Nov 13 - Am I In Love With Money?

Am I In Love With Money?

November 13, 2016

Luke 16:1-14

 

Am I In Love With Money?

November 13th, 2016

Luke 16:1-14

 

So, how many of you were surprised by the election results in the US?  I actually had to rewrite an illustration for this sermon, because I was so convinced that Hillary would win. 

 

Back in 1975 to about 1979, there was, what I considered to be a hilarious British sitcom called Fawlty Towers.  If you’re my age you’re likely familiar with it. 

In one of the episodes, a group of German visitors stayed at Fawlty InnBasil Fawlty, the proprietor, (played by John Cleese) was given the advice not to mention the war, but after being hit on the head and concussed, he ended up making all kinds of inappropriate comments about the war. 

 

My favourite scene is where Basil mimics Hitler and goosesteps through the dining room out into the foyer and back through the dining room. 

 

Hapless and hopeless Basil had no idea just how badly he was offending his German guests.  Certain things are simply not done or said because they are too offensive. 

 

We are told that in the public forum, it’s probably not a good idea to discuss politics or religion because it often leads to conflict.  After all those are areas where many people are on opposite pols. 

 

On the other hand, among religious circles, one of the things one shouldn’t talk about is money ... particularly because of the rapacious nature of some TV evangelists.  Even in church, many of us are tired of being ask for money. 

 

However, money is a pervasive and very important aspect in our lives.  Most people stress out about money ... making it, keeping it, investing it, spending it, saving it, or losing it.  If we think we don’t have enough money or too much of it when compared to others, we may be embarrassed about it. 

 

Strangely, even though we may realize it, Jesus spent an inordinate amount of time talking about money.  In fact, many of his stories and parables deal with money. 

 

Why did Jesus appear to talk so much about money?  I think he did so because he realized first that it IS such a huge part of peoples’ lives, and second, what the apostle Paul put so succinctly, that “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10). 

 

So the problem is NOT with earning money - honestly.  The problem is not having money, or investing money, or spending money ... if done wisely.  The problem is NOT enjoying the so called “fruit of our labour.”  The problem is with loving money.

 

Jesus knew that when a person obsesses about making money, or is emotionally attached to money, or is addicted to spending money, or refuses to part with money, ... then money has may have become what is most important, what is of highest value, to that person. 

 

So Jesus talked a lot about money and wasn’t ashamed of doing so.  One of the times he speaks about money is recorded in Luke 16, in what is called “the Parable of the Shrewd or Corrupt Manager.”  Let me begin reading in Luke 16:1.

 

Jesus told this story to his disciples.

“There was a certain rich man who had a manager handling his affairs.  One day a report was made to the employer, that the manager was squandering his money.  2 So the employer called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you?  Give an account of your dealings.  You can no longer be my employee.’

 

Have any of you ever watched “Mystery Diners”?  It’s an American reality TV show (2012 - present) where sting operations are run in order to find out why things are going sideways in a business, primarily in restaurants.  I have watches some of the shows and am absolutely stunned to what length corrupt employees are willing to go in order to steal from their employers.  That’s the kind of unscrupulous person this manager was.

 

3 The manager thought to himself, ‘Now what?  My boss has fired me from my position.  I don’t have the strength for hard labour and I’m too proud to beg. 4 Ah, I know how to ensure that people will welcome me into their homes after I’ve been fired as manager.’

 

5 So he invited each person who owed money to his employer to come one by one and discuss the situation. He asked the first one, ‘How much do you owe my lord?’  6 The man replied, ‘I owe him 4,000 liters of olive oil.’ So the manager told him, ‘Take the bill and quickly change it to 2,000 liters.’[1]

 

7 ‘And how much do you owe?’ he asked the next man. ‘I owe him 30,000 kg (66,000 lbs) of wheat,’ was the reply. ‘Here,’ the manager said, ‘take the bill and change it to 25,000 kg.’[2]

8 The rich man had to admire the wicked manager for being so shrewd.[3] 

 

This brings the parable to an end.  The amounts that the manager reduced were significant.  2,000 liters of oil and 5,000 kg of wheat were nothing to sneeze at.  They were worth a lot of money, a small fortune if you will.

