“You cannot serve both God and wealth.” (Luke 16:13)
‘Success’ by the world’s standards revolves mostly around the way we treat money: how to gain it, spend it, save it, generate more of it and make it work for us. Because many of us struggle with how we manage money, we are anxious about the use of money, anxious about talking about money and anxious about learning about money. We too often fear that we are worse off than we are.
A first encounter with this parable might inspire us to think that Jesus is suggesting we should be shrewd, dishonest and crooked ourselves, just like this manager who is fired for not making his boss more profit. After wheeling and dealing his accounts at a loss (100 to 50; 100 to 80) the shrewd, dishonest, crooked manager finds himself a place to land after he is displaced in the homes of his patrons. His boss commends him for his craftiness. If ‘success’ is determined by how we use money, what is our analysis on how this shrewd, dishonest, crooked manager too care of himself?
A second look reveals Jesus’ commentary on the story he tells – that we cannot serve both God and wealth. That is not to say we should not use money wisely, strategically, intentionally and generously – the question is raised: who are we serving? Do we do the things we do with money (and all our possessions) because our accounts are our master or are we living lives that seek to serve God by serving others? Could our burdens and anxieties around money and worldly success dissipate simply by remembering it is God’s claim on us that ultimately determines who we are? Our status, wealth, class, position, etc. can change in a moment. If we determine our self-worth by them – it is no wonder why we are so afraid and worried about everything.
A third look at this parable moves past the face value of the characters involved. Luke 16:14-15 reveals that the religious leaders around Jesus don’t like what he’s saying because they themselves are ensnared by the dangers of seeking wealth and are defining themselves (and by implication – others) by it. As we see in our own day, religious people who are focused more on their own assets and standing in the world often become the ones others view with suspicion of scandal – because of their perceived shrewdness, dishonestly and crookedness (whether its true or not).
Ultimately then, this parable serves as a warning to say beware of how the world works – it is corrupt and self-serving; often rewarding those who are crafty and dupe everyone else. The world is full of plenty of examples.
Don’t get caught up in the pursuits of shrewdness, dishonesty and crookedness that lead nowhere. Instead keep your focus on your true Master who gives you everything and points you to se around you. Use what God gives you for the benefit of others. That’s what true ‘success’ looks like and where your eternal home is – even when the crooked world tells you otherwise.
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