On Our Wealth in One Another
September 18, 2022
Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
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 accounting 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.”
Today’s sermon is titled, On Our Wealth in One Another.
Isn’t this a strange parable that Jesus tells? It doesn’t follow the predictable pattern at all. The main character in the parable, the crook, goes even more crooked and is “commended because he acted shrewdly.” This is not what I have come to expect from the teachings of Jesus. In the parable we meet this manager who cheats his employer and when he realizes he has been caught, he tries to make inroads with the merchants by reducing what they owe, cheating his employer out of even more just to score a few points with people that may be able to help him when he is out on the street. I want that guy to get his due. It is not very Christian of me, I admit, but I want him to lose his job and be sent away in disgrace but that is not the way the story goes and what’s more, Jesus is the one making up this story; he can make it turn out however he wants it to to get his message across. I must have read this story at least twenty times this week and it was not until about 48 hours ago that I began to appreciate why Jesus told this story the way he did.
Jesus ends the parable with the following line: “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.” Did he just say that? I checked two other translations. That is what Jesus says. Go ahead, make friends for yourselves by dishonest means and you will always have a place to go. Our scripture quotes Jesus as saying “they may welcome you into the eternal homes” but there is a mistake in this translation. The oldest record of this scripture was written in Greek and the Greek word for homes is oikous (oy-kos). That is not the word the author of Luke used. The author used the Greek word skenas (ski-nah), meaning “tents.” Then and now, tents were regarded as convenient structures for traveling or for temporary use. Tents are not the same as homes. I lived in a tent for 3 years; I can tell you that a tent can be homey but it can not be home.
Looking more closely at the scripture and with this in mind, Jesus’s statement becomes, “Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal tent.” This statement is not the command that interpreters have stumbled over for centuries. This statement is a warning. If you seek security and peace, like only a home can offer, steer clear of making friends by means of dishonest wealth; they can only offer temporary shelter. They can only offer fleeting security. It’s like Jesus is saying, “If that’s what you want, go ahead…and good luck with that.”
Jesus is admitting that is the way of the world and we know this to be true. Quid pro quo…some of this for some of that? The problem is that everyone is always trying to get the better deal and the greatest profit margin. Prices go up and quality goes down but someone is benefitting and that someone is probably making friends along the way, creating chains of people who are all scratching each others’ backs. Jesus tells us, “Go ahead. You can live your lives this way. It may work out quite well for you, too. You may, indeed, gain a great deal; you may rise to a position of great power; you may even advance as an elected leader in the highest office in the land. Others will flock to you for what you can do for them, but you will never have true peace nor lasting security.
Friends, we have dozens of choices before us each day. The choices may not be so dramatic as stealing or lying to get ahead or to make an extra dollar. The choices can be much more subtle and nearly as harmful. Gossip, negativity, pessimism all spread like a disease. True peace and security can not be found among such company and it only takes two to get it going. Dozens of times each day we have to make choices that take us further into the light or further into the darkness. We can choose, again and again, to turn to the light, to encourage one another with our words, not tear one another down. In doing so, we accumulate a different kind of wealth. We accumulate a wealth of character and we lead a richer, more meaningful life. Personal wealth goes far beyond the balance in our bank accounts. A big bank balance in the right hands can do wonderful things, though.
Each year, Forbes magazine ranks the world’s billionaires by how much they give to charity. Some billionaires have organized around an effort to encourage other billionaires to be more generous. In 2010, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, David Rockefeller and Michael Bloomberg met to discuss what they later named The Giving Pledge. Those who have signed it, numbering now in the hundreds, pledge to give at least 50% of their wealth away. There have been many critics that claim those individuals won’t even miss 50% of their wealth but I applaud their effort because it sends a message. As a result of The Giving Pledge 500 billion dollars, thus far, has been channeled out of personal holdings.
What we choose to do with our gifts and with our resources does make a difference. We don’t have to be billionaires or millionaires. But we do have to choose whom we are serving. Are we serving ourselves or something greater? Our very presence here today is the result of a choice we made this morning; it was a choice to serve something greater. It was a choice to join with a larger community, a community of faith, a community of seekers, a community where we become known by one another, a community that practices acceptance, a community that will pray for us and celebrate with us and grieve with us. We have a wealth in one another that will see us through the best and the worst of times.
In closing now, I invite us to consider just how uniquely wonderful we are as a gathered body that we call church. I can not think of another entity that is so thoroughly self-supporting as is this church. Our operating budget is not supported by grants or subsidies; we give what we can and we make it work. Jesus said, “You can make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth…” but what we have here is perhaps the most honest wealth gathered together under one roof. We come as we are, we look to the example of Christ as our teacher, we look to one another for encouragement as we learn more of how to love. We have found wealth in community; we have found a home. So be it. Amen.
God of All, in the stillness of this place I pray that each one of us feels safe enough to reach farther, deeper in whatever direction leads us closer to your divine presence. In the words of your prophets we have been assured that your love lives within us, yet at times you feel so far away. In those times, Lord, help us to ask ourselves if we are actually the ones that distance ourselves from you. Then help us to find our way back home to the place where you are all that is. From that place, we find strength for the living of our lives and for helping those among us that are struggling. For those coping with illness, God, please comfort them. And for those facing death, grant them peace. In all we face in our everyday lives, help us remember the power of prayer. This we ask in Jesus’s name, who gave us the words to this beloved prayer…Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you with this 3000 year old blessing from the Old Testament book of Numbers, chapter 6:
“The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace.”