My son, Averil who is 17 and I have been talking a lot about what he wants to study in college and what he wants to do when he finishes. He has decided that he wants to go into the financial industry. He wants to understand the stock market and figure out how the economy works. He wants to make money.
A few months ago, he said to me, “Mom, you know you and I have very different values.” I was a bit taken aback and of course asked, “what do you mean?” Averil said, “Well, I believe in making money and you don’t.” Of course, I followed up—“It’s not that I don’t believe in making money. It’s just that I’m not very good at it.”
I don’t know if Averil has heard preaching on this parable (it’s likely he has at some point), or how it was that he came to that sense of my values, but I think that Averil’s articulation of the problem we have with this parable is right on. It might seem that Jesus is criticizing the people who have money and the people who make money. One simple reading of this parable is that Jesus is showing his disciples how the manager who is making money as a debt collector is dishonest and a sinner. If we read this passage that way, then it seems that there are bad guys and good guys. The good guys are the poor—the ones who owe money, and the bad guys are the rich. We might come away from our reading with the sense that money is inherently sinful; that wealth is always gotten by dishonest means.
But Averil is right to reject this reading. (And he was wrong in thinking that I hold this black and white view). Money is not inherently sinful. And I don’t think that this is what Jesus is trying to teach his disciples through this parable. Instead of focusing on the sinfulness of the manager, let’s remember that the manager is redeemed in the end. The master commends the dishonest manager saying, “you have acted shrewdly”. If the master (the one who has the wealth to loan) is God in this story, then God is commending the sinner for using his wealth to build relationships.
Jesus says to his disciples, “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.” I think that the core message of the parable is to “share”.
But to get to this understanding of the parable, we have to look carefully at that phrase “dishonest wealth” --μαμωνᾶ τῆς ἀδικίας. Mamona tes adikias. Mamona is wealth, but it has a more general meaning that money-its about bounty, all things that are of value. The modifier—tes adikias here is translated “dishonest” which could mean money that is stolen (gotten by dishonest means), or it could mean that money is inherently dishonest (all money is evil), or it could mean money that has a tendency to create dishonesty (money that is used for power and oppression of others). I think I favor the last meaning. Other translations use the word “injustice” instead of “dishonest”. This reading that the money is not itself bad, but has a tendency to be used in bad ways, is the only reading that explains adequately why the master is commending the manager for giving it away and reducing the debts.
This manager is dismissed, he loses his job because he has not been carefully managing the wealth that he was entrusted with. We can see that the manager, like us, has been given stewardship over God’s bounty—including money. God says, “give me an accounting” and then hands him his pink slip. The manager is panicked. He realizes that he’s not going to have anything. He has put his trust in the wealth of this world, now he’s not going to have access to the wealth, he’s not going to have a job. Who’s going to look after him.
At this point, the shrewd manager develops a plan. He’s going to forgive the debts, so that when he’s lost everything, the debtors will look after him. Now why isn’t the master even more angry if the manager is giving away his money? Biblical scholars have many explanations—maybe the master is being sarcastic when he commends him for forgiving the debts. Or maybe the master (God) is so, so rich, that giving away some of his debt is insignificant or it’s consistent with his values, so he doesn’t mind that the manager has given it away. Or maybe the portion that manager gives away would have been his commission. So maybe the master is getting just what is expected, but the manager is giving away his own portion. I like this last interpretation. But whichever way we read it—what is clear is that Jesus tells the parable to show what God wants us to do. Use what you have been given to build relationships—because this is what will endure. You can’t serve two masters—you have to choose God or wealth. Serving God is giving away your wealth to others. Hoarding will never work. Squandering money on stuff will never work. When you give it away, then you are building up welcome into “eternal homes”. This is what it means to work towards God’s economy. God’s economy is built on relationships, it is built on a sense of welcome and reciprocity.
Mamona is meant to be shared for the good of everyone. Instead of using money to create hierarchy and hold the borrowers in one place and the money managers in a different class, let’s break down those oppressive structures and build real relationships with people.
Jesus is trying to show his disciples this lesson. The manager is a sinner (but we know that Jesus is always sitting down with the sinners—the tax collectors, the prostitutes) Jesus is telling the disciples that they can learn from the sinner. The disciples (referred to as the children of light), can learn from the children of this age (the money managers) and see that God’s gifts are to be shared with the poor because it is the fellowship that matters more than the money.
And so I come back to Averil’s question about values. Making money is not the problem, it’s about squandering or hoarding, Mismanagement is what we have to reject. Money is a potential source of injustice. But it can be used for what matters most—building up relationships. Sharing is the shrewd way, it is the way to building up the Kingdom.
And so I invite us to share here tonight. In a moment we will share the peace—greeting one another as brothers and sisters, acknowledging God’s peace in our midst and holding that for one another. We’ll join together in Holy Communion—sharing bread and wine. As we share this holy feast, let us have that sense of God’s gift being shared between us, enough food for all people everywhere. When we break one bread and eat it together, we are making relationships--opening up for one another God’s Way. In our 5 p.m. service today, we are sharing between the Episcopal Churches of Marin—not living as communities with differences and hierarchies—but acknowledging our interdependence and the wealth the “mamona” that we share.
Whether we come with a lot of money or a little in our pockets. Whether we are borrowers or people who have lots of money in the bank, let our prayer be for sharing. When we act faithfully with whatever we have, we are building up God’s promise of eternal life in Him.