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“Honestly Baldrick, I sometimes feel like a pelican – whichever way I turn, I’ve still got an enormous bill in front of me ,” said Edmund Blackadder way back in 1987.
Here, we have the parable of the shrewd (or dishonest) manager.Accused of wasting the master’s possessions, the manager faces the sack.Unsure what to do, he approaches the debtors and offers to reduce what they owe – cutting out his own commission and winning approval. The master praises the manager for his astute actions – although we’re not told whether he kept his job.
This is not an easy passage.In fact, one commentator describes it as “ probably the most difficult parable in Luke,” so it is, I hope, with a degree of humility that I approach it!It has sometimes been misunderstood as a justification for sharp financial practice, or an excuse to cook the books, which it isn’t.
This parable is, though, a reminder that how we use our earthly resources matters: “ I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings, ” said Jesus.There are more important things than money – and we are encouraged to invest not in the values of this world, but in eternity.
Around this time of year we celebrate Harvest Festival, when we celebrate all God’s provision and remember that he gives us everything: all things comes from you, and of your own do we give you. We remember our part in stewarding God’s creation and our role as temporary custodians of God’s gifts in all their forms – including, but by no means only, financially.
God entrusts everything to us.Who would you trust with your house/husband/wife/PIN/phone?Well, God trusts you: the reality is that God has chosen to reply upon humanity to look after everything he has made, and that includes you and me.How good is that?!
God’s gifts are with us for a short while, but of course we can’t take it with us.Jesus encourages us to hold these gifts lightly: to use our wealth wisely, showing ourselves as reliable and trustworthy stewards who are ready for eternity.He says, “ If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? ”
Four values underpin the Kingdom Vision of our Diocese: love, compassion, justice and freedom.Central to our mission and stewardship of creation is to seek to support the poor, vulnerable and needy. This was at the heart of Jesus’ life and ministry, and must be so for us, too.
It’s a theme picked up by the prophet, Amos as he cries out to “ you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, ” longing for fairness and an end to dishonest cheating and measuring – the kind of corruption which inevitably affects the poor most disastrously.
We must continually pray for those who lead our nations, local authorities, business leaders and other influential bodies, that they are wise and just in their values.We must constantly examine our own churches and lives to ensure that we are founded on God’s kingdom values, too.
To this end, Paul urges “ that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. ” God wants all people to come to acknowledge of truth.
The shrewd manager was commended for taking a longer view. He invested worldly wealth in the people around him, so that when it was gone he would be welcomed into heavenly dwellings.He used his resources (eventually!) not for selfish short-term gain, but for more lasting treasure: eternal glory.
God loves a generous giver, so we should be on the lookout for opportunities to give. Where are these opportunities for you and your church: to give your God-given resources for the greater glory of God’s kingdom? Where might we be able to invest ourselves and our possessions for the longer term – for eternity?
Some two thousand years ago, God gave his own and only Son to the world, that whoever believes in him may not die but have eternal life. As an investment in eternity, Jesus’ sacrifice cannot be surpassed. Jesus didn’t have to give his life but chose to anyway, opening the gate to glory for all people.
The parable of the shrewd (or dishonest) manager is not easy: not easy to understand, and not easy because it offers a challenging message to live out.It asks questions about how we use our wealth and about what is really important; about our priorities, honesty and faithfulness.
The writer, Darrell Bock, concludes his reflection on this parable, “ The treasures we most need to pursue are those that cause God to be pleased. ” So what are you doing with your treasures, and which treasures are you pursuing right now?
 Darrell Bock, 1996