Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg — I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Luke 16.1-9.
This is always seen as the most difficult of Jesus’ parables because (so it is said) Jesus is commending the actions of a very dishonest man and encouraging his followers to be like him. For that reason most commentators go to great lengths to try and show that the steward was not really acting dishonestly at all — he was, they suggest, only writing-off the interest on each loan which it was illegal to charge under Jewish law anyway. Nice try, but it won’t really wash, for the text itself says the steward was “dishonest”. And to my mind that doesn’t present a problem. The point of the parable is that followers of Jesus should be just as shrewd in kingdom matters as the steward was in worldly matters. Realizing that he is soon going to be unemployed, the steward makes sure he is not going to be without friends who will put a roof over his head when he no longer has a roof of his own. “You too,” Jesus is saying, “should be acting now in a way that will guarantee you a warm reception in the life hereafter”.
Jesus does quite a lot of “carrot-dangling” in the gospels, and that makes me and most other Christians I know quite uncomfortable. I feel that, as the old prayer puts it, it is my job “to labour and to look for no reward save that of knowing that I do God’s will”; but Jesus will have none of it. He constantly encourages his followers to keep one eye on the “reward” that awaits those who do God’s will and he openly holds it out as an incentive (Matthew 5.12; 6.1, 4, 6, 18; 10.41-42; 16.27).
So here, Jesus encourages his followers … encourages me … to use my money now in a way that will build friendship for eternity. This passage is not, of course, about salvation by works. Jesus is nowhere suggesting that, by giving to the poor and needy of this world, I can buy my way into kingdom come. But he is saying that the way I use my money here will impact on my life in his kingdom; and that’s an intriguing thought that I’ve never picked up on until today. Imagine — that when I write out a cheque to Tear Fund or World Vision or Mercy Ships, I am actually making friends who, though I may never meet them on earth, will one day greet me in heaven and be part of my particular “circle” there and in the world to come!
Lord Jesus, thank you for the reminder that the way I use my money today has consequences in your great tomorrow. Amen.