You’ve seen the button: “WWJD?,” “What Would Jesus Do?” Today’s parable in the Gospel (Luke 16: 1-13) deserves its own button: “WWJS?,” “What Was Jesus Saying?”
The parable that Jesus tells says, “The master commended the dishonest steward for acting prudently” (Like 16:8).
Here is a thief who is working for a master and he gets caught. So he figures out a strategy to make some friends to make sure he is taken care of after he is fired. Then the master commends him for being prudent.
This is a very, very strange idea that comes into the Gospel. People hearing this wonder: Is it okay to skim a little? Is it all right in Jesus’ eyes to care of yourself, to feather your own nest, and then whatever the master gets – he gets? You’ve got to look out for yourself. That’s the gist of the story. But why would Jesus tell a story like that?
Do take notice that the master commends the dishonest servant, but he doesn’t commend him for his dishonesty. He commends him for being shrewd and prudent.
We have to realize who the parable is about. The parable is about a rogue. Rogues are interesting characters, like Robin Hood. A Rogue is someone who is a little outside the law. A rogue is always skirting around so that he comes out on top.
When Jesus tells us a story about a rogue, we ask, “But aren’t we against rogues?” Yes and no, I guess. Rogues are a lot more comic than tragic people. There are usually a lot of twists and turns in the life of a rogue.
In some ways, the opera singer, Luciano Pavarotti, was a bit of a rogue. He was blessed with incredible talent for singing as well as an incredible appetite. A friend of mine knew him well and said that he devoured bowl after bowl of seaweed soup. Pavarotti often bowed out of an opera or cancelled a concert at the last minute. If you bought a $200 ticket to see him and he cancelled, you no doubt would have considered him a rogue.
So why does Jesus tell us a story about a rogue? Because Jesus saw life as more comic than tragic. He knew that there’s a lot of twists and turns in life, but in the end, things turn out all right. In the end, life is not just a sealed-up tomb or a grave with everybody standing there crying. No, there is a New Life, a Final Laugh, a Resurrection, a Happy Time where everyone is praising the Lord.
That’s the kind of understanding Jesus has about life. There are lots of twists and turns in life. There are plenty of injustices. And lots of things don’t seem to have an explanation. But in the end, things work out.
So Jesus tells a story about a rogue who has a master. The rogue takes advantage of the master. But the master can say, “He robbed me, but he took care of himself. That’s how it is.” And he gives the rogue a compliment.
Jesus’ final words in today’s Gospel are a real kicker. And we’ve heard them a million times: “You cannot serve God and riches.”
It is interesting to note that the sin Jesus talks about the most in the four Gospels is greed or avarice. Why? Because greed keeps us from knowing ourselves. All of our energy and time gets spent in acquiring things. Greed takes the things we want and turns them into needs.
Luxuries become necessities. “I have to have a big screen TV!” We may not want to admit it, but more and more we start measuring ourselves by what we have. We easily become a dream for advertisers and marketeers.
Today’s world does not allow us the time to find out that we are more than shoppers and consumers. We now shop with our computers, tablets and smart phones. Yet our Christian faith tells us that we are so much more than what we possess.
Jesus also says that we cannot serve both God and riches because God and greed destroy the only thing in life that matters – relationships. No corporate title can replace the times when your child or grandchild leans his or her head on your chest and falls asleep. Time spent with children, family and friends is not a distraction from the Mail Event. It is the Main Event!
Twenty years ago I was on a national book tour with a book I had written for Warner Books. When I was riding in the car in Cleveland with my media guide, I learned that Martha Stewart had been sitting in that same car with her entourage the week before. My media guide said that everyone had been talking about the people they were going to spend Thanksgiving with.
Then there was silence as everyone in the car looked at Martha Stewart. “I’ll be spending Thanksgiving alone,” she said to break the silence. The woman so famous for decorating our homes for the Holidays was herself going to be alone for Thanksgiving.