The singer Taylor Swift has made millions off of failed relationships. Time after time Swift has used breakups as the material for new songs – often with very clear references to the guy who inspired it. So in the hit, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” it soon becomes obvious that she is talking about her former relationship with the actor Jake Gyllenhaal.
Unfortunately for Alanis Morissette, the experience of having nearly five million dollars stolen is unlikely to produce a similar result. In May of this year her manager Jonathan Schwartz pleaded guilty to stealing $4.8 million dollars from her. From 2009 to 2016 Schwartz had worked as Morissette’s business manager, collectg incomes, managing investment accounts and paying bills for her. When she hired a new manager, he discovered more than one hundred transfers from Morisette’s accounts to Schwartz’s.
Morissette learned that her business manager stole nearly five million dollars from her. But she probably won’t be able to use the experience as material for a song, because she has already done it. In the 1995 song “Isn’t It Ironic” Morisette sang about all kinds of unexpected events that don’t go your way. There she sang, “Well, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you; When you think everything’s ok and everything’s going right.” And the chorus repeated, “It’s like rain on your wedding day. It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid. It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take. Who would’ve thought – it figures!”
In the Gospel lesson for today Jesus tells a parable about a rich man who had the same experience with his manager. We hear: "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.’” The rich man learned that the manager had been squandering his wealth. So he fired the manager, and told him to turn in the books.
Caught in the act, this produced a moment of crisis for the manager. He considered his options and none of them seemed any good. He 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.” The man knew that he wasn’t cut out for hard physical labor. He also knew that he was too proud to beg for money. It appeared that complete disaster was about to envelope him.
But just then, he had an idea that could save him – something he could do so that people receive him into their homes and help him when the management was taken away from him. He still had the books – the written accounts of transactions. If he moved quickly, he could do something about his future.
He called the master’s debtors. Most likely these were people who worked land owned by the master and were required to pay something as rent for the land. He summoned them one by one and said to the first, “How much do you owe my master?” The man reported that he owed a hundred measures of oil. The manager said to him, “Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.” He asked another, “And how much do you owe?” The man said, “A hundred measures of wheat.” So the manager said to him, “Take your bill, and write eighty.”
If the manager had been wasteful previously, now he had defrauded the rich man out of wealth that was owed to him. Clearly, by reducing the debt of those who owed the rich man he was ingratiating himself to the debtors. He was counting on reciprocity in benefits.
Naturally, we expect the rich man to be even more angry at the manager. But then we encounter a surprise. We learn that, “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” The rich man commended the manager for acting in a dishonest way that cost him money! It’s a puzzling moment in the Gospel of Luke – the only Gospel that includes this parable - because Jesus seems to be casting dishonesty in a positive light.
But the key word here is “seems,” and as Jesus continues to speak we begin to understand where he is going with this. At the end of our text he says, “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.”
The focus in Jesus’ story is the shrewdness of the manager. Now shrewdness describes keen judgment. This can be used for different purposes. Our Lord says that the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. The parable has been about dealing with wealth. Now Jesus adds, “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.”
Jesus is talking about wealth – about money. The shrewdness in view is how people deal with it. But these are two very different groups and they use it for very different ends. The parable is an illustration of how the sons of this world – sinful people – use wealth shrewdly. In a moment of crisis, the man used wealth in a way that served himself. It was dishonest – no doubt about it! But if your goal is to look out for yourself, you’d be hard pressed to find a better model.
The sons of light, on the other hand, are those who have received the saving reign of God that entered into the world in the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. Indeed, you are the sons and daughters of light. Jesus Christ was numbered with the transgressors for you. He bore your sins and suffered and died for you. He rose on the third day in order to defeat death and begin the resurrection that will one day be yours as well. Through water and the Spirit he has given you rebirth and washed away your sins.
You didn’t deserve any of this. You didn’t earn any of this. It was God’s grace – his undeserved loving favor – that prompted this gift. It was his love for you when to be honest, you were unlovable, that has saved you.
Jesus Christ has saved you. But he hasn’t saved you by taking you out of the world. Instead he has saved you and now you live by faith in this world. The faith created by his Spirit through the Word, is now faith that the Spirit prompts to act in this world. This faith also deals with money and wealth – something that Jesus calls “unrighteous wealth” because of the way it so easily draws people to itself and into sin.
In our text, Jesus says, “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.” This isn’t the easiest verse to understand. A little earlier in the Gospel Jesus had said, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
It becomes clear that Jesus is talking about our use of wealth. Do we use it in ways that circle back only to us? Or do we use it in service of others? Do we employ it recognizing that our use of wealth demonstrates the position God holds in our life? Do we use it in ways that are directed with the final goal in mind – the return of Christ on the Last Day?
Jesus goes on to talk more about money in the verse that come after our text. There he says, “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.” This text raises a really difficult topic for us. Because the fact of the matter is that we live in an affluent culture where the wants are considered needs. And that’s the way we think about things. We can’t imagine anything less, and we always desire something more.
Jesus’ words this morning lead us to confess this fact – to see it for the sin it is. The good news is that Jesus died on the cross for that too. In repentance and faith, your baptism provides forgiveness for that as well.
And so we are freed to look at our Lord’s words and consider how we can use our wealth – our money – to serve others. We begin in the Body of Christ – in the Church. We have two members of our congregation who are studying to be pastors – two men who have families to support during this time that they are students at the seminary. That is a way to use wealth in faith with the goal of the Last Day in mind.
Every Sunday we pray for the Pastor Enoch MacBen and the Lutheran Theological College Uganda. Pastor Macben visited us several years ago. He has returned to his home of Uganda and has been instrumental in founding this school for training pastors. Today in Uganda, 139 Lutheran congregations are served by 18 pastors. You do the math. There is a great need for pastors. Professors are volunteers, but funds are needed for the basic operation of the school. The school needs theological books so that teaching can take place. That is a way to use wealth in faith with the goal of the Last Day in mind.
Looking to our community, we recognize that it is not enough to say we support life. We also need act in ways that do this. We are blessed to have Pregnancy Matters in our area which does excellent work in supporting women and helping them to choose life for the baby inside them. This important work is funded through donations of people who care about these women and their unborn children. That is a way to use wealth in faith with the goal of the Last Day in mind.
And in our area there is a basic need of hunger. Through our congregation’s emergency fund we buy gift cards for a local grocery store and give them to families in need. It is time to buy more so that we can give them away. That is a way to use wealth in faith with the goal of the Last Day in mind.
In the parable, the manager acts with a sense of urgency because he knows that he is in a decisive moment. Jesus calls us to act with the same sense of urgency – an urgency created by the time in which we live and the status we have received. We live in the last days. We know this because the Son of God took on our flesh, died on the cross for us and then rose from the dead. The resurrection of the Last Day has already begun! Through baptism and faith in the risen Lord Jesus we are sons and daughters of light. And so we use our wealth in faith with the goal of the Last Day in mind.