"Well Done, Dishonest Manager!"
September 23, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. Today's sermon caption is "Well Done, Dishonest Manager!" The sermon title has been posted on the sign board all week, and I wonder how passers-by have been looking at it. Just as we had it in today's gospel reading, this title is recorded in association with Jesus' parable. It's a really strange story.
A Strange Story
2. We could arguably make a case that the very parable itself that Jesus gave [goes] up to verse eight's first sentence. The story [goes] like this. A certain rich man had a manager. The manager is entrusted with the owner's properties and business transactions, and runs the whole thing by himself. Because is trusted, he is given that level of responsibility. However, this manager betrayed the trust of the owner, who then discovered the wasteful blowing away of his assets. The manager is about to be blamed by the owner. His dismissal from his duties is certain. He comes face to face with the crisis. Here in this [parable] this man who lost his credibility hardly thinks that he will get the same job elsewhere. Be that as it may, neither does he have the strength to do physical labor. His pride won't let him be a beggar. Troubled, he is thinking hard of many things. Then finally he comes up with a good idea. "Okay. Here's what I'll do. Even though I've been let go from [this] managerial job, I should make [friends] who'll [later] welcome me into their homes!"
3. He promptly puts his plan into effect. He calls each person with a debt owed the master. He says to the first person, "How much is your debt to my master?" That man had a debt of one hundred [Greek] batous of [olive] oil. One hundred batous is about two thousand and three hundred liters, [eight hundred gallons]. That's a sizeable amount. Rather than mere individual debts, it's a story about transactions in business and commerce. The manager said to him, "This is your bill. Hurry, sit down, re-write it to fifty batous." He ended up making the bill amount to half of what it was. Of course then, those whose [bills] were reduced down must have been down right pretty happy. Without a moment's delay, I think the manager was probably also telling them, "Don't forget this favor I'm doing you." He said even to the next man, "How much is your debt?" He had a loan for one hundred [Greek] korous of wheat. The wheat was about twenty-three thousand liters worth, [a thousand bushels]. The manager also told him, "This is your bill. Re-write it to eighty korous." Then, he also probably said to him as well, "Don't forget this favor I'm doing you."
4. Thus, it is a story of a manager utilizing his position, doing dishonestly, and putting the finishing touches upon his dishonesty. Should such a gross misdeed be permitted just because he was in such bad trouble? No, you would never expect such a thing to be permitted. That's how I would naturally conclude. In [our] first scripture reading, the prophecy of Amos was read. The evil merchants were saying, "[We will] make the bushel smaller, [we will] make the weights for measuring heavier, and we will falsify [transactions] by using deceptive balances," [Amos 8:5]. They thought nobody would know. However, God was looking. The Lord says, "I will never ever forget all that they have done." The people who had grown up hearing these words, when they had heard this parable, they would naturally conclude that God should not be expected to permit such dishonesty from this manager. I think the story from Jesus to a certain degree seemed to have nothing new in it, they thought they knew where it was all going. They thought Jesus would continue on by saying, "Now look! This criminal activity became known by the owner. The manager would not escape severe judgment. The man will inevitably reap what he has sown! ... " But contrary to expectations, for some reason, Jesus gave the following conclusion. "The owner praised the dishonest manager's cunning and sharp work."
5. "Huh, he ended up praising him?!" The story is so incredible. But now, through this strange tale, what was Jesus wanting to tell us? Let's listen to the next part.
With His Eye On The End He Behaves Wisely
6. Jesus first says, "The children of this temporary world behave more wisely than the children of light towards their associates," (verse eight second half). For those hearing him, they would be thinking uneasily of "the dishonesty" of the manager, but that is the theme of "the wisdom" that is here in this text. Please recall the words of the owner. The owner did not praise the dishonesty of the manager at all. "The cunning and sharp work" -- he praised the fact that he "acted wisely" if translated literally.
7. How may we define this wisdom of his? It [can be defined] as his having prepared for [his] end. He did not leave it to unfold on its on. He was thinking that he might not be able to make things manage. Thinking desperately for his life and going beyond just thinking, he took action. His dismissal from his duties is certain. He came face to face with his end as a manager. However, he still had some time. He didn't wait for the end without doing something about it. You could say, he sought for what he could do right up to the very end that he might open up his future beyond the end [of his management career].
8. The Lord is saying, "Isn't a person of the world more superior in this regard than a believer?" Even if not this manager, when a crisis comes, when a catastrophe is near by, when one still has time, doesn't a person of the world consider in a desperate way what [action] he or she ought to take? However, when it comes to a turning point type crisis, a decisive end, the believer is expected to have heard about "the end." One's life will surely at some time meet its end. Even the world will meet its end. Then [we] will surely stand before God. [We] must give "a full account." [We] will be held accountable for [our] lives. A believer ought to know that [each] person and this world are heading for that decisive hour. Until that hour arrives, since there is still some time, should you just idle away? Not hardly. Shouldn't you behave wisely like that manager? That's what the Lord is saying. What can you do? What must you do? You ought to be thinking it through.
