Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, `What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, `What will I do, now that my master is taking the position 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 dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, `How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, `A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, `Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, `And how much do you owe?’ He replied, `A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, `Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Jesus’ parable in today’s gospel reads like a recent headline in the Wall Street Journal or Money Magazine. A sly business manager has been caught in the act of skimming off his employer. The manager was found out, confronted, accused of embezzlement and his records are going to be seized for audit. Crisis ensues. In fear, he realized that he was going to be caught and thrown out on the street with nothing. So, he ran to his old credit customers and cut deals with them in hopes that when everything falls apart, at least they may help him out. In other words, the bills owed the employer were forged and reduced by 50 and 80%.
Then it all turns a little strange. When the employer learns of the sly manager’s deals, he actually showers him with praise for his shrewd dealings with the customers. We may say, “I’m a little confused here, the employer lost 50-80% because of the sly manager’s collusion, and yet the employer praised him?” Wait a minute; I’m confused you may say. You’re not alone. Many scholars have struggled with this irony in the parable. The ironic twist is in the fact, a dramatic presentation used to show how one person sometimes chooses to put something of material value, above a relationship with someone with whom he depended. The irony goes a bit further, because the employer, who commended the manager, was lured by the attraction of relationship manipulation for material benefit, as lived out in the actions of his employee.
The real heart of the lesson is about relationships. “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” The term Mammon in the early language, refers to wealth, avarice, or anything of value, but it may also be an allusion to something that serves as an idol.
Choosing God over mammon is the heart of the parable.
We choose to live either as children of the age (seeking life’s fulfillment in things other than God) or as children of the light (seeking life’s fulfillment in God alone). There are other instances of choosing God vs. other things, elsewhere in Jesus teaching. There was a prodigal son who chose hedonism and wild parties, over the loving relationship of his father and brother. There was a young ruler, who chose material possessions, over a potential relationship, which he could have had with Jesus. Even Peter who at one point, proclaimed Jesus the messiah, the Son of God, later chose the wellbeing and personal security of denying Jesus, over loyalty, trust in God, and faithfulness. Throughout our Lord’s ministry, Jesus faced the pain of human choice. Jesus faced human choice to follow spiritual distractions and spiritual fixations over Him and it led to the cross.
Although the parable refers to mammon as spiritual distractions, there are many more than merely money or material possessions. Other distractions fall into the category of “things that take the place of God.” Unhealthy lifestyles, addictions, faithlessness, greed, mean spiritedness, or other vices are obvious “things that get in the place of God.” Some things are not so obvious. We all make choices about how we spend our time. We try and juggle our lives of work, recreation, sleep, and family, but do we pray? Prayer is merely making time in our day to allow our spirits to be drawn into God’s presence. Take a moment now and just think about God. This moment, my friends, is prayer. Our spirits are drawn into God’s presence, when we make the effort to study and really learn what it means to “be like Christ?” We are drawn into the presence of God when we choose to spend time with others who are struggling with their faith journey; our brothers and sisters in this community and beyond. Consider for a moment what it means to choose to be “children of light.” This choice is about commitment. Committing to God by committing to the transformation to “be like Christ,” requires effort. The sly manager failed to cultivate the relationships with the ones with whom he depended out of fear. He chose personal security, personal satisfaction, and distractions and fixations that stood in the place of relationships of utmost importance. Following God requires a choice from us. It requires us to reject the distractions, the fixations that can easily get in the way of our walk with God. We are “children of light.” We are called to cultivate a committed relationship with the One, on whom we completely depend; Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Remember Jesus words, “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.”
In other areas of our lives, we learn by practice. The perfect golf swing may never be ours to grasp fully, but only by practice can we ever dream of attaining it. The perfect garden may never be ours to grasp fully, but only by planting, cultivating and weeding can we ever dream of attaining it. The perfect family, the perfect home, the perfect relationship, and the perfect anything may never ours to grasp fully, but only by commitment can we ever dream of attaining it. Family, home, relationship, golf swing, garden, hobby, my dear sisters and brothers, none of these can compare to being “children of the light,” “Children of God.”
It is only by committing our lives to God: practicing prayer, studying, fellowshipping, and breaking the bread/sharing the wine, can we ever dream of realizing our ultimate designation, our high calling, our holy name. You are a child of Almighty God; the same God who created you, redeemed you and by His grace, sustains you.