The Devil's Peak in the dusk, 2014, looking south from the Hawker Road.

Cold Hard Cash?

Week of Sunday September 22 - Pentecost 18
Gospel: Luke 16:1-13

Luke 16:1-26
Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” 3Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” 6He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.”7Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” 8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9And 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.

10 ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. 15So he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.

16 ‘The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force. 17But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped.

18 ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

19 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.* The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” 25But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” 

The Sermon Draft
"This steward," said Jesus, "was one shrewd operator. No morals, of course, and I wouldn't trust him half an inch, let alone turn my back on him. But I wish my followers— all you Christians— were as shrewd about spiritual things as he was about money."

What's he on about?

Well... the rich people lived in the city, and the stewards ran the farms for them. This particular rich man has heard his steward has been ripping him off, so he tells him to have the books ready for a visit. He's about to be sacked. So the steward cooks the books even more; he gets people to rewrite their invoices with massive discounts.  (In those days you wrote out your own invoice so that the person to whome you owed the money couldn't change it when you were gone. Your handwriting was your protection.)

So when the rich boss gets there he has a dilemma. He was going to sack the steward. But now, everyone in the district thinks the steward is wonderful, and generous, and upstanding and, get this... Godly! So the only way the rich man can sack him, without getting everyone offside, is by telling everyone the steward was dishonest. It's hard to know what would be worse;  sacking a kind and generous man, or admitting that your farms have been ripping people off with a dishonest manager for goodness knows how long!

And if the owner does bite the bullet and still sacks the bloke...? Well, everyone will be obligated to look after him, because he gave them huge discounts off their bills! Smart, ay?!

..so...

"This steward," said Jesus, "was one shrewd operator. No morals, of course, and I wouldn't trust him half an inch, let alone turn my back on him. But I wish my followers— all you Christians— were as shrewd about spiritual things as he was about money."

Why are we not spiritually shrewd, then... what's he saying?

Luke Chapter 16 is all about money and possessions. You can't serve God and mammon... God and money... God and possessions, Jesus said.

OK we get that. We agree. It's true.

Well... a lot of people didn't agree. The Pharisees heard what Jesus said and didn't just laugh; they ridiculed  him.  People just knew... that if you were rich it meant God had blessed you for your goodness, and that if you were poor, you deserved it. You had done God wrong, somewhere along the line.

And we still say this, even in churches. There is a whole heretical theology— prosperity teaching—  that says if you do what God wants you get rich! I'm not sure what happened to "take up your cross," and 'follow me...' !

So maybe we do understand "You cannot serve God and Mammon... but I'm not so sure... I wonder if we really do see... because we are so rich. We are rich beyond the dreams of the people with whom Jesus lived, and we might just be a bit blind to what this does to us.

There is some fascinating research that's been done on what happens to us when we are wealthy. And what is really scary... is that this stuff happens even when we just feel a bit richer!

You can see a couple of references in the text of the sermon. One is a short video that is easy to watch. (The video is at: http://www.upworthy.com/take-two-normal-people-add-money-to-just-one-of-them-and-watch-what-happens-next)

In California drivers are supposed to give way to pedestrians at Zebra crossings. 90% of drivers do—   people sit there and count this stuff—   except for rich drivers: people who drive luxury cars are 3 to four times less likely to stop for a pedestrian!

In a dice game where there was a $50.00 cash prize, rich people cheated 4 times as much as poor people, to make sure they won the prize!

A couple of researchers, Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner, have done 30 different experiments like this with thousands of people, and the evidence is clear. People with money are less compassionate, less law abiding, more likely to cheat and feel entitled.

Dr Kathleen Vohs took participants in her experiments through exercises which the subjects thought was the experiment, but which were just getting them ready for the real test. The exercises were designed to make them feel richer— money primed, she calls it— or poorer. (I suppose things like getting someone to talk about what they would do if they won the lottery as opposed to what they would do if they lost their job.) (http://nymag.com/news/features/money-brain-2012-7/)

Dr. Vohs—  I quote—  "got her result only after the ­subject believed the session was over. Heading for the door, he—  or she—  would bump into a person whose arms were piled ­precariously high with books and office supplies. That person... (who worked for [Dr] Vohs)... would drop 27 tiny yellow pencils, like those you get at a mini-golf course. Every subject in the study bent down to help pick up the mess. But the money-primed subjects picked up 15 percent fewer pencils than the control group.

In a conversation in her office ..., Vohs stressed that money-priming did not make her subjects malicious—just disinterested. “It’s not a bad analogy to think of them as a little autistic,” she said. “I don’t think they mean any harm, but picking up pencils... just isn’t their problem.”

Over and over, Vohs has found that money can make people antisocial. " (See http://nymag.com/news/features/money-brain-2012-7/index3.html fourth page of the article for this example)

Money is dangerous—  hugely dangerous. It makes us less compassionate. It's not that we are bad, as such, but it blunts our sensitivity to others. When we have more money we become selfish.

So...? How is this dangerous? Remember the story of Matthew 25.

In Matthew 25, those are blessed by the Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. (Matt 25:34)

Who are they, these ones that inherit the kingdom and end up with the sheep? They are the ones who are compassionate. There is nothing about doctrine, forgiveness, or being a Christian in that story and the point is that many of the sheep are not religious people.

In that story there is a heap of religious and spiritual people thinking they'll get to go to heaven and it turns out they.... are the goats; they're put with the goats, not the sheep. 

And they complain. "Why? Why have you put me here," they say to the king. "I deserve to be with the others!"

"Well... when I was hungry, and thirsty and sick and in prison," said the King, "you didn't look after me. Simple as that."

"Now hang on!" says the rich middle class Australian. "When did I ever.. see you...  hungry... or thirsty, or sick, or in prison?"

And the King says, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. Each time you walked past someone who was in need, and didn't help them, you ignored me. It was me you failed to help."

Rev. John Petty says, 

Was it Elie Wiesel who once said that if Hitler is saved it will be through the prayers of the people he killed?  Jesus' interpretation of the parable [of the cheating steward] alludes to a similar idea, which is that the opinion of the poor is taken into account.  Will the poor "welcome" you into the age to come, or will they say, "I never knew you"?

Treat the poor with generosity, in other words, and the poor will welcome you "into the eternal homes."  (http://www.progressiveinvolvement.com/progressive_involvement/2010/09/lectionary-blogging-luke-16-1-13.html)

- - -

"If you were shrewd like the steward," Jesus says, "you Christians would give away as much as you could to make sure you are welcomed into heaven." That's what he's saying in this text.

"If you were shrewd like the steward," Jesus says, "you Christians would give away as much as you could to make sure you are welcomed into heaven." 

You don't have to take this stuff literally to take the point, or hear the lesson. Excess money corrupts us. It needs to be used wisely, and with the utmost caution.

The more money we have, the less able we are to see what it is doing to us. Even imagining we are rich makes us feel more entitled and less compassionate.

A shrewd spiritual life is not about how much more I can get; it is not about how I can stay secure and safe; it is about how much less can I live with; how much more can I give away.

When the rich man comes to his senses—  the rich man in the second story, that is—  the one who used to walk past Lazarus lying on the footpath, it is too late. Abraham says to him, "... between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” 

It's only a story; it's not literal. But the truth is there; we can become so insensitive because of our riches that we cease to be human in some way; we cut ourselves of from others with a huge chasm—  look what we Australians do to refugees.

Don't look for Life in your money, or your possessions, or your status. These things do not give us Life. They get between us and God, and between us and life.  Amen

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!


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