You may have heard the story of the wealthy man who refused to accept the fact that we cannot take our wealth with us when we die. As he began to fail in his health, he had his three closest friends meet with him. He gave them each three hundred thousand dollars in cash and made them promise that they keep this money until he died and then he wanted them to put this money into an envelope and slide the money into his suit jacket pocket as his body lay there before the funeral service and committal. Well, each of his friends felt pretty awkward about it, but finally they all promised him they would indeed do this for him. So the time came and the fellow passed from this life to the next. Before the funeral service each friend went up separately to pay their last respects and each one slid an envelope into the inside pocket of the dead man’s suit jacket. Several days later the three met and were talking together. After a while one of them said to the others, “You know, I feel guilty, I have to confess I didn’t put all his money in the envelope. My business has fallen off some and I had some big unexpected bills and so, well, I kept one hundred thousand dollars of the money.” There was a silence for a little while and then a second friend cleared his throat and said slowly, “Well, I guess I should confess too. I didn’t put all his money back into the envelope either. My daughter is going to that Ivy League school so I used it help pay for my daughter’s college expenses. As a result I kept $200,000 of the money.” There was silence at the table for a little while. Then the first two fellows looked at the third friend. He looked back at and shook his head and said to them, “I am really disappointed with you guys. In my envelope I had a check made out to him for the entire amount.”
We love shrewdness and sharp wits, don’t we? We love it when people are smart and can figure out a solution that others do not see. But we do not like it so much when that shrewdness is used to cheat and swindle others. We don’t like the Ponzi schemes that trick people out of their money. We don’t like or admire those who take advantage of people and cheat them out of their retirement savings. And we don’t like people who cheat their employers and steal from them just like this shrewd character in our gospel reading today. How can he admirable? Why does Jesus hold him up as an example we should follow? We see first of all that he is dishonest and because of that he is being fired. He has probably been skimming off the top for himself for a while now. And now that he has been caught he is to prepare the books and then present them to his master. So he has those people who owe his employer come see him and he and the debtors rewrite their debts. Why does he do this? In the days of Jesus, people of that culture had a strict social code for paying back favors. Since the debts were rewritten dishonest manager now has these people owing him a favor and he will be able to visit these people at dinner time for years to come and thus not go hungry or be in desperate need. The manager cheats his master while he is employed and cheats his employer on his dismissal. So why is he commended? Does God like cheaters? Does God like clever underhandedness?
Well, obviously no he doesn’t. We are told in the Scriptures that God hates it when people cheat others and he hates underhandedness. So if that is the case, why is this dishonest fellow praised? The rich man, the manager’s former employer is not happy with him for his dishonest deeds, He is not happy that he has cheated him out of yet more of his money, but he admires the dishonest man’s cleverness on his taking care of his immediate future needs and he commends him for it; he compliments him. That is what this parable is about! It is about planning for our future. Planning for the future is something God wants us all to do.
God wants us to plan and be wise about our immediate future here on earth to be sure but more importantly he wants us to plan for our ultimate future. Where are you spending eternity? Where are you going? God has given each of us an eternal soul—you will live forever. Have you thought about what is going to happen to you when your body dies? Are you making the right arrangements? Or are you simply going along and pretending that death is not going to really come? Jesus says that we need to plan ahead; we need to make arrangements! We shouldn’t be foolish like the fellow who wanted his friends to put money into his suit jacket pocket. Dead bodies cannot use money can they? Jesus points out that the people of the world understand how the system works and use it to their benefit; children of the light don’t seem to be so smart. You see Christians tend to waffle back and forth. We often try to keep one hand on our money and one hand reaching up to God. It causes us to be stretched, pulled, and divided.
As followers of Jesus we are supposed to submit our whole lives to God along with our wealth and possessions. Jesus points out that all of us ultimately serve a master. We can serve God or we can serve wealth. You may think to yourself, “I am not serving wealth because I am not wealthy.” But one doesn’t need to have a lot of money to serve one’s wealth. There are some very poor people who serve money. You see where ever our hearts are is what we serve. What we serve is we are the most interested in and what we want. Therefore we need to ask ourselves, “What do I want?” “What do you think about, what do you wish for?” Do you think about God and serving Him and others or do you think about stuff and getting more stuff? Do you think about experiences and pleasures and getting more of those? What has your heart? This is what Jesus is talking about.
This is why Jesus refers to wealth as dishonest wealth. It is not that money or things are dishonest in and of themselves, no, it is our world system that tells us and insinuates that if we just have more we will be happy and life will be good. If we just have that new iPhone with the 3 cameras we will be happy. If we just have a new car, we will be happy. If we just have another cruise we will be happy. If we just have this or that relationship, we will be happy. If we just have a bit more in our savings account we will be content and so on and so on. And that is not true; that’s why it is dishonest. Money and possessions and other things or people will not bring us contentment. These cannot take care of us after we die. Only God can bring us contentment now and take care of us in our future lives.
Jesus points out we do need to plan for our future. We will not stay here for very much longer. The odds are none of us will be here in a hundred years. Many of us perhaps most of us will be gone and forgotten within just 50 years. 20, 10, 5, or even next year, some of us right here today will be in the presence of Almighty God. Jesus says we need to use what we have right now in this world to help us be better off in the next life just like this shrewd and dishonest steward did. How do we do that? We live according to how Jesus taught us. We live generously and give to those around us who are in need. We give back to God ten percent of how he prospers us. We make sure that we keep God as our priority and be careful not to let the desire for more money and more possessions or other things or experiences or people take control of our hearts.
Jesus doesn’t tell us to do these things because He doesn’t want us to be happy. He doesn’t say these things to make us uncomfortable. He loves us—He wants us to have a wonderful life not only here but in the world to come. In order to do this, we are to be shrewd. We are to be clever. We are to plan ahead. We are to be wise managers of what God has given us in this world and we make sure that we guard our hearts for Jesus and we invest in the kingdom of God. Amen