PROPER 20 – YEAR C
1 TIMOTHY 2:1-7
Trinity Long Green, MD Sept. 18, 2016
WHOM WILL YOU SERVE?
I can’t help but wonder what Luke was smoking when he recorded this bit of Jesus’ teachings. Surely he got something wrong, confused some essential point or left something out. Or perhaps the Auto-Correct Demon rewrote his post and rendered it gibberish, as it sometimes does with my emails and text messages.
Or perhaps Jesus has donned his inscrutable Zen master hat and is giving his disciples a koan to ponder.
Or perhaps this passage requires extraordinary exegetical gymnastics to understand. (Exegesis – e x e g e s i s referring to the consultation of various texts and commentaries to aid in understanding a biblical passage).
Whatever the case, this particular gospel evokes a “Huh?” from the hearers.
We have a dis-honest manager who is fired when word of his mismanagement reaches the rich man for whom he works. He doesn’t attempt to defend himself, in fact the master does not even offer the man a chance to speak up for himself. Instead of adopting the modern practice of having security escort the manager to clear out his desk and exit the building, the rich man gives the dishonest manager a window of opportunity. Taking advantage of that window, the manager re-writes the bills of several of the rich man’s clients. Because these clients now owe the manager a debt of gratitude for decreasing what they owed the rich man, the manager has provided for his future.
Fine so far. Based on his actions we can assume the manager was guilty as charged, he has “proved” his past guilt by his present deceptive actions. He has “robbed” the rich man to the benefit of that man’s clients, and most importantly, to his own benefit.
The rich man/master discovers what the recently fired manager has done to feather his own nest, and, instead of blowing his stack, having the manager arrest or otherwise punished him, the rich man actually commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness!
As surprising as that is, the true shocker comes next – Jesus seems to agree!
Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth …
Is Jesus actually advising his disciples to follow the manager’s dishonest practices? Or is he being ironic –
Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth … so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
The manager might have gained welcome into the businesses of the clients whose debts he rewrote, but he gained nothing of benefit with regards to eternity.
Our gospel concludes with several sayings that suggest wealth is often dishonest and leads to dishonesty. How can you be faithful with wealth dishonestly gained? How can a Christian institution founded and built with slave labor as Georgetown University was, as many of our churches were, not be negatively impacted by that dishonest gain? Until we admit how we have gained unfair advantage at the cost of another, Africans brought to the Americas as slaves, Native Americans driven from their lands, we cannot avoid the taint of dishonest gains.
You cannot serve God and wealth.
If you serve God, you cannot allow yourself to be motivated by gaining and protecting wealth. If you serve wealth – striving for more, protecting what you have, suspicious of those who might cheat you out of your wealth – then you cannot truly serve God.
It’s not MONEY that is at the root of all evil, but the LOVE of money.
Does that make every rich person evil? Or every comfortable middle class family evil? Does that mean that we shouldn’t provide for our old age with retirement account or for our children’s education by setting aside funds for college? Does that mean we should never spend for our own pleasure and that we all must go around with our begging bowls outstretched asking for alms?
While some might make that claim, I do not. Rather than condemn wealth per se, I believe the scriptures demand that we use our wealth (small or large) to do justice and to help those in need.
Amos provides an Old Testament insight along the same lines. In last Sunday’s Old Testament reading we heard Amos condemn the idle rich, who consume solely for their own pleasure. Not only do they consume, but as we heard today, they trample on the needy and bring ruin to the poor.
Amos condemns those who worship wealth to the extent that they cheat with weights, bribe or even own the poor, rob the church poor boxes, and refuse to honor the Sabbath, impatient for it to end so they can return to the buying and selling and making more of the wealth they worship.
Paul admonishes Timothy in next Sunday’s epistle (a continuation of today’s reading) that those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires. Clearly the believer is to avoid such entrapment.
Paul offers guidance for the rich:
Do not be haughty or set your hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Do good, be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, and thus store up for yourselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that you may take hold of the life that really is life.
Maybe Jesus was not being so cryptic after all. Maybe Luke didn’t have too much to drink when he wrote this passage of his gospel. Maybe, as strange as the parable might seem, it actually does point us to the larger message of the scriptures. God cares about the poor, the outcast, the marginalized and those in need – and commends the same behavior for those who would live in the kingdom of God.
Yes, we can use wealth and power to gain us benefits in the here and now … or we can use them to take hold of the life that really is life.
Based on the number of verses dedicated to the subject, it matters a lot more to God how we use our possessions, our money, and our wealth, than anything else we might say or do. Yes, all our actions are important to God, but none are more important than how we treat the poor and disadvantaged, meaning how we use our relative wealth and advantage for the well-being of others.
No slave can serve two masters. We cannot serve wealth AND God.
Jesus challenge us to choose which master we will serve, because we cannot serve both.
Choose carefully this day whether you will serve God or money, because your choice has eternal consequences.