Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’7Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8And 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. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.10“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
There is great debate over the 'true' meaning of this parable. As a matter of fact, according to scholar Rev. William Loader, there are 100s of interpretations. Is it about dishonesty? money? responding to economic crisis? an example of radical discipleship? forgiveness?
As we get started, I think we need to back up and remember what exactly a parable is. One of the greatest church thinkers in the past 100 years, C.H. Dodd, offered this definition of a parable: “A parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.” (C.H. Dodd, Parables of the Kingdom, 1935, p. 5). Got it? No? Well, let me put it this way, a parable is a story that's not about what it says it's about and it's purpose is to get you to think.
The simple point I'm trying to make is that we must not forget - it is a parable! Much like last week's parable of The Lost Sheep wasn't about shepherding or sheep, just because this parable talks about money, it doesn't mean it is about money – or at least not just money.
So, as I began my inquiry into this passage, I realized quite quickly that it would be easy enough to be a bit complacent about my research and let it simply be about money - after all stewardship season is quickly upon us and it would be a great time to remind you that you are stewards of the gifts God places in your life and in deciding how you will return those gifts to God you should ask yourself, "am I thinking more about myself and my stuff or am I thinking more about my God? Am I putting God first in how I give, or am I trying to serve two masters?" I could do that, but I won't (at least not any more than I already did).
As I would later find out, interpreting this parable to simply be about our relationship with God and money, would have also been the easy way out...but for me, a bit less honest. As you can see from the title of this message, that is not where the Spirit, prayer, study and reflection took me...oh, and the fact that Friday was National Constitution Day. Ultimately, I ended up in waters that were much more dangerous to navigate.
Well, let me say this clearly. This is not meant to offend anyone, but it might. It is simply what I find to be a biblical perspective on the current zeitgeist (or culture) of our great nation. For the sake of transparency, I'm also going to do something I didn't think I'd ever do: name my political alignment. It's not Republican. It is not Democrat. It's definitely not Tea Party. I think all the parties have major issues. I am registered as an unaffiliated Independent - have my registration card with me if you'd like to see.
That all said, let's get back to our parable, a story that's not about what it says it's about – or at least not only about what it says it is about.
The last verse we read is a synopsis of this parable - hear that clearly, 'this parable'. It says you can't serve God and money. Now remember, it is a parable which means it is about more than what is talked about (kinda the point of parables). So, what could it be that this parable is actually about if it is not just money. Well, fortunately for us, Jesus also tells us what it is about right at the end of today's scripture - you can not serve two masters.
That's also part of the point of the First Commandment, you shall not have any other gods before God. This seems to be a pretty clear relationship. You can not serve two masters. YHWH, the God of Israel, is your God, so do not put any gods before YHWH. Do not worship anything more than God. Do not follow anything more than God. Do not let anything influence you more than God.
But we do, don't we?
It is worth noticing that this parable is surrounded by all sorts of stories about wealth, which in biblical times was practically the same thing as power. Truth be told, with a few exceptions, it is true today as well. It does not take much reflection or observation to conclude that the pursuit of money, the pursuit of power, leads people to do things they might not have done otherwise - after all, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Which brings us to politics. When we look at the political headlines, we can find a disturbingly increasing trend – co-opting God. A new friend who runs the blog libsandcons.com calls it playing the “God card.” Pointing to headlines like the Koran burning, the Community Center and Mosque issue in New York City, and Glenn Beck at the Lincoln Memorial, he justifiably points to this disturbingly increasing trend, - co-opting God – people claiming to speak for God in speeches that are full of, as he puts it, “politically loaded rhetoric.” He goes on to say, “They exploit the inspiration, hope, and history of God in order to accelerate an agenda.” I would add that in doing so, they turn a religion of hope, love and peace into a religion of fear, hate and anger.
The fact that that is happening, while troubling, is not the issue I'd like to address (at least not directly). You see, I'm not so worried about the politicians, I'm worried about us. You shall have no other Gods before me – you cannot serve two masters.
It has been said that the word “politicians” comes from the roots of “poli” meaning many and “ticks” meaning blood suckers. Now that probably is a little harsh (mind you I said “a little”) but it does make a point – politician will be politician – absolute power corrupts absolutely. That's why I'm not worried about them right now. I'm worried about us, the seemingly blind masses.
The First Amendment of our Constitution, among other things, prohibits the making of any law “respecting the establishment of religion,” or “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Implicit in it is the intentional lack of involvement in religion by the government. Now take note that it is a unidirectional definition of involvement. That is, it describes the relationship in one direction. It clearly states that the government will not get wrapped up in establishing or controlling religion. It does not define the involvement of religion in government.
Now we could get into all kind of arguments about the founding father's intent when in comes to the establishment of a separation between church and state and never come to an agreement, because both sides have some pretty valid points to make. But ultimately, as far as I'm concerned, whether they clearly established a separation of church and state or not is not the point.
Ultimately, the point is that it is all very murky...and that leaves room for too much to interpretation and since politicians will be politicians, they take advantage of that and when it serves them, they will...let me say that again, when it serves them, they WILL play “The God Card.” But I'm not concerned with them, I'm concerned with us.
One of the hundreds of interpretations of today's scripture with which I mostly agree says that unlike many people try to make it, this is not a Kingdom of God parable (in other words, a parable about God), but rather it is a Wisdom parable (a parable about the world, about us). Taken that way, one thing we might take away from it is "don't let the things of this world rule you. In the end they will only hurt you, possibly destroy you. Focus instead on the eternal, the things of God, and you will receive your blessing."
That really applies well when thought of within our God and State dialogue. What matters to you more, our country or our God? Do the choices you make in regards to who you are and what you support have more to do with politicians and political parties or with God? Do the choices you make in regards to who you are and what you support have more to do with things of this world or the things of God?
Do not say that it is naïve to think that we can love everyone, even our enemies. It is not naïve; it is Christian. Do not say that it is politically naïve to be forgiving of those who hurt you. It is not naïve; it is Christian. Do not say that it is naïve to make sure the basic needs are met even for the least of these. It is not naïve; it is Christian.
As they play “The God Card,” our politicians are going against what I believe to be the intent of the 1st Amendment, the government's intentional lack of involvement in religion. But I'm not worried about them, I'm worried about us. As we blindly follow them, we are going against what I believe to be the intent of the 1st Commandment, not serving two masters.
The Constitution limits the involvement of government in religion, but it does not limit each individual's ability to to make political choices based on biblical precepts. Why then...why then do we insist on practicing it the other way, allowing ourselves to be slaves to our political party's religious point of view, when both the Constitution and the Commandments tell us to do otherwise?
Luke 16, verse 13: No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” You can not serve God and the Republican party. You can not serve God and the Democratic Party. You can not serve God and the Tea Party. You will love the one and hate the other; you will serve the one and despise the other.
I say we get back to the basics, back to the Bible. Put no other gods before God. Do not try to serve to masters. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. Some two thousand years ago a man named Jesus tried to tell us that if we could do those few little things, the world WOULD be a better place. That's something no government has been able to do in thousands of years of history.
So, what to do you say? Let's give it a try. Let's only follow God and see if we can make this world a better place.
There is also a Children's Message that goes with this message.