St. Augustine of Hippo


Episcopal Church

 


Faithful In A Very Little

by

The Rev. Dr. Nathanael Saint-Pierre


(Luke 16:1-13)


September 18, 2022


I have studied, but I need your strength I have prepared, but I need your power,

I’m willing and I want to, but only you can make me able

Silently now I wait for thee, ready my God thy will to see 

Open mine eyes and illumine me. Spirit divine


Beloveds, have you ever been asked for a loan and provided it with all your heart and goodwill, to finally be disappointed because the person you tried to help did not deserve your trust? Have you ever been reflecting on what God entrusted in you, and found out that God was disappointed in the way you used the trust placed in you? Can such people and we be trusted?


Jesus told his disciples: “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. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No 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.”


What were the corruptive systems at play during Jesus’ lifespan? Was Jesus telling the disciples that being wealthy was bad? What are the corruptive systems at play in our era? Is Jesus telling us that being wealthy is bad? What was Jesus trying to convey to the disciples about trust and integrity? What is Jesus’ word conveying to our world today?


When we hear the story of the dishonest manager, we can’t help but ask what Jesus was trying to achieve by telling that story. Why would Jesus give as an example a man who is calculative, lazy, and manipulative? The fact is that in this parable the characters are all wicked—the steward and the man whose possessions he manages are both no-good characters. This should alert us to the fact that Jesus is not exhorting the disciples to emulate the behavior of the characters but is trying to expound on a larger principle.


A steward is a person who manages the resources of another. The steward had authority over all of the master’s resources and could transact business in his name. This requires the utmost level of trust in the steward. Now, it may not be apparent at this point in the parable (but is made more evident later on), but the master was probably not aware that the steward was a rascal. The steward was being released for apparent mismanagement, not fraud. This explains why he was able to conduct a few more transactions before he was released and why he was not immediately tossed out on the street or executed. The steward, realizing that he would soon be without a job, made some shrewd deals behind his master’s back by reducing the debt owed by several of the master’s debtors in exchange for shelter when he would be eventually put out. When the master became aware of what the wicked servant had done, he commended him for his “shrewdness.” But can such people be trusted with little? Would you trust someone like him?


Although the majority of the population of the world is living in abject poverty, today the world is a place where wealth matters. The system has morphed but has not changed. To be rich is to be distinct, to move away from the lot, and leave the general to become particular/special. People believe that they should do what it takes to become rich, members of a select group. We are all dreaming of winning the lottery, or of making a lot of money so fast, that we will change our precarity into an overflow of wealth. Intelligence is often understood as our ability to act like the manager of this story: play with the system, corrupt people, if we are bright enough, the system will not catch us. That is why we are abused by people like Bernie Madoff or Eddy Alexandre, people who make us believe they can fool the system. They introduce themselves to us as saviors. We give them the economy of our life under a promise of lucrative return. That is also why people, in a position of authority (ordained and lays), hungry for power and money, forget their calling to be the moral compass of the world. They get involved in weapons trafficking or money laundering. For them, it is better to be wealthy dishonestly than to live honestly and respectfully in poverty. Can such people be trusted with little? Would you trust people who prey on people’s weaknesses to thrive?


The principle that Jesus is trying to convey is one of a just steward rather than an unjust one. The unjust steward saw his master’s resources as a means for his own personal enjoyment and advancement. Conversely, Jesus wants his followers to be just and righteous stewards. The term unrighteous (or worldly) wealth seems to strike readers the wrong way. But Jesus is not saying that believers should gain wealth unrighteously and then be generous with it. “Unrighteous” in reference to wealth can refer to

1.the means of acquiring wealth,

2.the way in which one desires to use the wealth, or

3.the corrupting influence wealth that often leads people to commit unrighteous acts.

Given the way in which Jesus employs the term, the third explanation seems the most likely. Wealth is not inherently evil, but the love of money can lead to all sorts of sins (1 Timothy 6:10). How we manage to accumulate our wealth matters. Followers of Jesus are not destined to be poor. But they are not to use dishonest and deceptive methods to access power.


If we understand the principle that everything we possess is a gift from God, then we realize that God is the owner of everything and that we are His stewards. As such, we are to use the master’s resources to further the master’s goals. In this specific case, we are to be generous with our wealth and use it for the benefit of others.  The final verse is clear, even if the intricacies of life’s choices are not. Devotion to God, and faithfulness in stewarding God’s gifts, is the priority for a follower of Jesus. But it is never easy in a world full of negotiation, where wealth demands our loyalty. Recognition of this challenge drives us again to our need for Christ to reconcile us to God and to one another and the response of mercy and forgiveness at the heart of the Gospel. Jesus teaches us that, all the money in the world cannot replace friendship. Let me quote here The Right Reverend Mary Glasspool, Bishop Assistant of the Diocese of New York, from her unofficial letter Volume VII, Number 12. She wrote: “We do not bring the world's standards into the church and simply copy them. There is too much of that already in some churches. But we learn from the world and use the power of Christ to enable us to follow God's will in using these contemporary resources.”


Jesus helps us to understand God’s love for humans. God does not request us to do something in order for God to love us in return. God’s love is not transactional; it is unconditional. God’s love is moving forward and not always looking at our past in order to question the least of our actions. But God’s love is holding us accountable. It is only by gratitude that we are willing to walk behind Jesus, undeserving, but trying to be worthy of trust in little, trying to be accountable. 


The climax of Jesus’ application is verse 13: “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 money” (see also Matthew 6:24). If God is our master, then our wealth will be at God’s disposal. In other words, the faithful and just steward whose master is God will employ that wealth in building up the kingdom of God.


Beloveds, the God we are worshiping, the God who is our master, lives in each of us. God is not asking us to be smart or clever or sneaky like the manager of the story. Let’s try harder not to disappoint one another. Let’s try harder to deserve the trust of one another. Let’s try harder to stand together against oppressive systems. They strip humans of their dignity which is not up for sale, no matter how wealthy we become. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.