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Mar 15 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

March 14, 2021



He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his masters debtors one by one, he said o the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take you bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Luke 16:1-9

Intro: Because last week seems to me like it was two years ago,
– let me remind you that I am sharing with you my morning meds
• that is, various “meditations” from my past readings of scripture
• the passage I want to focus on comes at the end of this chapter in Luke
◦ however, this chapter is a masterpiece
◦ and it begins with this strange parable
– did Jesus really teach this? did he actually congratulate the dishonest manager?
• NO! it was not Jesus who commended him,
◦ but a character in the story—the master; his boss
• and no there’s reason to think the manager’s actions pleased his boss
◦ in fact, this very behavior is what got him fired
◦ but the boss was impressed by his clever scheme

Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh explain that “Rich landowners frequently employed estate managers . . . who had the authority to rent property, to make loans, and to liquidate debts in the name of the master. Such agents were usually paid in the form of a commission or fee on each transaction they arranged. . . .
“In the case of the dismissal of an agent, the dismissal was effective as soon as the agent was informed of it, and from that time on nothing the agent did was binding on the person who employed him. The plan worked out by the manager thus had to be enacted before word of his dismissal got back to the village. His haste in carrying out the plan is noted in v. 6.”

Isn’t it fascinating how Jesus depicts the managerial mindset?

When he gets the bad news, he immediately begins calculating
– a typical lesson in management is referred to as SWOT
• managers are taught to assess a business’
Strengths – Weaknesses – Opportunities – and Threats
• this manager’s thoughts went like this:
1.) he knew he did not have what it takes to do the hard or creative work
◦ that is, to build his own business or develop his own resources
◦ he was only able to manage what belonged to someone else
◦ and he had exploited that ability for his own gain
2.) he was unwilling to go to others and beg for assistance
◦ perhaps that was something his ego would not allow him
◦ or it was the fact that such embarrassment in an honor/shame culture would destroy not only him, but damage his entire extended family
3.) so he would relied on his current position and the skills he had acquired
◦ dedicated managers believe they can manage anything
◦ money, buildings, programs, communication, people, the future
◦ among his other talents, this manager knew how to cook the books to hide owner’s losses
◦ he also able to spin his reputation so that potential new clients would think he was a good guy, watching out for them as their friend
– but all this, and even misconduct, are merely elements of the plot
• Jesus was not justifying his mismanagement,
◦ he was making only one specific point:
◦ wisdom tells us to prepare ourselves for the future, especially if it has the potential to become disastrous
• use what you have now to prepare for your next life
make friends who are able to receive you into “eternal dwellings”

If you’re still thinking Jesus endorsed a scoundrel read on
One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Luke 16:10-13

What is Jesus saying? – God rewards faithfulness
– and the opposite of faithfulness is dishonesty
(the same word that is used of the dishonest manager in v. 8)
• in reality, no one who knew manager’s history would hire him
◦ so Jesus does not endorse the dishonest manager,
◦ but address faithfulness and unfaithfulness in one’s responsibilities
• Paul told the Corinthians his job description included being a manager (although the same Greek word in this passage is translated steward)
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful (1 Cor. 4:1-2)
– but again, what Jesus stresses is the relationship of the present to the future
• and using material (or unrighteous) wealth to acquire true riches

The Pharisees bristled at this teaching
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void (vv. 14-17)

I can think of a few preachers who might also bristle at Jesus’ words
(and for same reason)
– the Pharisees ridiculed what Jesus was saying,
• as lovers of money often do when called out for their materialism
• the Lord’s response was that their justifications may convince others,
◦ but they don’t work with God
– in the Law and Prophets, material blessings were the rewards for faithfulness
• but now it is God’s kingdom that is the reward
• that the coming of God’s kingdom does not mitigate what came before
◦ because whether Old Testament or New Testament, the the call is the same:
◦ care for and provide for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger
◦ all who were weak and vulnerable

The next verse looks like a random saying
Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. Luke 16:18

– it is as if Luke may have pulled it out of Matthew’s gospel
(the same verse appears in Mt. 5:27-32 & 19:1-9 in a fuller context)
• but the verse isn’t random, but is based on a theme runs through all the Scriptures;
◦ namely, the quintessential example of faithfulness is marriage
◦ it is an analogy God used frequently in affirming his covenant relationship with Israel
• as Israel’s “spouse,”
◦ God swore his faithfulness to Israel and demanded their faithfulness to him
– today we have wi-if, but “back in my day” we had hi-fi
• hi-fidelity sound systems: so, if you had quality equipment
(amplifier, turn-table, speakers, perhaps a diamond-tipped needle, and a pristine vinyl album)
• you could play a recording of a philharmonic orchestra,
◦ and the sound would be as if you were sitting in the auditorium
◦ “fidelity of sound” meant it was true to the real thing
– so Jesus is again stressing faithfulness – fidelity
• living true to what you believe, true to the facts, true to a person
• and staying true through thick and thin

