Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Be Debt Free!

     I find it fascinating that the Parable of the Shrewd Manager comes right after the famous Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Hmmm...one is well known.  The other?  No so much.
     This parable comes after a long string of "The Lost  ____."  We have looked with the shepherd for one sheep, a woman for a coin, and a son who goes and loses everything and returns home, seeking forgiveness.
     All of these were in the hearing of the "Pharisees and the teachers of the law." (Luke 15:2)  The eager audience of "tax collectors and 'sinners'" had once, again, brought disdainful looks and comments from the self-righteous listening in on Jesus. 
      My daughter made an interesting point to me today.  You can help others, but if after you help, you then turn self-righteous about it, you negate the good you've done.  God wants our obedience to be sure, but He equally wants a good attitude about what we do.  The Pharisees are all too willing to do good, but they then act like they are the ONLY ones who are obedient to God and how dare this Jesus comment on our attitude?  At least we are doing what God commands.  Can we say that of those tax collectors?  Those 'sinners'?  This Jesus?  No way.  
     Attitude begets altitude.  If you fly low and slow, helping but judging as you go, you never get lift.  You fly high in His love, and reach out and do your work in His name, then you truly acting as His son or daughter.
     So, let's get to our parable, found in Like 16:1-8:
     "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
      The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
      So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
      'Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
    The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’
     Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
   ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
   He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
   The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light."
    Wow.  This is not your average parable.  But let's try to unpack it, and sees where it leads.  
    Who accused the manager of wasting the rich man's possessions?  Was it the rich man's friends? Was it the talk of the town?  Whoever got it started, the accusation reached the ears of the rich man, and he wanted to investigate the matter.  He just didn't sack the manager.  He wanted evidence of the manager's practices.  The rich man would then make a judgment.  
     So, we have a rich man who is calling into question one of his employees.  This manager is under suspicion.  Interesting how earlier on, the Pharisees were grumbling about Jesus' choice of who to teach.  So, could the rich man be the Pharisees' and their attitude towards Jesus?  You are teaching and preaching the Torah and that, Rabbi from Nazareth, puts you under our domain--we are the representatives of the Torah, so you answer to us.   Account for yourself.  We won't sack you outright; we will show our magnanimity by allowing you to demonstrate how you deal with our "clients."
     So, the manager sees his job going away quickly.  He doesn't doesn't openly deny or affirm his master's suspicions.  He sees himself not cut out for digging ditches or begging.  He plans for the future by investing in his master's clients.  He decides to show the rich man how he goes about the business. Why?  He knows that once the rich man lets him go, he'll need a place to stay to get on his feet.  He knows the clients in town and he wishes to put his business relationship with them to good use:  he wants to gain some friends at the end of all this.
     So, in front of the master's debtors, he shows his master what his cleverness.  The rich man probably ducked out behind a curtain, so he could hear the manager in action.  The first client owes 800 gallons of olive oil.  The client is all too aware of what he owes.  But the manager has him change the bill by reducing the amount owed to 400--half the original amount.  
     The second client owes a 1000 bushels of wheat--he also is all too aware of what he owes.  The manager has him changed the bill to be only 800.  The clients leave and the rich man steps back into the room.
     The manager reduced what is owed by these clients by having them change the bill.  They left grateful,  for any reduction in debt is a benefit.  The debt can be paid back sooner.  With the clients gone and prepared to pay the new amount, the rich man looks with respect upon the manager.  
     Yes, the manager is "dishonest" for he did not have permission to reduce the amount of the debt.  He is to manage the rich man's affairs, not make decisions on his own.  But his solution created happy clients, who will more than welcome him in once he is unemployed.  
      "Shrewd" is defined as "having or showing sharp powers of judgment; astute" per the online dictionary.  Remember the original charge against the manager?  He was accused of mishandling and "wasting" the rich man's possessions.  Perhaps he had in the past; we don't know.   But the manager's solution now brought praise from the rich man.
     Jesus then comments,  “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.  Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  So, if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?  No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."  (Luke 16:8-12)
     Hmmm...This interesting commentary from Jesus.  He is accused of effectively mishandling what the Pharisees value:  the Word of God, the Torah.  The clients knew what they owed; Jesus' listeners, tax collectors and sinners, have no doubt what they owe and how they are not welcomed in the Pharisees' version of God's kingdom.
    Jesus' listeners are like the clients--their debt is lessened and they go away happier than when they first showed up.  The burden they now carry is less because of the way Jesus handles the Word.  It's the same "debt"--the Word of God--but in Jesus' managerial capacity, the Word is not so burdensome, as it is when the Pharisees handle it.  
     He then zeroes in on the real issue of the Pharisees:  where their hearts truly are.  They are the "rich man."  They are the accusers of this "manager."  They demand an accounting.  
     Then Jesus says, just like He did with the rich young man, Give it away, boys.  Even the ungodly know how to use wealth to gain friends and influence people.  You claim to be godly; OK, then, why not use it to further the good?  You are not handling the blessings you have with much honor and care; you just want more and the status it brings.  
     I, as God's Manager, am now calling YOU to account for what you have.  
     You have been blessed with much, yet give so little.  You claim to be rich in God, yet you are miserly with what is, after all, His.  You really have two masters above you, boys, and you must choose.  The object of your devotion is evident, and it must change.  You can't serve both. 
     Whoa:  Look at the reaction of the Pharisees:  "The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, 'You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.'"
     This Manager will go one step further than the one in the story:  He will climb upon a cross to fully pay the debt of sin and shame we all carry.  No reduction of the debt.  It will be a full remission.  
     When we wave the "bill" in God's face,  look at it carefully:  It says "paid" and is written in the blood of Jesus.   
"So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."  (John 8:36)

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