 

Saving the debtors so much money was designed to ingratiate the dishonest manager to the point that the debtors would permit him to stay at their homes after his dismissal, possibly for a longer period of time until he gets back on his feet financially.  Today, that’s an unlikely scenario, but in Jesus’ day that kind of reciprocity may have been a lot more common.

 

The last comment is strange.  Literally it says that the boss had to praise his dishonest manager for being such a conniving person.  The master had to begrudgingly admire the manager because, even after having been told he would be fired, he continued to squander his boss’ wealth in order to help mitigate what would happen to him after he was off the job. 

 

Does it mean that God would be pleased with a person who is like this manager?  No, it does not.  For one, this manager is described as wicked, a term we will find twice more as Jesus continues by telling his listeners what they should learn from the parable.

 

The children of this world are shrewder[4] in dealing with their own kind than are the children of the light. 9 Here’s the lesson: Use your wicked wealth[5] to benefit others and make friends. Then, when you come to your end, they will welcome you to an eternal home.

 

Mmmm, so the manager is a child of this world, not a child of the light.  Children of the light are those who actually follow God and do what pleases him.

 

The kind of shrewdness that the manager showed is akin to the thinking of those who unscrupulously take advantage of others in order to enrich themselves.  And in some business circles, that is actually admired - when you make a profit selling something that is worthless or broken, or when you are able to get rich on the back of others - and you get away with it.

 

At another occasion, Jesus once told his followers that they are to be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves (Matt 10:16).[6]  But in this parable, he makes a slightly different point. 

 

The shrewdness displayed by the manager, while effective, is evil.  He may profit financially, but it is still wrong.  Therefore the children of light are not to emulate it. They are to use wisdom when it comes to how they are to act.

 

So what did Jesus mean when he speaks about using wicked wealth in a positive way in order to help others and to endear oneself to those who one will encounter again in heaven?    

 

Jesus used the Aramaic word, “mammon”, three times in just a few sentences.  In our translation, the word is translated as “wealth.”  However, twice that wealth is qualified with the adjective (gerund) adikia, which means unrighteous or evil or even criminal.  It’s the same word that is used in v.7 to describe the manager. 

 

Even by itself, Mammon conveys far more than just wealth per say, it conveys a worldly attachment to wealth and money; raising it to a status it was never meant to enjoy. 

 

So to my mind, Jesus wanted to point out that there the children of light should BE ingenious and insightful when it comes to their finances so that they and their wealth will not be “wicked,” that they would use their financial resources in ways that actually brings eternal profit.

 

The problem with the characters in the story is that they are all out for themselves.  The rich man just wants to get richer.  He doesn’t care to find out why his manager was purposefully stealing from him.  The manager just wants to enrich himself to the detriment of his boss.  The debtors are just interested in saving themselves money.

 

They were all individuals who did not look beyond themselves to the things eternal, the things that really mattered.  And the way they dealt with their possessions, wealth, or money, clearly reflected this.

 

Jesus’ followers are to be different.  Unlike the manager, they are to have a different motivation and a different focus when it comes to money and wealth.  They should earn and spend their money with an outlook on eternity.    

 

Jesus may have been saying that the problem with some of his followers is that they did not take the use of their finances seriously enough, given what is of greatest importance ... entering an eternal home. 

 

Old Cyrus Barker was the richest man in town.  When he became terminally ill, there was much speculation among the villagers concerning the extent of his wealth.  When Cyrus died, one of the town busybodies ran to the deceased’s lawyer and ask, “How much money did old Cyrus leave?”  The lawyer replied, “All of it, my friend, all of it.

 

The shrewd manager is committed to the things of this world, but the children of the light should be committed to the things of God.  And for Jesus a major sign of that commitment is what we do with money.

 

10 If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.  But if you are unrighteous in little things, you will be unrighteous in the greater things. 11 Therefore, if you are untrustworthy with your wicked wealth,[7] who will trust you with true riches?  12 And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?

 

Jesus first states a principle about human nature.  If we are cheats, we will cheat not only in the small things but also in the larger things.  If we lie about something insignificant, we will also lie about something very important.  If we are faithful in small things, we’ll be faithful in bigger things.  If we are dishonest with very little, we’ll be dishonest with much.

 

In other words, there is a direct correlation between how we treat the things that appear insignificant and how we treat the things of genuine significance.  For Jesus, the small thing, the thing that is of little significance, is money and wealth.

