A Lesson From a Crook
When I looked at Today’s Gospel lesson, about a a week ago, I said to myself, “Oh, it’s that one!” I’ve got to admit that I have trouble with it. Through the centuries preachers have wrung their hands over it because of it’s difficulty. I was really tempted to preach from Amos or maybe Timothy, that would have been easier, However this lesson would still be read in today’s service. It would land with a thud on your ears as well. Ignoring it would not be helpful to you. And, besides all scripture is inspired by God. We dare not ignore the portions that trouble us. We should rather seek to understand them.
So why is it so hard? Well We have a rich man who calls one of his managers on the carpet because he was caught cheating. The rich man fires him, and demands to see the ledger books. The dishonest manager now goes into full crises mode. Saying to himself, “The Jig is up, what am I going to do? I don’t want to become a beggar of the street, I don’t have the body to be a digger?” And then it occurred to him…..for the moment he still had possession of the books….he could use that. He went to visit some of those people who owed his master and together with them he conspired to alter the books …. so their debts would be reduced AND they would be highly appreciative….so they would welcome him into their homes out of gratitude. Well, Somehow the Master found out about it, and here’s the twist: He commended this unethical scoundrel! praised him for his shrewdness. And Jesus closes the parable by saying “the sons of the world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” We Christians are the sons of the light.
What is Jesus’ intended take-away from this? Crooks are smarter than Christians? See what I mean about this text? But, even though we may find the dishonest manager to be rather loathsome and worthy of jail time, lets set that aside and see if we can learn something from him. We can do this with full confidence in that fact the God can use all things for our good and apparently even this unethical character in this parable.
So what can we learn from him? I think we can learn from his single-mindedness. The dishonest manager knew exactly what he wanted. He was about to lose his job and he wanted security, he wanted to be sure that he had a place to live after he was fired. The idea of being out on the streets was abhorrent to him. He needed a place to go. That was his objective He was focused on that. His goal was clear and he expended all of his attention and energy to ensure that it would be so.
How about us Christians, are we singleminded like this fellow? Or do we get sidetracked by things that will be of no importance to us. We spend so much of our energy on things that do not matter, things we cannot take with us, things that moth and rust will ultimately destroy. And sometimes, in the quest for these things, we lose sight of our goal which is to have a place to live after our lives end.
That’s what God has promised us in his Son. He has promised us life ever-lasting by grace through faith in Christ Jesus; there’s nothing more important than that. The games we win in whatever league we play, the gimcracks and knick knacks we collect, the money we accumulate and save all will cease to be ours and lose importance to us at the moment we cease to breath and begin to assume room temperature. And what often happens is folks will kind of ignore their relationship with God as they seek to gather and collect the things of this world. They get distracted and neglect the most important relationship they have which is their relationship to God through Jesus Christ.
Parents, you have perhaps noticed what I have noticed. When I was young and unmarried, I didn’t have much time for family. But as I got married and started having children, I changed. I changed a lot. I used to think that life was about having fun and experiencing new things…and in some ways that is true when you are young, your still exploring and subbing the earth. But I now see that family is way way more important than I thought it was. My wife is important, My children are important. My Mom and my sister are important. And I’m sure also, Lord willing, my grandchildren will be super important. One should never ignore his family.
But I have, met people who have have done exactly that. They ignored their family and consistently chose other things over the family. “The family will always be there!” They thought as they went out and lived only for themselves. But then they get old; they long for family. But their family want’s nothing to do with them. They feel empty and angry at themselves when they come to realize what they’ve wasted. Or if they don’t realize they simply blame everybody else and grow bitter. These are the people whose family never visit them; they die alone and are buried by the state.
As it turns out, this is the same course that people will often take when it comes to their all important relationship with God. They consistently have other things to do than give him their time. The world is so full wealth and power and fame and and alluring aspirations that we put on the shelf…. “God will be alright…. he’ll always be there for me.” But your relationship with God is like a relationship with any other. When He is consistently passed over for other more interesting stuff, things begin to cool off. Until one day, you’ll look around and you’ll say “Where’s God, Does he care for me? ” Or worse yet, you will be so so far removed from him in heart and mind that you assume he hates you and you begin to blame him for the evil that now besets your life.
But here’s the deal. God hates nobody. In Scripture he said “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, rather I want the wicked to turn from his ways and live.” (Ezekiel 18:23) If you are alive, God has been merciful to you and you still have time to turn to him….which is what he wants. What he’s always wanted. And the way back to him has always been through his Son who died for our sins. He heals our relationship with God by forging our sins. He can restore anyone.
Better though, not to drift away. Better to be single-minded in your relationship with God. Better to habituate to the places where he has said you may find him. The Word in the fellowship of believers. Paul the Apostle visualized his life of faith as a foot race. He writes: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control.” (1Cor. 9:24-27)
Single mindedness we can learn that from an athlete, and as we have seen, we can also learn it from a crook. AMEN