Friends Built With Riches That Are Tainted With Dishonesty
9. In regard to this matter of "behaving wisely," you can't walk around the issue of riches. It is a story with money in it. Therefore, Jesus continues on in the next part saying, "Therefore, I say to you, build friends with riches that are tainted with dishonesty. Thus when you do, when you run out of money, you will have them welcome you into an eternal dwelling," (verse nine). Jesus does not use a polished expression that anybody could accept. He comes at us with an extremely audacious, extremely radical way of speaking.
10. "Riches that are tainted with dishonesty." [Here] it does not necessarily [contain] the meaning of "riches obtained dishonestly." It has a meaning like "the riches of this world" as contrasted with "the treasures of heaven." So, the word "dishonest" is used there and I think we can get its specialized meaning somehow or other. I'm saying that because the tendency is that tainted and corrupted topics go with things related to money. Generally speaking, in the world of faith, quite so, it is easy for money to be seen as something dirty. As much as we can [avoid it], we don't [usually] want to touch upon money in conversations related to faith. Do we? This story goes way back, but I heard the story of when a certain person first went to church, he hated it so much to see the offering plate going around the sanctuary. [This person] felt that in a holy worship service a container of money going around and the sound of money clinking and clanking just some how did not match right. Can you see what he meant? So, [this person] wanted to keep separate and distinct money as money and faith as faith.
11. But, Jesus says: Even though it is the money of this world and riches tainted with dishonesty, isn't it good? Use it to build friends. Thus, those words also grab at us. Are you building friends with money? Jesus said we should. But, before we offer the argument that "Friends built with money are not true friends," I think we must reason it out. Whether it is you or me, the reason we're alive now is somebody used money for us. The reason we're [here] now, the reason we're somebody's friend is somebody used money for me and you. The reason the church building is built in this place here and some are friends in the faith is somebody put out the money. In the first place, the reason there are friends in the faith in Japan is that the people from various countries, who have sent evangelists, have used money. We live because we have been supported by the love of different persons out there. Isn't that right? It is not something abstract, but specific, in that [somebody's] money, time and effort have been consumed, sacrifices have been paid [by somebody for someone else]. Haven't they?
12. Then Jesus says, "If you do so, then when your money is gone, you will have others receive you into their eternal dwellings." Please get an image of the kingdom of God and an image of the eternal dwelling. When you get there, will there be anyone to welcome you and rejoice over you? If while alive a person only thinks of himself or herself, and consumes wealth, time and labor for oneself, just for one's own enjoyment, then do you suppose anyone will welcome that person happily into the kingdom of God? I find it very hard to think so. But, if no one will even welcome [you], still worse, if God will not even be welcoming you in, how terribly sad that would be, wouldn't it!?
13. Therefore, the statement of "Build friends with the wealth tainted by dishonesty" is an extremely radical way of putting it, but upon thinking of how one uses wealth when one is alive, I think that he is making a very important statement. [He is] not [saying] that we should stay far from money since it is tainted.
14. John Wesley once gave a sermon based on this passage. It is the famous sermon called "The Use Of Money." In it Wesley says the following. "Earn as much as you can. Save as much as you can. And give as much as you can." Earn as much as you can in a manner in which you do not injure your own or your neighbor's body and soul. You must not waste yourself in order to satisfy the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of possessions. Save up as much as possible. And give as much as you can. Spend not just for yourself or your family, but for the family in the faith and for all kinds of people. He says that is the proper use of money.
15. The Lord says, "Build friends with the wealth tainted by dishonesty."
Be Loyal In Small Things
16. Then the Lord went on to say, "The person loyal in very small matters will also be loyal in big matters. The person disloyal in small matters will also be disloyal in big matters. So, unless [you] are loyal with riches tainted with dishonesty, who will leave to you anything truly valuable? Furthermore, unless [you] are loyal with things belonging to someone else than [you], who will give you your own things?," (verses ten through twelve).
17. Of course, money through and through is money and belongs to this temporary world, and does not have eternal value. What has been entrusted to the church is the gospel of the kingdom of God and is the word that brings eternal salvation. Believers should always focus their attention not on the riches of this world but on the eternal abundance of the kingdom of God. But, that which involves money belongs to this passing world, and in that sense we can definitely call it "a small matter," but Jesus says that "The person loyal in very small matters will also be loyal in big matters." The riches of this world are no more than something that has been entrusted temporarily. A manager is through and through just a manager. Yet, unless [a manager] is loyal in the small matters to which he or she is entrusted, then, the Lord asks, will one leave to such a person a big matter? Therefore, one's relationship with money does matter.
18. With that, Jesus finally gives the following conclusion. "No matter who the servant is, one cannot serve two masters. [The servant] will either hate the one and love the other, or they will be intimate with one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches," (verse thirteen).
19. As we understand from the statements from Jesus that we've looked at in the above, serving God does not necessarily mean that we do not turn our concerns towards riches or that we keep far from wealth. It means when we are serving God we must not "serve" riches. Riches are not something we ought to serve, but something we ought to use. Serve God! Use [our] riches! That's right, [do it] in that wise manner. That's what Jesus was saying.
20. After this, after we sing a hymn, we will offer our monetary offerings. That means we offer an ordinary thing of ours that has to do with money. How will we live out our lives, in order to be loyal and faithful in small matters, including with our cash? As we ponder this matter, let's humbly present our offerings to the Lord.