|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 19, 2016 at 2:00 PM|
Jesus once told his disciples, “The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not understand.” And that sounds about right with this one. For 2,000 year, people have been scratching their heads, trying to make sense of a story about a man who cooks the books to save his own skin, loses the boss’ money by only looking out for himself and then his boss congratulates him for how clever he was.
So, what is Jesus up to in this parable? Listen to it again.
There was a millionaire who hired a man to be in charge of his money. Let’s call him this money manager Bill- it makes telling the story a lot easier. It so happens that this millionaire earned much of his money by making loans to those who didn’t have as much- to regular people like us. And Bill was in charge of writing up those debts.
But the money wasn’t flowing like that millionaire wanted and he suspected that Bill was doing something funny with the profits. So he tells Bill that his days are numbered. But life moved a little slower back then and Bill didn’t have to clean his desk out quite yet. So he had some time to consider his next move. Bill lived in an economy where there weren’t many jobs. If he lost this job as manager, he’d be forced to do manual labor or he’d be out begging on the streets. He wasn’t nearly as strong as his neighbors (they worked outside all day while he counted money!) and he was simply too proud to beg. There were no options left for Bill if this job ended.
No option except to trust the community to care for him. But Bill knew that communities don’t tend to care much for loan officers when they’re all in debt. So, he decided to be the best loan officer there was. He called his neighbors in and chopped their debts in half before the millionaire had time to figure out what was going on.
And when it came time to fire Bill, the millionaire came into town and heard cheering crowds before he could even get to Bill’s house. All the people that owed him money were thanking him for cutting their debts, for making it so they actually had a chance to pay off their debts and be free! Everybody loved the millionaire. And he knew at that moment that he could be the man everyone loved or he could have his money back. And he chose well. And Bill kept his job. And the people thanked God.
The story sounds a little different from this side, doesn’t it? I think we get stuck looking at things from the top down, just like we do in life too often. We see this man cheating his boss. We see him being dishonest in his work. We see a man looking out for his own skin above everything else. And we tend to miss the fact that the people that needed forgiveness got it. The people that needed to be set free from their debt were set free. Bill was welcomed into the community and learned its value. The millionaire who needed to be set free from his greed was set free. And what happened in the end was good for everyone. There was freedom and healing and joy.
And that sounds a whole lot like the kingdom Jesus has promised to bring among us- a time when the wounded are healed, the sinful are forgiven, the lonely are welcomed into community, and the powerful are brought low enough that they can sit at the table with their brothers and sisters. Jesus preaches about a world turned upside down, a world where peace and love and forgiveness win out. And somehow, our friend Bill played a part in bringing that kingdom. He used his wealth to create community and set people free. He was dishonest and he had all the wrong motives and yet he still did the work of God’s kingdom. And that is good news.
So, Jesus says, if someone looking out for their own skin can do kingdom work with their money, then why aren’t we, God’s own chosen and beloved ones, doing even more of that? Why aren’t we better at forgiving debts recklessly for those that need it? Why aren’t we better at setting those who are imprisoned by greed free so that they may trust God? Why aren’t we Christian people as good as Bill at using our wealth (and for the sake of those poor in cash right now- wealth also includes our health, our time and our privileges) to do the work of the kingdom?
So, this evening Jesus is commanding us- that whole “You cannot serve God and wealth” is pretty strong language- he’s commanding us to use our wealth to invest in those things that proclaim the goodness of God. To forgive the debts of those who have no hope of paying them- whether it’s a debt of money or a debt of guilt. To invest our energy in bringing homes and food for those who live without them and healing to those who are sick. To use our time and privilege to provide a place of welcome for those left out. Jesus tells us to do all this to reflect his love to those who have stopped hoping in a God that cares about them.
And Jesus tells us- apparently- to start doing all this even if our motives stink. Even if our heart hasn’t been overcome with a warm, fuzzy Jesus feeling. To do all this even when we’re only serving others because we don’t want to look like a jerk or sharing our money to get something out of the deal. Because- even though this doesn’t seem right and seems super inauthentic and not Jesus- like- apparently even crappy motives can bring us closer to the kingdom of God.
You see, when Bill started reducing those debts and doing the work of God, even out of terrible motives, his life changed. He saw a new vision of how things could be. He had new friends. He had a new sense of what was really important. Despite his selfish motives, he was transformed. And he did God’s work despite the crappy state of his heart. And isn’t that good news for those of us who feel like we’re in the same position? Who have hearts that aren’t quite as good as we would hope. Who wish we loved better or wanted to do good a little more than we do. Isn’t it good news for all of us who don’t trust God all that much even though we wish we did?
It is an amazing relief to know that we get to start doing good even before we feel like it and that God says it still works when we do! It still works to bring God’s kingdom and it still works to change us. You see, Jesus knows well that that when we invest our time and our money somewhere, our heart will eventually follow. So we can start being clever about using our wealth for the sake of doing Jesus stuff- setting people free and celebrating the ones who feel rejected. We can use our wealth to welcome home those who feel lost, to speak truth to the powerful and greedy, and to bring healing and abundance to those desperate for it. And when we keep doing that, our heart will start to love those things. And our heart will start to love and trust the God who brings those things. And then, that beautiful kingdom of God comes to us, too.