OUR BIBLE study for the Eighteenth Sunday of Pentecost comes to us from the Gospel According to Saint Luke. The text contrasts doings in the realms of the sinful in this world, and those of the kingdom of God…
He (Jesus) also said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a steward, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. And he called him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.'
And the steward said to himself, 'What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that people may receive me into their houses when I am put out of the stewardship.'
So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' He said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.'
Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' He said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.'
The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness; for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.
"He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches?
And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's who will give you that which is your own?
No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they scoffed at him. But he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:1-15)
Who? When? What? Where? When?
The gospel for this week comes nested between the parable of the Prodigal Son and the telling about the heavenly residence of the servant Lazarus. Nested so amid the lessons given along the road to Jerusalem and the cross, the gospel illustrates further the differing character of “two sons”. The Prodigal parable is summed by the ending..
And he said to him (the elder brother) , 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'" (Luke 15:31-32)
Thus ended the Prodigal story addressed to “tax collectors and sinners and all drawing near to hear…” and then in Luke set the stage for this parable which was spoken primarily to Jesus' disciples. Thus the instructional time is now focused intently. It is meant today for we, the called and baptized of the church. The Lord relates a prophecy of future, yet foreseeable events for two classifications of persons.
In this parable, a rich man has a servant who is not producing the results appointed. The servant, about to be cast from employment, shrewdly acts to ensure his own rest with dishonest, but grateful creditors. Thus his crime gains many accessory personalities in those who would falsify documents. Finally, instead of being prosecuted and punished, the servant earns reward from his employer in that he was clever and should be embraced in eternal reward. We note here, however, that the final destination described for the servant’s efforts does not necessarily indicate the gang will locate in a heavenly realm, but simply be long lastingly together in a tent or habitation where all shall be gathered.
The illustration to the disciples who are gathered with Jesus, the churches of Luke, and also those who come after them, hinges on their decision to whom they should be counted. Do we serve as faithful servants to our own accrual of wealth, or to God?. To which do we look for our salvation? Shall we join a great collective of the lost habitation, or shall we be gathered as the saints of God. We may rightly ask then, “To whom shall we be faithful?”
Finally, those who eavesdropped upon the conversation objected to the dismissal of those who would be “seeking a fat portfolio” as personal security. In answer, Jesus tells them…
"You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
Therefore we of the church learn the priority of faith and wealth becomes put in its proper place in kingdom hierarchy. For the parable has reminded us of the Law. Within the first commandment given by God to the nation Israel gathered, stands our first instruction…
“And God spoke all these words, saying, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:1-6)
Let us be reminded that a god in not necessarily alive in the way that we define “life” today, but may take on a life of its own that we may give it. As in the days of Luke’s community wherein keeping “kosher” may take precedence over being “kind”, this may be accomplished in many and subtle ways. This may occur to any of either high or low station. As illustration I offer the content of a story written by me to those working in one of my earlier trades…
Read and enjoy! Thanks be to Father Son and Holy Spirit.