Now we come to our meditation
There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” And he said, “Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead. Luke 16:19-31

In this parable, Jesus teaches same message as the parable of the dishonest manager
– in fact, they both begin with the exact same line, There was a rich man
• in the first parable: a man glimpsed his future and tried to change it
• in this parable: a man had every opportunity to change his future, but did not
– look how creatively Jesus begins this story
• the first two lines run parallel and depict these two characters,
◦ comparing and contrasting their circumstances:
the rich man: covered body in expensive clothes
the poor man: his body was covered with sores
the rich man: his daily means were gourmet feasts
the poor man: ate the rich man’s table scraps, thrown over the gate
• the second two lines also run parallel
◦ comparing and contrasting their destinies
the poor man: died and angels carried him away
the rich man: also died and was buried (unceremoniously)
the poor man: rested and was comforted at Abraham’s side
the rich man: was tormented in Hades

You probably noticed something else
– only the poor man is named – the rich man is anonymous
• he is “stock character”– a stereotype, like the scribes and Pharisees
• he is just one of many like him
◦ a cardboard cut out – he has no depth
– but Jesus gave a name to Lazarus
• knowing his name, we’re brought closer to him
◦ it’s easier to relate to Lazarus than the rich man
• perhaps Jesus is reminding us
◦ every human who suffers is a person – not just a statistic
◦ and Jesus knows each one of them by name

It seems the rich man took with him his sense of entitlement and superiority
– did he assume Abraham would be able to identify with him as a fellow member of the wealthy class?
◦ people like them were used to giving orders
• certainly Abraham would send Lazarus on this little errand
◦ after all, the rich man did not allow the poor wretch die,
◦ but fed him from his own table–didn’t he?
– it caught my attention, that the rich man addressed Abraham as “father”
• and Abraham did not disown him, but in reply called him “child”
• Luke, however, has already made the point that DNA does not count for much
Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father”. For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham (Lk. 3:8)
◦ the rich man had been relying on the wrong things for his future
◦ and he had not produced those fruits in keeping with repentance

In the story, what role do the angels and Abraham play?
– they are Lazarus’ friends,
• the kind of friends that could receive him into eternal dwellings
• and they could have been the rich man’s friends too,
◦ if only he had been a friend to Lazarus

Conclusion: In the late 19th century, an unfortunate division was made

Protestant Christianity (and some Roman Catholics) took sides:
– some worked out a theology and practice that became the “social gospel”
– others took issue with them, clinging to the “salvation gospel”

Taking seriously the biblical concern for the poor,
– a few preachers, at first, began supporting social causes
• health care and education for poor, women’s right to vote, helping alcoholics through recovery, and so on
• some went so far as to replace spiritual concerns with social concern
◦ and for that it has been sharply criticized by fundamentalists and evangelicals
– in scripture, there is no division between a social gospel and salvation gospel
• all way through we are taught concern for the poor, the vulnerable, the stranger
• and salvation is both social and spiritual–there is no division
◦ it is a salvation process that begins in this life and is carried into the next
We have been saved (Rom. 8:24)
We are being saved (1 Cor. 1:18)
We will be saved (1 Cor. 3:15)

When John spoke of “fruits in keeping with repentance,” what did he mean?
◦ something that looks very much like the social gospel
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:10-11)
• he tells the average person, “Share your excess”
◦ when Paul encouraged the Corinthians to donate for poor he told them there was no need to impoverish themselves, but to only supply what they were able
◦ but what we are able to give is a lot more than we realize

A young woman, working in a Christian community serving refugees decided that she could “live simply so others could simply live.”
Another young woman working there also, realized (in her words) “How little we have to do to make life so much easier for people in need”

This particular meditation got me thinking,
“What more is there that can I can be doing?”
If, instead, I live a life of conspicuous consumption
while others are starving, freezing, living without shelter,
what sort of friends am I making?
the kind that can receive me into eternal dwellings?
and what sort of future am I making for myself?
So that if empathy for others
is not a big enough motive to provide proper care for others
–those whom Jesus referred to as
“the least of these my brothers” (Mt. 5:31-40)–,
then maybe concern for my own welfare
will be motive enough

These are the thoughts that I will leave with you
to work out for yourself
And may God give us the grace
to know what we need to know
and feel what we need to feel
to choose to walk the path of generous love
with Jesus,
the most generous Lover of all time

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