which is Christ’s), no one can really be in debt to us, only to God. In our position of relying totally on God’s grace to cover the penalty of our own sin debt, all we can possibly do is forgive and give. With our “unrighteous wealth” (self-righteousness and worldly possessions) we would be wise to “make friends for ourselves,” by forgiving, cancelling debts (again, not that it is even possible to be owed debt), and demonstrating abundant generosity before we meet our Master. Forgiveness and giving is at the heart of Christianity. We are totally dependent on God’s forgiveness which came through the sacrifice of Jesus, the Gift of God and Eternal Life. How then can we claim to be Christian without giving total forgiveness to all and demonstrating the generosity of our Master? Jesus died on the cross for our forgiveness that you would have the gift of eternal life. How far are you willing to go to forgive others and give to others as God’s messenger of reconciliation?
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 12 August 19: Today, forgive and give to others as God has forgiven you and given to you. Be a faithful manager.