Why did Jesus praise a crook?

Ever heard anyone say it’s easy to be a Christian? I have. Many times, in the 40 plus years I’ve tried “to follow Christ.” I’ve never found it easy.

What makes a Christ-follower (“disciple”) different from non-disciples? If your answer is “a disciple is confident her sins are forgiven and she’ll go to heaven when she dies,” my response is, “That’s not enough.”

There are many differences between disciples and non-disciples.

The most important difference is that the petrol in a disciple’s engine is the belief that Jesus is God, that He died and rose again, and that doing what pleases Him is more important than doing what pleases others.

There are many other differences. But here I’ll focus on friendship with others. Why? Because Luke 16:1-13, “The Parable of the Dishonest Manager” is one of tomorrow’s lectionary readings.

Being on good terms with others, the people we interact with regularly, “our neighbours,” is job #1 for a disciple, “the first thing he must do, every time.”

Jesus once summarized the God-pleasing life, a life of obedience to the commands of God, by reference to neighbours (Matthew 22:37-40):

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

Most people cannot explain the parable of the dishonest manager. I’ll put it very simply:

A rich man employs a manager to operate his business. He gets reports that the manager is mismanaging his wealth. He responds by telling the manager he’s going to audit the accounts, and in the meantime, the manager must go on leave. The manager gets alarmed. He knows he won’t be able to survive without friends. So, he “makes friends quickly.” He quickly calls in the debtors of the business. He tells them to quickly reduce the amounts they owe the business. Clearly what he’s doing is wrong, he’s cheating the owner, the rich man. However, Jesus praises the manager.

What’s the point of the story? The book “Stories with Intent,” by Klyne Snodgrass, is the premier study of the parables. It says this parable is “notoriously difficult;” that there are “a bewildering number” of interpretations;” that many of the interpretations are “curious.”

You don’t have the patience, and I don’t have the space to cover those interpretations. I’ll just cut to the chase.

I agree with Snodgrass that what Jesus praises is not the dishonesty of the manager, but the urgency with which the manager acted.

The manager acted in accordance with the norms of the kingdom of the world to use riches to make friends. Our participation in the Kingdom of God “which is here but not yet,” should similarly urge us to make job #1 the gaining and using of riches to make friends. Snodgrass puts it well:

The parable conveys the urgency that was present in Jesus’ ministry. … it compels reflection concerning what wise, kingdom-conditioned use of possessions means. … churches and individuals rarely actually discuss or hold the community accountable for responsible, kingdom-driven decisions regarding possessions. Such discussions would lead to the reduction of hoarding and consumerism, change how we view and attain security, enable various ministries, and relieve the plight of the poor.

What is my job #1? What is your job #1? What is our job #1, as a church and as citizens of our nation, of the world and of heaven?

How does our stewardship of money – the way in which we expend our wealth – reflect our character as children of light (verse 8)?

Never forget this question Jesus put to the disciples (Luke 6:46):

Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?

It’s not easy to be different from our neighbours, while seeking their good and their friendship. How can it be easy to be a Christian?

NOTE: The unsanitized version of the Luther quote (it’s actually in “Luther’s Table Talk”) in the image is “our Lord God generally gives riches to crude asses to whom he doesn’t give anything else.”

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