No matter how many times I read the story of “the Unjust Steward” or “the Dishonest Manager” in Luke 16:1-13, it always resembles a tangled fishing line or knotted thread. The manager acts in a way that seems unjust and bad business for the landowner and Master. Yet, in the end the Steward gets a pat on the back (although he still gets fired). Lastly, after telling the story, Jesus commends his actions. As I pulled and tugged at this knotted passage, it revealed to me some insight into both money and belongings and people and relationships. As we reflect on this passage together today, I hope it gives us some insight in these two very important parts of our lives as we journey to God’s Kingdom.
First off, I realize that just talking about money in church can make some of us uncomfortable. We are OK talking about relationships in church, you know, like loving God and loving your neighbour, being compassionate with others. But, talking money in church seems to be another story. Many people see the church as a money hungry place, always needing money and always passing the plate. I am sort of glad that this reading wasn’t next week on “Back To Church Sunday” for just that reason, but it is undeniable that money is an important and unavoidable part of our lives, in church and in our relationship with God.
I want you to step back from 60 Guelph St, for a minute and I want you to think about the whole of Guelph street, this street that the church is on. It’s a busy street with many of our community’s businesses located on it. Let’s think about some of them. You can’t get gas or a bag of chips from the any of the gas stations without paying for them. You can’t get a burger from Harvey’s, or a coffee at Tim Horton’s without paying your money first. You can’t get a new winter coat from a shop in Market Place with out paying for it. You couldn’t even drive down the road safely if it wasn’t for the tax money that paid for it, and we know where that tax money comes from. There is not one house that you pass on this street that wasn’t paid for with money. Not one light bulb that isn’t connected to electricity bill. You won’t see a stitch of clothing on a single person that didn’t cost somebody something. In our consumer world, everything has a price tag and a monetary value to it. And in our consumer world taking something that isn’t yours without paying for it is wrong. And if we had have taken something and used it we would be, in the terms of this parable, using “dishonest wealth”. This is what seems to be happening with the Unjust Steward in our scripture passage today.
So, why does Jesus approve of the Unjust Steward? Well first and foremost, Jesus isn’t talking about business. Every parable of Jesus is about the Kingdom of God. He sets his parables in real world settings and circumstances, like a farmers field, or in the landowner and tenant or master and slave relationship, but his parables always turn things upside down; Mustard seeds move mountains or a poor widows penny is more important than a rich person’s fortune. So what is Jesus saying about the Kingdom with this story? When Jesus says to us, “if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” Jesus is challenging us to be faithful with that what he also call “dishonest wealth” in the next verse. Well, from Jesus perspective, creation belongs to God and God has given it to us, entrusted it to us, or as we often say in church-land, to be good stewards of creation. Even though you and I might say, yes God is the creator of all things, it is funny how we still have have trouble making it part of our everyday thinking that everything, in fact, belongs to to God. That would turn things on it ear on Guelph St. wouldn’t it? Sometimes for us, we even have a hard time getting our head around the idea what was given to us by our parents, even if all you got was your birth and many of us received for free much, much, more from them, yet we would still say that what we have, even our life, belonged to us.
In the light of this parable and teaching about the Kingdom, Jesus is lumping pretty much everything we have into the category of “dishonest wealth” that he then challenges us to be faithful with. I am sure that there isn’t one of us too comfortable with being associated with “dishonest wealth”. But, stay with me here for a minute, because when we think about it this way then Jesus’ approval of the unjust steward, actually makes sense. When Jesus says, “If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” it then makes sense that the true riches being offered to us is in fact the ultimate prize for a Christian, nothing less than a place in the Kingdom of God.
Here at St. George’s we try to act like we are already part of the Kingdom. It’s not easy, and sometimes it doesn’t make sense from the outside and consumer world we live in. But as soon as you cross the sidewalk and walk on to the property here at 60 Guelph St. you have entered a place that is trying to be different, trying to be faithful with it’s “dishonest wealth.” Even though my great grandmother’s great grand parents helped to build this church, that does not give me the right to call it mine. In fact, every financial supporter of this church gives their gift to God, and not to the warden’s or any church leader, it belongs to God. So, when we, as a church, use that money, we are following Jesus instruction to be faithful with what doesn’t belong to us, but belongs to God. It’s twisted, isn’t it?
The second important part of the parable, next to money and dishonest wealth, is people and relationships. The “being faithful” part of the story, the part that actually earns the unjust steward praise, is that he uses what he has to build of relationships. The unjust steward, who would soon be without means, was now using what he had been entrusted with to build a community people that might actually care for him rather than used his dishonest wealth for purely selfish gain. The message for us and for the church is that we should be looking out for each other and building relationships that will allow us to make a difference in each others lives when we need it most, even when we don’t have a penny to pay. This is why in trying to be a Christian community of followers, St. George’s does it differently than any business on this busy street. There will never be a price tag for you to sit in a pew in this church, worship God and receive communion. Sunday School and nursery will never cost you a penny to use it. If you are shut in, we will visit you and bring you communion. If you are in any trouble and you call us, we will visit you and offer comfort. If you are sick, we will be there to visit and pray with you. If you are searching for answers, we will do our best to help you answer them. Of course, it still costs money to run any building. The lights in this room and the fans you feel circulating the air around you are connected to an electricity bill just like every other building you see on this street. We have salaries to pay, supplies to buy and this property to maintain like everybody else. But by doing our “business” in this way we are trying to be faithful with our “dishonest wealth.”
The Kingdom that Jesus proclaims reminds us that nothing belongs to us, that everything we have comes from God, and therefore it is, technically as the parable describes it, “dishonest wealth”. God wants us to use it faithfully, that’s why in the parable the landowner and Master doesn’t just fire him on the spot, but give the person who he knows is squandering his property the chance to settle up the accounts. When Jesus says, in the last line of our reading today, that you cannot serve God and wealth, he is making it clear what is important and which comes first. And that our wealth should be used by us as a vehicle to loving others and not as an ends in itself. The challenge then before us, both as a church and as individuals, is to use faithfully the blessings and resources that we each have been given and are at our reach for bring closer of God’s Kingdom.