02 October 2014

Jesus Wants Us To Be Wise Stewards

The Parable of the Shrewd Manager - Coptic
Luke 16:1-15

Disclaimer: The views on this post or all other posts are solely mine and may not reflect the author of the teaching, Jesus. I may be wrong and/or completely off my rocker. Thankfully, The Teacher is a gracious teacher. If He has given you clearer insights on this teaching, please add to the discussion. There is only one person who knows exactly what He is teaching, but my Sensei stubbornly wants me to search for the answer.

This is such a difficult teaching from Jesus, I have never heard a sermon or a Bible study discussion on this parable. Any preacher will tell you that one of the advantages of expository (or from the text) preaching is not being responsible for the subject of teaching on any given Sunday as going through a particular part of the Bible will dictate what will be taught. As this blog is an expository blog through a harmony of the Gospels, we come upon one of those teachings not easily chewed over.

So, when it comes to tackling difficult things, I think it's proper to walk through the basics.

First, each gospel writer ordered their account of Jesus' ministry in particular ways. Remember, what is written is not an exhaustive list of Jesus' deeds as this would be impossible. But, what is written is so we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. 

Luke is an educated man, a doctor, who wrote two volumes for, who we think is, a Roman official named "Most Excellent Theophilus". The first volume, Luke, is an account of Jesus' ministry. The second volume, The Acts of the Apostles, chronicles the beginnings of the Christian church throughout the Roman Empire.

Because this is an orderly account, we know that Luke ordered these stories of Jesus within a certain logic. Because it is logical, we can rely on context to help us through each teaching to determine what Jesus is teaching and/or what is being revealed about our Lord and Saviour.

Second, who is the subject? Who is Jesus talking about? In chapter 15, we have already discussed that the three lost stories are really directed to the teachers of the Law while he is eating with sinners and tax collectors. After this parable, in chapter 16, we are given the reaction of the teachers of the Law. So, it is fairly clear, that Jesus is talking about the teachers of the Law.

Third, is there a common theme in these series of parables? We went in depth in explaining that the three lost parables of chapter 15, particularly the climax of the lost sons, was about Jesus, who knew the hearts of men, revealing that the religious teachers were really not all that different than the "sinners" and tax collectors they condemned in that they were not interested in building love with the Father. Rather, they were just interested in just acquiring their Father's stuff.

After this teaching about the shrewd manager, Jesus makes pointed remarks about people who are dishonest with another's stuff as well as not being able to serve both God and money.

So, now that we answered all the surrounding questions concerning the teaching, let's break down the teaching itself.

It's fairly clear that the rich man, also referred to as master, is God. He is the owner of the cattle on a thousand hills.  Who is the manager? The manager is each of us, particularly those who have been trusted with much. In the Judeo/Christian world view, none of us are owners. None. Our lives, our jobs, our families, our friends, our food, our house, our stuff, it is all gift.

None of us are owners, but we are all stewards. We have been given all that we have to use it in service of the Owner. Unfortunately, many of us are deceived into thinking we do own it. So, we use all that we are given however we choose for the benefit of our own personal kingdom.

Just because we believe something to be true doesn't make it true. Reality determines truth. And, for followers of Christ, the Creator is reality and therefore determines truth. One day, we will come face to face with the reality that we are not owners but managers. And for the vast majority of us, it will be uh-oh time.

So, the master knows the bad management of his steward and informs him that he is losing his job. The manager doesn't want manual labor and he doesn't want to beg. So, he comes up with a plan to gain favor with those who owe the master since he has clearly lost favor with the master. What does he do? He lowers their debt.

Surprisingly, the master is not angry about the sacked manager essentially stealing from him. Instead, he commends the fired manager for acting shrewdly. Is the manager rehired? We don't know. Jesus, just like the story of the lost sons, does not tell the rest of the story. He just leaves it. All we know is the fired manager is commended.

Jesus says, "For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."

 I think what Jesus is teaching the religious leaders is this: You just want your Father's stuff? Fine. You have proved quite skillful at amassing wealth for yourselves. If your focus is on the stuff, can you at least use the stuff to help your fellow man? Can you at least use the stuff to win friends and influence people. Don't just stand off to the side with all your stuff and wag your finger at your fellow debtors. At least try to reduce their debt even though you really have no authority to reduce it.

It's okay to make friends of all peoples. Jesus teaches that religious people don't do this very well. We would rather stand and point fingers in the hope that our God will notice and give us even greater favour, instead of ingratiating ourselves to people who, in reality, owe the Father just as much as we do.

Jesus seems to say, "Use the stuff." At the end of the day, what will we do with the stuff? Each of us will be called to account. So, at least use the stuff we have been given to improve relationships. Are you selfish? OK. Be wisely selfish. Win friends. Influence people. Attempt to improve the relationships between the master and each of his debtors. At least some good will be accomplished.

How good is a religious person if there are so many needy, neglected people who need help and could be helped? How good is a religious person if they lift not one finger to improve the relationship between their God and His people? How good is a religious leader if they do not lead people to God? What good is that religion?

All of us are stewards. And, in the light of eternity and the glory to come, what we have been given is little. Jesus makes it clear in this teaching and others, we will be held accountable by the owner in how we used his stuff. Did we just hoard? Did we just waste? Did we just do nothing? Which kingdom are we serving with his stuff? The Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of Me?

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