In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus tells the parable of a rich man who has a manager who essentially doles out the various products of his master to various clients and of course keeps a record of those who owe his master. This particular manager happens to be dishonest. His master receives an accusation that the manager is “wasting [the rich man’s] possessions.” So the rich man calls the manager to account.
The manager is fired. Being too weak to dig and too proud to beg, he wisely comes up with a plan to ensure his survival. He goes to those who owe the rich man and asks them what they owe. Being the one to hold the accounts he says to them, “okay rewrite what you owe. Instead of 100 jugs of oil, just make it 50. And instead of 100 containers of wheat, just make it 80.” He does this of course, recognizing that he’s about to be out on the streets for his dishonesty in handling the rich man’s money. He knows that those to whom he gave the discount are now in his debt and so they will be more than likely to take him in so he doesn’t actually end up on the streets.
The real twist in the story happens when the rich man finds out about the dishonest manager’s tactics with a backhanded compliment: “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.” We know the rich man doesn’t approve of the dishonest manager’s dishonesty in squandering the master’s goods. So why on earth would he commend him for being even more shady here?
This is where we need to go a little deeper beyond just the literal meaning of the text. First, who is the Rich man? This is God. He is rich not simply because he has a lot of something, but because he is the very definition of perfect being and so is the fullness of love, the fullness of joy, the fullness of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, the fullness of what it is to exist at all. This is what a true rich man possesses.
Who is the dishonest manager? And who are the debtors? These three represent every person who is not perfect in both existing and living as God created them. In other words, these two are all of us, either blatantly aware of being dishonest, or likely being unaware, but nonetheless being caught up in dishonest dealings with the wealth of gifts we have. Dishonesty here refers to not giving back to God the full perfection of who we are, with interest; that interest being pointing other people, through our own lives, to God. So the dishonest manager is each of us.
We have all been given some portion of God’s riches to manage. Each of us has a variety of gifts from which we derive a variety of worldly benefits. All of this is intended to be managed for the purpose of following God and of pointing other people to God. And yet all of us have squandered or mismanaged those gifts. We call that mismanagement, sin. No one is good, no not one. If you say that you have no sin you do not yet know Christ.
Now let’s go back to this idea of the Rich Man or God, commending the dishonest manager/us/sinners for giving God’s debtors a discount or break on what they owe to God. Jesus continues the parable saying, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
Just as God clothed the naked Adam and Eve now fully aware of their sin or turning from God, so God says to this new Adam of dishonest wealth, I see that you must now use money and goods to trade for the things you need to survive because you lost the perfection of survival that I provided for you. I’m aware of this. I will permit this to a point.
But having learned that the dishonest ways of this world will leave you with nothing, utterly desolate, don’t make the mistake of living in accordance with those ways of accounting and valuing what you have.
Instead, make God’s way your priority so that you can understand how to use your gifts and all the goods you have acquired or learned or have on account of these gifts, to follow me and to point others to me. This is what it means to, “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” Set your mind on the things of God so that when all the things we put our stock in are wiped out when Christ returns, you will still find yourself with the only one who remains, God, in Christ, through his Spirit.
All of us - every human being - are the dishonest manager and the debtors with the exception of one: Jesus Christ. In him and through him, as we travel through his life encountering the world in this Church, we are learning to use the things of this world wisely. Wisdom here means specifically in ways that direct us and those whom we encounter to the source of all that will remain when the stuff of this world - all the possessions, all the wealth, all the buildings, all the ideas, all the tangled web of emotional and relational stuff - is taken up in Christ and consumed in the perfection of being. This is our aim; it is our vision; and Christ is the bottom line, the measure of our accounting. How would you evaluate your return on God’s investment in you? Perhaps it is a wise move to engage in an audit. AMEN