Luke 16: 1-13
During World War II, a program was organized to train volunteers in the skills of emergency first aid. There was a fear that if a city in our nation should be bombed there would not be adequate medical care available for the people who would be wounded. There was one woman in the class who seemed bored and detached from all that was being taught. She was there out of a sense of obligation but had no enthusiasm for learning. One day, this particular woman showed up to the first-aid class abounding with enthusiasm. She could hardly contain herself as she told the others in the class the source of her newfound excitement for the course. She said, “This class never meant much to me until yesterday! Yesterday, I was sitting on my front porch when there was a horrendous automobile accident right in front of my house. The cars not only smashed into each other head-on, but bodies were thrown through the air. Everywhere there were people who were seriously injured. I saw blood everywhere I looked. The scene was horrible. It was so horrible I almost fainted. Then I remembered what I had learned in this class – and I put my head between my knees, and I didn’t pass out!” It’s obvious the woman had missed the point. She was not supposed to learn first aid simply to take care of herself, but to be equipped to take care of others. On the other hand, many of us do not realize that the reason we are nurtured in the Christian faith is not just so we can handle the stresses and strains of our own personal lives (to do as the crooked manager did to secure himself a place after being fired by his master), but that we might be ready to meet the needs of others who suffer around us. This is what it’s meant to live, to really live.
Luke, chapter 15, had the theme of the lost being found. In chapter 16, we then transition into faithfulness with what we’ve been given. The lost are sought after to be found or graciously received back home upon their return. The faithful will be known as faithful with what they’ve been given and how they use it. When the tax collectors and sinners came near to Jesus and the Pharisees grumbled about him eating with them, he shared with the religious and sinners alike of the great joy in heaven when the lost are found. At the start of Luke 16, we read that Jesus tells a parable where a crooked manager is used as an example of how to take care of yourself, but for what is right. The crooked manager was crooked to the end, and his master praised him for taking care of himself. His perversion of what his master was owed was for his own good first and last. The dishonest manager only cared about giving those indebted a break for his own good. For him, they were a means to an end. Again, this is a lesson to Jesus’ disciples. Again, Jesus said, I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior. So, therefore if you’re honest, or crooked, in small things, you’ll be honest, or crooked, in large things. Then he said a worker cannot serve two bosses.
You who are disciples and who manage what you have or are responsible for, how shall you use what you have? What’s the bottom line? This parable does not permit us to be dishonest in our dealings. It’s an example of how you are ever looking for ways to advance God’s kingdom and to share the grace and truth of Christ in this world. This dishonest manager is not a pew sitter. This crooked manager is not merely confessing Christ as Lord and not bearing witness of his power and love. This crook used aggressive means to survive after being fired by his master. Again, Jesus was teaching his disciples through this parable. Disciples, therefore, ought to be willing to use what is available to them to display the mercy, grace, love and power of the Lord — for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.
Eastern College, a small college in Philadelphia made a commitment a few decades ago to initiate a program on the graduate level that would train people to go to third world countries, as well as to impoverished areas in this country, with the express purpose of starting small businesses and cottage industries with the poor. Eastern’s intention was to create a new breed of missionary who would sense their calling was to communicate the gospel in the context of entrepreneurship. They would create employment for the poor, thus enabling them to escape from their poverty on a sustainable basis. There was one such ‘microenterprise’ in the Dominican Republic. In an neighborhood in Santa Domingo, a couple of these missionaries helped start a tiny factory that produced sandals made out of worn-out automobile tires. With simple tools and very little training, it was possible for young people to carve out the soles for sandals from discarded tires and make them into attractive and durable footwear. The boys would then move from craftsmen to salesmen, go into the streets of the city with the sandals and sell them, providing an income for their families. The moral of this illustration in the context of Luke 16 is that Jesus is not just interested in our well-being in the afterlife. He is a savior who is at work in the world today trying to save the world from what it is and make it into a place where people can live together with dignity. Again, Jesus said, I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right.
Jesus then concludes the lesson: If you’re honest in small things, you’ll be honest in big things; if you’re a crook in small things, you’ll be a crook in big things. If you’re not honest in small jobs, who will put you in charge of the store? No worker can serve two bosses: He’ll either hate the first and love the second or adore the first and despise the second. You can’t serve both God and the Bank.
The lost were found in Luke 15. The faithful were called upon to be ever more faithful in Luke 16. This is a linear progression. The lost, the tax collectors and sinners, then heard as the disciples were taught the value of being on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by your wits – for what is right, to advance God’s kingdom, to declare and manifest the glory, love and power of Jesus Christ. This is an active, progressive faith. Using all you have to declare the good news of Jesus Christ. This is an engaging faith into the world God so loves. Being honest in all things, in small and large jobs, reflects a consistency of devotion to what is right, but it manifests not in being a complacent church goer. It manifests in passionate devotion to God and not the bank, not the dishonest activities of the narcissistic and selfish. It manifests for what is right first.
He was not too well-educated, and his manner was somewhat crude and rough, but he became a Christian and was on fire for the Lord. He constantly pestered his pastor to help him be of some genuine service to his church. In desperation, the pastor gave him a list of ten people, saying, “These are members who seldom attend services, some are prominent people in the community. Contact them any way you can and try to get them to be more faithful. Use the church stationary to write letters if you want but get them back in the church.” He accepted the challenge with enthusiasm. About three weeks later, a letter arrived from a prominent physician, whose name was on the list. In the envelope was a check for $1,000 and a note: “Dear pastor, enclosed is my check to make up for my missed offerings. I’m sorry for missing worship so much but be assured I am going to be present every Sunday from now on and will not miss by choice any service again. Sincerely, M. B. Jones, M. D. – P.S. Would you kindly tell your secretary that there is only one T in dirty and no C in skunk.”
(Preached at St Mark UMC in Anniston, AL, September 18, 2022)