Examining your heavenly holdings – Saturday, 31st Week in ordinary time – Luke 16: 9-15
The pericope of today flows from the text of yesterday. In presenting the parable of the ‘prodigal servant’ Jesus is asking his disciples to be as shrewd as the people of this world. We know that the ‘children of light’ (verse 8) refers to the disciples and verse 14 gives us an insight in to the who the children of this world are; namely those like the Pharisees, referred to in the text as “lovers of money.”
But more than that he is contrasting (as Luke does throughout the Gospel) the passion that people have for making money even by evil means as compared to the lack of passion that the children of light should have about the promotion of the Kingdom of God.
Today’s pericope continues with the teaching meant for the children of light. They are not only to be shrewd but they are called to be faithful. The parable highlights the infidelity of the unfaithful steward or manager and if there was any doubt in the listeners mind who heard yesterday’s text, that doubt has been mitigated with Jesus’ call to fidelity even in little things. The steward of yesterday’s passage surely was extremely unfaithful and dishonest.
Speaking tongue in cheek in verse nine and as a lesson to the children of light, Jesus exhorts those who have made great wealth via dishonest means to at least share it with the poor. This way, when life has been snuffed out, these poor will appeal to God for a place to be made in heaven for those on earth who helped them even with dishonest money. Even the dishonest know how to ‘invest’ in capital in the life to come.
Once again Jesus is not making a case for people to be dishonest but highlighting that if the children of this world work and think astutely then how much more should the children of light? Jesus had a deep concern for the poor. The society he lived in was extremely divided. Jesus saw this inequality as something against the message of the Kingdom of God. Wealth is given so we act as stewards, it is not our own. It has been entrusted to us by God to use wisely and to share.
Clearly, we must also understand that Jesus is not berating rich people simply for being rich. As I have said several times and as the Bible reiterates, it is the love of money that is the root of evil. In this text, that love of money is described as ‘dishonest wealth’. It is this dishonest wealth that ensnares us and traps us drawing us away from the love of God.
Categorically Jesus states that no slave can serve two masters he will hate one and love the other. In Luke’s Gospel the word hate is translated as ‘love less’. Jesus in another text asked us to hate father and mother. When rightly translated it means love father and mother less in order to love God more. Similarly, Jesus is not condemning money but clearly asking us to love it less or else we will never be able to love and serve him. It is in this context that he says, “you cannot love both God and wealth.”
It is for this reason that the Pharisees (verse 14) ridicule him, words that even nowadays generate ridicule. Scripture tells us in the very same verse that they (the Pharisees) were “lovers of money”. They who had devoted their lives to God were in reality devoted now to their wealth and hence had lost the right to be called “faithful” for they were not faithful to God to whom they had pledged their lives. The wealth they had prized was clearly an abomination in the eyes of God.
What is our take away?
Wealth, that tainted thing, can also be at the service of God if our perspective is right. A thief says, “What’s yours is mine—I’ll take it!” The selfish man says “What’s mine is mine I’ll keep it!” But the Christian must say “What’s mine is a gift from God—I’ll share it!”
“Wealth” can be understood literally, but it can also be given a metaphorical meaning. It can stand for anything that distracts us from the service of God; anything that may have become a substitute for God; anything that seduces us like a false and deceitful lover.