Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13
Time and the Shrewd Manager
For nearly 28 years, I have volunteered as a member of CAP (USAF Auxiliary) first as a Cadet at age 15, and now as an adult. The discipline, organization training, emergency services, aerospace education, and other missions have formed and shaped me, and I received much more from CAP, than I ever gave it. I am a volunteer Airman and I am amazed at the dedication of the people who serve alongside me. I am a volunteer, but what I do in that blue uniform is not my ministry. I love doing that kind of volunteering, and I always tried to give some time to the organization that is, when my schedule allows it. Sometimes I wish I could give more time, but it is in my ministry where I find my greatest joy. My volunteering is very different from ministry, and that is where God calls me to invest the gift of time.
Time is something none of us can gather or save because is not like monetary wealth. It is a gift from God and how we spend our time does matter. An article in Psychology Today states, “Time is much more valuable than money because you can use your time to make money, but you can’t use money to purchase more time.” (1) The article goes on to say that “Time is the great equalizer… Each day has only 24 hours – nobody has any more than anyone else.” (1) Time is a gift, and we only have so much, because we all have an expiration date, and time seems to be running out.
Although today’s gospel reading’s theme sounds like it is addressing monetary wealth and how we spend and manage it, if we listen closely, we may glean some wisdom about the wealth of time, and how God expects us to spend and manage it. Although the parable we hear can be a little confusing, there are some nuggets of truth to be found for we Christians today.
A “shrewd manager” was caught mis-appropriating his boss’s wealth. Rather than fighting the accusations, he spent decided to go spend some time with the boss’s accounts payable clients, working on those relationships for his own future benefit. The manager invested in those relationships and to sweeten the deal, he wrote off half of each debtor’s debt. Then there is this the confusing part of the story, which is the master hears about what the manager did, and praises him for undermining his own finances. “How could the master praise the dishonest manager,” most of us would ask.” “Is Jesus advocating for dishonesty with our wealth,” we may inquire.
David Mathewson asserts, “Scholars have postulated on socioeconomic grounds that the steward’s actions were not really unjust at all and that he was merely releasing his commission.” (2) In other words, the manager was not stealing from the boss, just lowering his commission rates to garner favor with the debtors. Other scholars argue, the“steward has acted dishonestly in releasing debts but shrewdly in preparing for his future. “ (2) “But most interpreters admit, the parable as it stands in its present … context concerns the wise use of possessions.” (2)
Jesus’ parable did not advocate for deceitful practices in the use of our resources (talent, treasure, and time), but it shows us that we must use the gifts God gives us wisely, and the wise use of God’s gift of time is investing in relationships.
“Triple T” and Relationships
In a Christian Century article, Christine Pohl writes, “Jesus does not commend the managers practices, but rather praises his insight into the connection between resources and relationships.” (3) The shrewd manager did just that, he used his valuable time to cultivate relationships with the debtors. We can learn something from him (less the embezzlement part).
In other words, we like him, should spend our time in ministry, which is the cultivation of relationships (both with God and each other), and our gift of time is the best investment we can make. We can buy those we love all the flowers, cards, and trinkets we want, but the best gift we can give others is our time.
I think the shrewd manager in today’s parable actually taught his master something that we Christians need to internalize today. We need to make spiritually sound choices about how we invest our precious time. If we divide up that time in such a way that God gets merely the last few minutes before we go to bed, we may be trying to serve the two masters.
Jesus said, “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.” Time is limited and how we use the gift of time is an indicator of our life’s priorities. We are not serving God with our time, if God is not get raised up in the distribution list of the minutes, hours, and days of our lives. We need to ask ourselves this question, “When it comes to the time I spend serving a God in what I do at church or what I do through the church’s mission, am I only a Volunteer or am I a Minister?”
Volunteer or Minister
Webster defines “volunteer” as a person who (without valuable consideration or legal obligation) undertakes or expresses the willingness to a service. Sometimes when we volunteer, we choose to use our time in whatever way suits us and other priorities make take precedence. When we volunteer we can do incredible things like build houses for habitat, fly airplanes to support disaster missions, tutor children, distribute food, or any other work for charity. Being a volunteer is admirable and it is a fine way to spend our time, but for most of us, volunteering happens only if we can fit it into our busy calendars. What I am suggesting is that volunteering, and what we do as members of The Body of Christ, the baptized given spiritual gifts for service (ministry) may be two very different things. The key may be, for whom are we doing these things.
Writer and theologian Fredrick Buechner offers this definition of ministry (or the place God calls you to). He says, our ministry “is the place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”. Another way to look at it is, “where your spiritual gifts and the worlds needs intersect, that is ministry.”
Ministers are motivated to serve because of and in response to the love of Christ, and the work is for Christ. Ministers are equipped by, empowered by, and called by God to serve in a particular way, based on their unique spiritual gifts. Ministers make serving a time priority in their lives, and never look at the clock. Being a minister is a calling from God!
So, I want to challenge us to think differently about the time we give to God in service to God’s mission through the church (internally and externally). I have been working on encouraging our staff and other ministers to think about church work differently. This past week, I asked our Parish Administrator to change the cover on the Front Office Volunteer binder, and we now call it the, “Office Minister” binder. A subtle change, but I think it speaks volumes. Let me explain.
I can ask someone to volunteer each week to answer the phone and watch the front desk, or I can ask someone to serve as the first kind voice a caller hears on the phone, and to serve as the face of Christ when someone comes to visit the office and to provide the kind of hospitality Jesus practiced. Do you see the difference? As ministers our focus is grounded in a relationship, our relationship with Christ and with each other serving Christ and each other.
The shrewd manager taught his master a great lesson about what is truly important in this life, and he teaches us as well; our relationships and the time we devote to cultivating them. So where and how are we going to focus our time investments as ministers of God’s Kingdom? What will motivate us to answer God’s call on our lives to take our place on Jesus’ mission team as ministers?
So, when you consider God’s gift of time given to you, shift the balance of the spiritual clock and save time, or will you spend it as a minister in God’s kingdom work. Also, when we refer to the work we do in service to Christ, let’s stop using the word volunteer. When we speak of what we do as the Body of Christ for God’s glory, and when we answer God’s call let’s make sure we call ourselves what God sees us as, ministers. So, which are you, a volunteer or minister? My friends, only time will tell.
(2) Mathewson, David. “The Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-13): A Reexamination of the Traditional View in Light of Recent Challenges.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 38, no. 1, Mar. 1995, pp. 29–39.
(3) Pohl, Christine D. “Profit and Loss.” The Christian Century, vol. 118, no. 24, Aug. 2001, p. 13
(4) Wells, Samuel. “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” Journal for Preachers, vol. 30, no. 4, Pentecost 2007, pp. 58–60