 

His point is, that if we cannot handle our earthly money and wealth with wisdom and according to God’s will, there is no reason why would God entrust us with true and eternal riches, whatever those may be. 

 

This week most of us will not write a book, end world hunger, bring a war to an end, climb Mt. Everest, dine with the prime minister, or convert a nation. 

 

More likely, this week will give us the opportunity to give a cup of cold water, to visit someone in the hospital or extended care unit, to write an encouraging note, to buy someone a meal, to teach in kidzone, to feed a neighbours dog, to support an orphaned child, to sponsor someone to camp, to give to charity, to support the ministry of the church... that is, to give of our resources, be it time or money or energy, to someone other than ourselves. 

 

That doesn’t mean that we should be spendthrifts. Or that we are to give everything away. But if we are so tight with our finances that we don’t contribute at any time to anyone else, then in Jesus’ eyes, that is a huge problem

 

Just as an aside, when we attend a church, drink coffee and eat cookies, send our kids to the children or youth programs, or take advantage ourselves of the programs that are offered, but fail to contribute anything to help offset the costs, what in the world are we thinking? 

 

I’m a firm believer that we should pay at the restaurant we eat at. I would never dash and dine, with the expectation that someone else should pick up my tab. Nor would I leave the restaurant, walk into another restaurant and pay my bill there, ... no matter how good it may be.  So it’s perfectly OK to give to charity, but if that means I never give at the church, I am freeloading.

 

Yet there are an inordinate amount of individuals who do just that when it comes to church.  Ill. Someone wanting to become a member but not giving anything to the church because supporting another charity.  I said no because the membership covenant makes it clear that members commit to giving to the church.  She left.

 

Now I understand fully when things are tight, when funds are stretched really thin. Kathy and I were trying to live on $ 1,000 a month gross when the kids were small.  From that we had to pay all of our bills, including rent.  We couldn’t give much, but we still did. So I understand completely that there will be seasons in our lives when we may not be able to give much.  But honestly, I simply don’t understand not contributing at all, especially when there is a decent salary. 

 

But let’s get back to the parable.  The whole point of the parable is to point out that the way that a person uses his or her finances, says a lot about whether or not they are children of light.

 

The problem is that often the eternal riches and wealth, whatever those may be, are of little significance to us, while the money or wealth or possessions in the here and now are of huge importance to us. 

 

Just consider for a moment how much time we actually think in some way about money ... earning it, saving it, spending it, managing it, accumulating it, not having enough of it, worrying about it.  We spend a lot of our lives thinking about money.  Couples fight most about 4 things:  chores, sex, extended family, and, you guessed it, money.

 

When it appears that there isn’t enough money, or we are in a pile of debt, it can become one of the greatest stresses on a marriage or family.  

 

And when we spend money, we rarely ask ourselves whether or not what we are doing is pleasing to God.  Jesus said that our eternal bank accounts are filled if we are charitable, if we give to the needy, if we use it to help others. 

 

But often those very things are neglected or forgotten as we focus on getting all we can for ourselves.  We have lost our eternal perspective; we no longer care about God’s will.  We become obsessed with our wealth in the here and now, to the point that it becomes our god. 

 

A rich, but miserable man come to visit his Rabbi.  He wanted to know if the Rabbi could help him to overcome his depression and become more joyous.  The Rabbi took him to a window looking out over a busy road and a park. “Look out and tell me what you see.”

 

The man said, “I see cars with people going shopping or to work.  I see schoolkids walking to school.  I see women with their children.  There is a panhandler and a few joggers.  There is an old couple feeding pigeons.” Then the Rabbi took the man to a mirror in the hallway. Stepping aside, the Rabbi told the man, "Now look into the mirror and tell me what you see.” 

"I see myself," the man said.

"Do you see anybody else in the mirror?" the Rabbi asked.

The man said, "No, I only see myself."

The Rabbi said, "When you looked out a window and into the mirror, both times you were looking through glass.  When you looked through the glass window, you saw others.  But as soon as there was a film of silver on the other side of the glass, all you can see is yourself.  This you need to ponder if you want to become less miserable.

 

In Jesus’ parables, we often find people looking through life by way of the mirror, not the window.  Children of the light look beyond themselves to others because that is what God told them to do. 

 

Let’s go on with Jesus’ commentary on the parable he told.

 

13 No slave can serve two masters. Either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and wealth.[8]

 

You can NOT serve two masters. You can't serve both God and mammon, you can't serve both God and wealth and money. You simply can't do it.  It’s impossible. 

 

Have you ever had two bosses?  Maybe a store or company that is owned by two individuals. Or two foremen.  Or two managers.  And the two have different priorities.  They want you to focus on different jobs.  One of them tells you to do this, then the other one tells you to stop doing that and to do something else.  Then the first one comes back and rips into you because you’re not doing what you had been told to do.  You cannot serve two masters who have completely different priorities.

 

So our passage finishes with Jesus calling his listeners to make a choice.  It’s one or the other. They were to make up their minds who they will ultimately serve.  And if they decide to serve God, and not wealth, it will show up in how they deal with their money and possessions.

 

Remember, much of what Jesus says is about keeping a proper perspective on our possessions and money: NOT to make it our god, the thing we genuinely worship, that which is most important thing to us. 

 

Now some who were listening to Jesus didn’t much like what he had to say.  There was an immediate push back.

 

14 The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money, heard all this and ridiculed him. 15 Then he said to them, “You like to justify yourselves in public, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued by people is detestable in the sight of God.”

 

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but Jesus spent a lot of his time with people who are corrupt financially.

 

For example, there was Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector.  Or Levi, also a tax collector.  They were used to ripping people off, defrauding them, and charging too much in order to enrich themselves.  And all the while, they were working for the hated Roman occupiers. 

 

Can you imagine how unpopular, how hated they were.  Yet Jesus has dinner with one and calls the other to become his follower. 

 

But who is pushing back?  Not the tax collectors, because they were aware that they served money, that they were willing to sacrifice just their own integrity on the altar of getting wealthy.

 

No, the tax collectors aren’t pushing back, instead, the religious people do.  Why?  Because they loved money and possessions just as much as the tax collectors, they just were very smart at hiding it.  And so they were admired by the general populace. 

 

However, Jesus told them that God looks right into their hearts and knows exactly what is most important to them.  What they value so highly has become something that God detests and despises.

 

[With regard to this parable, the context, what precedes and follows it, are significant.    

 

 

Just a few verses after the parable we’ve looked at this morning, we find the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, where the rich man refuses to help the destitute Lazarus who was literally dying on his doorstep (Luke 16:19-31). 

 

The problem with the rich man in that story is he had become attached to his wealth to the point where he chose not to help even the most destitute.  He had become absorbed with himself at the expense of everybody else.

 

Prior to the parable of the shrewd manager, we have the parable of the Prodigal Son, a story about an ungrateful and greedy son who squandered a large portion of his dad’s money, his own inheritance, on parties and lose women (Luke 15:11-32).  

 

This son would have been written off by the majority of the Jews in Jesus’ day.  But the parable was one of hope, since this son, once he came to his senses, returned home genuinely sorry for what he had done ... and willing to change his life around.

 

So both what precedes and follows the parable is all about being attached to money to the point that the attitudes and actions become evil, even despicable.] 

 

So what, if anything, has God been saying to you?  Remember, Jesus wasn’t an anti-materialist nor did he say that money, as a commodity, was evil.  Neither did he condemn making, saving and investing money.  However, his followers should not love money, idolize wealth, give it their ultimate allegiance.  They should not allow their own selfishness to be the ultimate determining factor. 

 

DOES THE WAY THAT I THINK ABOUT AND SPEND MONEY REFLECT MY ULTIMATE ALLEGIANCE TO GOD?

IF NOT, AND I CONSIDER MYSELF TO BE A CHILD OF THE LIGHT, WHAT, IF ANYTHING, NEEDS TO CHANGE?

 

 

 

 

[1] Greek:  100 and 50 “bats”.  1 “bat” =  c. 40 liters.

[2] Greek: 100 and 80 “kor”.  1 “kor” = c. 400 liters. 1 l of wheat = .79 kg.

[3] phronimos - prudent.

[4] phronimoteroi - more prudent

[5] Literally, “unrighteous mammon.”  Mammon is a transliteration of an Aramaic word

[6] “Look, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  Beware of men ... .”

[7] Literally, “unrighteous mammon.”

[8] Literally, “mammon.”