Read the scripture first. If you're zealous, read it in the NRSV version and The Message. This is my attempt at a sermon on this very difficult text.
I do not understand this passage of scripture at all. I can’t even repeat to you what I said when I first read it. What a puzzling piece of literature. I can’t wrap my mind around it. I mean, I guess I get the “you can’t have two masters: god and money” part, but I don’t really get the rest. Especially the part that says, “for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” Excuse me? Non-God-oriented-people are being praised for being shrewd? Children of light are being chided for not being shrewd? Perhaps Jesus referencing the “be shrewd as a snake and innocent as a dove” verse. I don’t know though, for he goes on to say, “Make friends for yourself by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” Use means of dishonest wealth? HUH?
Eugene Peterson’s The Message version puts it much more gently. Instead of calling the manager shrewd, he calls him “streetwise.” In this version, Jesus admonishes the person of the light to “use every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival.” Okay, that sort of makes sense. But is that what Jesus is saying? I mean, how does, “use dishonest wealth” translate into “use adversity to survive creatively”?
I love Peterson, but this is a bit of a stretch for me.
Perhaps the story Jesus is telling is ironic. What if it’s supposed to be satirical of the Pharisees who constantly abuse money and are of course standing around listening to him? What if the story isn’t for the “people of the light” at all, but rather is a rhetorical devise designed to undercut the Pharisees?
In other words, “you, who take people’s land when they can’t offer a big enough bird at the Temple, let me tell you a story. Here’s a story to you who own plenty of wealth while your people suffer. Once upon a time there was a dishonest manager who was fired, but figured out a way to manipulate a financial situation to save his ass. That is a smart man, let me tell you! Freaking brilliant man of God, right there. Only those like him will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Do you hear the irony, the disapproval, the judgment imposed on the Pharisees?
Read verses 10 and following, “whoever is faithful in little is faithful in much. If you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust you to the true riches?” Were the Pharisees fair in the way they dealt with their people? Not always. Why then should the people look to the Pharisees for spiritual guidance?
On the other hand, this could be said of us too. Why should we be entrusted with things of eternal value when we don’t even use the little we’ve been given? After all, we don’t always appreciate the sunrise and sunset every day. We don’t always feed the poor when we have plenty in our refrigerators. We get tired of listening to our co-workers complain about their lives and we get tired of offering the hope we’ve found. We have too much to do in our daily lives to use our gifts to serve God outside of our jobs.
Look at us! We don’t always take advantage of the resources, the gifts God has given us! And so we are not shrewd, we are not street-smart to use our resources to do what is right in the world. We don’t choose to live resourcefully. And in that way, we’re no different than the “children of this age.”
But that doesn’t change the fact that we are “children of light.” Even if we do come dangerously close to behaving like the Pharisees some days, we are not called “children of the Pharisees;” we are called “children of God.” But we are also called to accountability. We do not serve the God of money, we serve the God of love. Though we may make money, we mustn’t love money. We must use it resourcefully and creatively to bring redemption to our world. And if we don’t make money, we must take what gifts we have been given to offer hope to broken people.
Of course, first we must acknowledge what we have been given…
The parable before this is on the prodigal son, or rather, the loving father. God, the father in the parable, gives the son all he has and of course the son runs away with it to live how he pleases. He doesn’t acknowledge the gifts he has been given. When he realizes how foolish and abusive he has been of his father’s love, he runs home repentant and sad. But the father is good and forgives him and offers him his very best again. So must we acknowledge what God has given us, all the good things he has provided for us. We must not take our gifts and our blessings and use them for our own good. Rather we must stand up, and living in God’s kingdom, we must use these provisions to provide for others.
If that’s what I am called to do – okay. If I am called to subversively manage to help others while using the gifts I have been given by God – okay. If I am called to go against my American culture of materialism and greed, for the sake of equality and opportunity – okay. If I am called to stop the abuse of God’s creation and start taking care of the beautiful earth God’s given to humanity – okay. If I am called to use my gifts of teaching and singing and art to communicate the hope I’ve found in God – okay. If I am called to take my seminary education and use it to disciple others – okay. If I am called to claim my identity as a follower of Christ even when the media paints Christianity in an evil hue – okay. Okay. Okay. Okay.
I’m ready to stand up for what is right. I’m ready to use the unique gifts God’s given me. I’m ready to be called shrewd and cunning and smart. But innocent too. A child of the light, working diligently even after hours, even in the dark to bring about the kingdom of God.
I choose to serve God.
Rev. Ann Catherine Pittman
September 26, 2007