If you did not understand a single word that Jesus just tried to teach you in that parable of the dishonest manager, and if you zoned out half way through the scripture reading and went to your own private beach in the sun, you are not alone. I’ve struggled with this confusing text for two weeks trying to dredge meaning out of it. Looking to the experts for the answers, I searched bible commentaries. All of them said the same basic thing. Only they used very eloquent and scholarly words to say: “I have no idea what the heck Jesus is talking about.”
So, as we explore this confusion together this morning, let’s start where I always start when I’m lost; we’ll start with something that I understand. And the something that I understand with great authority is how to be a rotten sinful person. So, here we go!
We have a rotten sinful person who could look a lot like me if you need a visual, and could be alive today, and could be the manager of a large business owned by a rich master like Bill Gates or Ted Turner. The manager is entrusted with all the money of the master’s business. The manager is the big shot. So, when he saw the company had purchased nice, sleek, silver pens that wrote just right and made you look like you were someone who signed important things, he didn’t have any problem taking one or two or nine home with him. He’s the manager. And, when someone paid a little extra that was owed to the company, a mere $30 extra, he knew no one would notice such a small amount going into his stomach for lunch. And, when he saw that all the other big managers were buying for a company car the new Bugatti Veyron supercar which can go from zero to 60 in less than 2.5 seconds and reach a top speed of 253 miles per hour; only 300 made with a 10 month waiting list, he knew he would be seen as a real player if he got one. He was under the power of money and what it could do for him and he liked it.
Then the day came when the owner, his rich master, discovered a few holes in his profits. The small 1.4 million dollar hole that the sports car took out might have been it.
“You are fired. Tie up loose ends and be out of here by the end of the week.” The words hummed through the former manager’s defeated soul.
“Shoot, I’m going to lose everything: my house, my sports car, probably my wife and kids, my dog…he won’t even want to be around me I’ll be so depressed, my honor, my respect…dang…the only thing that can pull me out of this mess is to write a song about it, buy a guitar, and become a country singer. ‘I lost my house, my sports car, my wife…’” No, he doesn’t do that, he comes up with a much shrewder plan: he decides that he needs friends, special friends, the ones with an extra room and beer in the cooler for when he is officially discharged from his former life of wealth. And, how is he going to pull it off? He’s going to forgive part of the debt that his soon to be best friends owed his master. “Here, you only have to pay 50% of your bill. Hey, you over there, you only have to pay 80% of your small bill.” In other words, he’s going to build his future doing the exact same thing that got him into trouble in the first place: squandering his master’s profits on himself! I think we call that irony, or just plain idiotic.
Of course, you know what happens next. The master gets wind of this in no time flat (surely from one of the grateful indebted people who fell at his feet and thanked him profusely for his mercy). With dribbles of gratefulness still gleaming on his toes, he strolls determinedly right up into the face of his former manager, and says, “You my friend are a very commendable person, but you’re still fired.”
“Commendable?” Jesus, what are you talking about? “Commendable?” We are supposed to hold up this thieving scoundrel as a role model of faith? Jesus, you’ve been known to bend the rules, no ritual hand washing…eating with sinners…working on the Sabbath…but stealing is a commandment. It is one of the Big Ten. Heck, this guy is so stuck on money that he’s crossing the boundary of the biggest commandment of all, number one: “You shall have no other gods.” Money and God…you can’t have both, don’t you remember Jesus? But, come to think of it, is the guy still crossing that boundary? Wait a second here, maybe Jesus hasn’t gone off of the deep end.
Now, I’m going to propose something here that’s a relatively fresh insight, and I’m not saying that this guy doesn’t have a problem with commandment number one, but it seems to me that the guy has suddenly lost his trust in his money; at least temporarily. All the guy cares about now, after being fired, is having the basics: a place to sleep and some food to eat. Granted, this is still selfish stuff; he still did what he did to save his own backside. But, look at what his selfish actions caused to happen. Because of his selfish actions, the poor were forgiven some of their debt; some as much as 50%. Oh, you didn’t realize he dealt with poor individuals. When money is your god it is hard to see who it affects. I am not poor by any means, but I do understand that 50% forgiveness off of my mortgage would be nothing short of a miracle from God. And, look what else happens here: the shrewd manager may have lost some of the master’s money, but the manager makes a great name in the community for his former master, a former rich man who is now known as a caring and generous rich man. You can’t pay for that sort of publicity.
Probably for the first time in his life, the former manager did something that actually benefited others more than it benefited himself. And, he was commended for it. Of course, it was something small and it was stained with sin and human imperfection, but it was something that benefited others more than it benefited himself.
God can use our stained selves and our selfish actions for great things. God can take selfishness and shape it into justice and food for the poor. God can take selfishness and mold it into a grace so sweet that people sing the praises of God our divine master.
It is true that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. Even our finest actions are stained with sin and selfish reasons. Here’s an example. A lot of people express to me that they feel good after helping someone else out.
“Why do you work to help abused children find a safe home when it is such hard work?”
“Someone needs to protect and help heal the child, and it makes me feel good.”
“Why do you serve soup to the poor everyday when you could be out shopping the wonderful nearby stores?”
“The people need fed, and it makes me feel real good.”
That’s fine, those things make me feel good also, but doing something helpful in order to gain a good feeling is still selfish. The selfish act still puts my need to feel good and appreciated before the only one who is good: God, thereby trampling on the first commandment. We are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. But, Christ is able to take the stained good action from us, wash it clean with forgiveness, and deliver it to the needy as a pure act of grace and love. Thanks be to God alone for that one.
Now, we could worry obsessively about sinning while doing something good for our neighbors, decide not to risk sinning, sit around the house surfing the internet and eating chocolate cream filled tasty cakes, or we could take the dishonest manager’s lead and sin a little. Go ahead and sin a little. Feel good about giving out some of the money that God has entrusted to us, use some talent that God has gifted us, and waste it on any person in need who could really use it. Tell them, “It’s not me you should thank, its God,” when they offer their deepest appreciation. And, invite them to worship so that they can fall down at the feet of the one who really made our selfish, sinful act into an act of divine grace; Jesus Christ.
Go ahead and sin a little for the good of others. The sin staining you and staining your actions has been buried and put to death with Christ. Don’t worry, all the person who is depending on you sees when they look into your eyes and witnesses your loving action is Christ Jesus come down to care for them. They have been remembered. They are loved by God after-all. Thanks be to God.
Go ahead and sin a little for the good of others; God can use a sinner like you for great things. So what if you’re not perfect or not yet ready or not good enough? Still struggling with the same sins you were struggling with when you were 16 or 3? Fine. If God can use someone like the dishonest manager, God can use someone like you. Not careful with the talents and wealth God has given you? That’s fine; spill them all over the place; spill them where the poor may be clothed and fed and the sinner might find much needed forgiveness. Be careless and spill God’s love everywhere. Christ Jesus uses careless sinners like us everyday. Thanks be to God.