Jesus also said to the disciples, “A certain rich man heard that his household manager was wasting his estate. He called the manager in and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give me a report of your administration because you can no longer serve as my manager.’
“The household manager said to himself, What will I do now that my master is firing me as his manager? I’m not strong enough to dig and too proud to beg. I know what I’ll do so that, when I am removed from my management position, people will welcome me into their houses.
“One by one, the manager sent for each person who owed his master money. He said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil.’ The manager said to him, ‘Take your contract, sit down quickly, and write four hundred fifty gallons.’ Then the manager said to another, ‘How much do you owe?’ He said, ‘One thousand bushels of wheat.’ He said, ‘Take your contract and write eight hundred.’
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted cleverly. People who belong to this world are more clever in dealing with their peers than are people who belong to the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to make friends for yourselves so that when it’s gone, you will be welcomed into the eternal homes.
“Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much, and the one who is dishonest with little is also dishonest with much. If you haven’t been faithful with worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?If you haven’t been faithful with someone else’s property, who will give you your own? No household servant can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Too often, when we read one of these types of stories, we look for “eternal truths.” We look for characters that are easily definable with G-d, Jesus, Christians, sinners, heaven, and hell. The problem with such an approach in the beginning, is that it usually neglects some basic historical and contextual settings.
For example, with the last sentence, “You cannot serve God and wealth,” we would assume that this is a general moral teaching about being wealthy and the pitfalls of having money. Now, while that may be true on the whole, that’s not really how this passage plays out. I mean, if that’s the case, “the master” would seem to be G-d and “the master” seems quite impressed at the dishonesty of the manger! I don’t think G-d really approves or is the slight bit impressed with dishonesty. So, we can’t take this too far before it falls apart.
The context of for this story shows up in the very next verse, “The Pharisees, who were money-lovers, heard all this and sneered at Jesus” (v.14). Well now, that’s rather telling, isn’t it? Let’s back up and get a little more perspective.
YHWH, Israel’s god, had given them the task of being the light of the world (Isaiah 49.6), to show all of creation what G-d is actually like and to reflect what true humanity looks like. But along the way, they colluded with the systems of the world and started losing their way. Over and over again, their prophets and poets warned them that the people would be driven from their land and sent off into exile unless they changed their ways. By the time of Jesus, though, things were different.
Or so they thought.
Certainly, on one hand, the people had come back from Babylon and were now living in their land. They had rebuilt the Temple and were getting back to some kind of normalcy.
But on the other hand, something was still wrong. They were still occupied by a foreign, pagan, nation. They still weren’t truly free. So, sects like the Pharisees, the legal scholars (Sadducees), and the Zealots were even more strict when it came to following the law. The Zealots went so far as to even remove themselves from Jerusalem insomuch as they felt the city itself was unclean because of the Romans.
As we’ve noted elsewhere, Jesus appearance on the scene is understood (by the biblical writers, at least) as G-d returning to the people and land as promised. During this time of Jesus’ ministry and the actions of the first followers of The Way, G-d is going around seeing how Israel is measuring up. And it’s not looking very good. Jesus has told them that there’s a storm approaching -- that the people, the city, and the Temple would be judged because they were discovered not fulfilling their part of the covenant (the sacred agreement between YHWH and Israel).
So, in that sense, the “master” does equal G-d and the “manager” represents the leaders of the people, specifically the Religious Elite. They’ll have to make an account of their actions. G-d Realm was going to be take from them and given to someone else (they were getting fired; see Matthew 21.43). That’s why they began to “sneer” at Jesus. They understood that the story was about them and that Jesus believed he was -- somehow, mystically -- representing YHWH. Who did this upstart think he is?
Jesus’ story, then, has several points. The first one is that the people of his day were not getting off the hook. Judgement is coming but they’re not going to like where it lands. Second, they should take a lesson from the so-called pagans and get themselves ready for the oncoming storm. They should start helping out those they’ve been cheating so that, when the Romans come and the city and Temple is wiped out, they might have a place to live (not “eternal” as meaning “going to heaven” but as place that would last) and not get killed or taken captive.
So Jesus’ last words in this passage are directed primarily to the Religious Elite of his day. Within this context, though, what do you suppose the message is for us today? Is there a connection to make? What do you think? Leave a comment below.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC