And in these tough economic times, hearing Jesus preach on the subject of money can give us just as much heartburn…
Contrary to what the politicians say, we’re still in the worst economic crisis in nearly a century. It feels like everyone’s taking our money, while our community keeps losing opportunities for people to earn a living wage. This makes it hard to listen to Jesus as he challenges the ways in which we use our money, whether we have enough or too little.
It’s especially hard to listen to Jesus speak about money in a parable that’s as confusing and unusual as the one we hear today…
A manager of a rich man’s money finds himself in hot water with the rich man himself for squandering away his property. About to be fired for his incompetence, his negligence, his malevolence, or some combination of the three, the manager goes to his master’s debtors, and he reduces their debts.
To our surprise, the master commends his manager for what he does. He has made his master’s debtors into his own personal friends—who thus become indebted to him and hopefully will help him out once he’s out of a job. He used his master’s money to procure a better future for himself.
Now why on earth would Jesus speak a parable like this?—and then commend someone for doing something that you could easily argue is dishonest and immoral? But there’s something we can learn from this parable about money: you can use it to buy things, but you can also use it to transform bad situations. In the parable, the exchange of money brings two persons into a relationship of mutual blessing. That’s what the dishonest manager learns. The exchange of money makes the debtors and the manager “rich.”
So let me ask you a question: do you consider yourself blessed?
In many ways, we could all answer “yes” and “no” to that question—regardless of the state of our bank balances or the size of our paychecks. For many of us, money is the single biggest stressor in life. There’s unemployment, medical bills, student loans, dwindling retirement savings, rising prices, and an American Dream that is becoming increasingly out of reach. So often it seems as though there’s far too little money to go around. But we all have Godly riches—simply because we are baptized into the Body of Christ; forgiven and redeemed by his precious body and blood; sealed with the promise of God’s coming Kingdom. And God takes care of us. So even if you’re not rich with money, you are nonetheless rich with the gifts and talents God gave you when God made you. Living as a disciple of Jesus Christ is simply investing whatever gifts God has given you in your neighbors out of love.
You can always keep your riches to yourself, monetary or otherwise. What is a consumer, but someone who devours what is of benefit to him/herself, and throws the rest away? But what would life be like if we stopped focusing on accumulating and consuming? What if we broadened our horizon to invest what we have in others as well as ourselves?
This isn’t anything drastic or heroic… It’s stewardship: using whatever you have to ease your neighbor’s burdens—while perhaps even gaining the wealth of a new relationship with the neighbor you bless. Communities of Christ are built when we take care of each other; using what we have to meet our neighbor’s needs. God’s will is that we take care of our neighbors—and that our neighbors take care of us.
This is what our church has done over the last two weekends: we and our neighbors had an abundance of good-quality clothing. So we brought it to the church. We gave our time to unpack the bags and sort them out. Then we opened our doors, and our neighbor’s needs were met. Many of us got clothing for ourselves. But the greatest gifts were the people who came into this church; that we served in love. Our church can’t solve everyone’s problems. But we can help ease each other’s burdens.
This is what happens when we put God’s gifts to work. Burdens are eased. Hurts are healed. Hope is created. Relationships bloom and blossom. Giver and receiver are transformed. Jesus Christ is known and praised.
So challenge yourself this week to pray for those who are poor—those financially poor or poor of health’ poor of faith, of hope; of loving relationships, or otherwise. Then let the Spirit inspire you and then empower you to use whatever you have to make things better. Believe you have the power to make a difference because you are created and saved by God. In your lives as consumers, use even those transactions to bless the people whose labors produce what you need. Be a patient customer; a generous tipper; support small businesses; buy fairly-traded merchandise. Do it because you love Jesus.
Let’s build communities where people take care of each other instead of relying on the government or economic recovery. Let’s show the world God’s love in the love we give to each other. Let’s heal and be healed. Let’s change things.