Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Luke 16:1-18

1 Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.'
3 "The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.'
5 "So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'
6 " 'Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied.
"The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.'
7 "Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?'
" 'A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied.
"He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.'
8 "The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
10 "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?
13 "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God's sight.
16 "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and people are forcing their way into it. 17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.
18 "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Points of Interest:

• ‘Give an account of your management’—basically, the owner is giving the manager two weeks to get the books in order.

• ‘people will welcome me into their houses’—apparently, his future job prospects are rather meager. He figures his best chance is to get in good with people. Maybe if he’s well-liked or people feel like they owe him a favor, they’ll let him stay with them.

• ‘sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty’—the ‘quickly’ part makes it clear that this is his idea, not his master’s. Maybe people will even think he got fired for helping them out; a little guilt might increase the chances that they’ll take him in.

• ‘The master commended the dishonest manager’—any indignation he might feel at being cheated is outweighed by how impressed he is with what the manager pulls off. The master fired the manager because he was wasteful, but—once forced to it—he shows just how resourceful he’s capable of being. The manager finally figures out how to turn a temporary resource (his access to his master’s books) into a lasting benefit. If the manager had shown this shrewdness previously, the owner probably wouldn’t have fired him.

• ‘use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves’—this advice might seem a bit calculating. I think that’s Jesus’ point. We can learn something from this worldly, dishonest manager about how to make the best use of our resources. People are more important than money; so use your money for people’s sake. Everyone likes to have money spent on them—just as much as they like their bills to be smaller, rather than larger. Our money won’t last forever anyway, and people will. Perhaps if we spend our money on people, they’ll remember us fondly, and welcome us into eternity. It’s a simple calculation, and everybody wins.

• ‘who will give you property of your own?’—Jesus presents things opposite to how I tend to think of them. I think I have my own property now, but everything in the kingdom of God will belong to God. Jesus says that right now everything we have is actually God’s, but we have a chance of having something of our own in the kingdom of God. If we show ourselves trustworthy with his property now, he’ll give us our own property in his kingdom. It’s like we’re teenagers who want our own car, but our parents are seeing how well we take care of their car first. Jesus has much bigger things in store for us in his kingdom, if we are ready.

• ‘No one can serve two masters’—eventually the two masters will make competing demands, and you’ll have to choose which one to obey. The two masters here are God and Money. God and Money both offer the same thing—life—but they have contradictory instructions for how to get it. God’s instructions are to spend money on people; we’ve seen that not just in this passage, but throughout Luke’s story (6:30 and 11:41, for example). Money’s instructions might be the exact opposite: use people to gain money—that at least is what John warned people against in his sermon (3:10-14). As Jesus said earlier, ‘Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions’ (Luke 12: 15).

• ‘sneering at Jesus’—the Pharisees seem to think that Jesus is just making pious excuses for why he is poor. He turns it around on them; they follow Money’s instructions, and then try to explain how they are really serving God.

• ‘people are forcing their way into it’—I have a little trouble following Jesus’ train of thought here, but I think his point is that the Pharisees can sneer all they want because there are plenty of other people who are desperate to get into the Kingdom. To use the language of last week’s story of the big party (14: 16-24), Jesus is confident that his house will be full.

• ‘than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law’—announcing the kingdom of God has replaced preaching the Law and Prophets, but that doesn’t mean that the Law has been made obsolete. Really, it’s just a change of tense. Until John, the message was, ‘Our rescuer will come.’ Since Jesus, the message has become, ‘Our rescuer has come.’ Jesus has come to complete the Law, not overturn it; loving God and loving our neighbors is still the way to find life (10: 27-28). Jesus simply brings new power to make it possible.

• ‘Anyone who divorces his wife’—this feels to me like another rather sudden shift of topic. Perhaps this is an example of how Jesus plans to uphold the Law and the Prophets. In the Law, Moses says very little about divorce. He neither specifically promotes it nor prohibits it, but instead assumes its existence and tries to manage it to avoid the worst abuses, such as spurious claims of adultery as grounds for divorce (Deuteronomy 22:13-19 and Deuteronomy 24: 1-3). In the Prophets, God is a bit more forthright: “’I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel, ‘and I hate it when people clothe themselves with injustice’” (Malachi 2:16). What God hates about divorce in Malachi is that it provides an easy way to get rid of your wife (in most ancient culture only the man had power of divorce) when you get tired of her. In other books of the Bible (Matthew, Mark, and I Corinthians), Paul and Jesus himself add a few more details and a bit more nuance regarding divorce, allowing for some situations in which divorce may be an appropriate course of action. Both Jesus and Paul make it quite clear, though, that divorce is never God’s desire for a marriage and that it should only be entered into with extreme caution in rare circumstances. I think Jesus speaks so strongly against divorce because most of the time divorce is antithetical to the picture of relationships he has been trying to form. Jesus has been promoting relationships characterized by forgiveness, mercy, generosity, and servanthood; but divorce is often characterized by bitterness, judging of others, rejection, and selfishness, from at least one party, if not both. Jesus steers us away from divorce because it is a tempting choice, but there’s almost always a better option.

Taking it home:

For you and your family: This passage makes the startling claim that our relationship to money is one of the most powerful determinants in bringing us closer to or farther from the kingdom of God. Money can be a great tool in making friends that will be there to welcome us into heaven; but money also has a very real chance of drawing us away from God to serve it instead. Pray that God would break any negative spiritual power money has in your life, and ask God to give you shrewdness with money. Pray that God would help you to get the best eternal bang for your buck.

For your friends: Pray that your friends also would have a godly shrewdness with their money. Pray that God would reward them for the generosity they show, and that their generosity would increase.

For our city: Pray for the marriages of our city. Pray that God would bless marriages with abundance, generosity, forgiveness, blessing, and love. Pray against the power the temptation to blame has to undercut marriages. Pray for a particular outpouring of grace on marriages that are in crisis.