Master

A man learns that he will lose his job for ‘squandering his master’s property’.  Knowing he has few options, he embarks on a campaign of deceit – cheating his master and earning favour with his master’s customers; deals are made, discounts appear out of nothing, and lo and behold, the master praises the servant for ‘acting shrewdly’…Faithful can mean many things, you see – and if you are faithful to a pattern of shady business practices, that is apparently praiseworthy (in certain circles).  The ‘moral of the story’ can be confusing – “…if then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust you with the true riches…” – until finally, Jesus cuts through the confusion with the bumper-sticker statement of the day: You cannot serve God and wealth.

Simple, right?  Yet this is not a call to poverty, either.  Jesus didn’t want to drive us all into the desert, where we would not be tempted by the flash and dazzle of successful people.  He walked among the rich and poor – his vision included all God’s people – and he could see how difficult it is to choose between economic success and the security offered by God’s covenant promise.  Even in his day, the lines were blurred.

Because cash is king.  Nothing happens without money changing hands – that is how the world has worked for thousands of years.  And the result of this otherwise simple economic reality is the so-called ‘golden rule’:  The one who has the gold, makes the rules.  So the crooked manager is playing according to the rules that he knows – following the most effective pattern to success…and Jesus offers an alternative.

Jesus’ mission is to bring another reality to light – the reality of God’s mercy, grace and love; the “Kingdom” of God.  Not an ‘end of time’ alternative, but something that we might experience here and now with a change in attitude, a different focus, and a proper reverence for the wonder and mystery of both Creation and the Creator.

So to the crowds and his disciples, Jesus offers many examples – in parable form – of how our focus has been shifted away from the things of God.  And the message is clear; you cannot serve God and wealth.  You can’t have your cake and eat it too.  You don’t get to worship worldly success and the Creator of the universe.  And yet, here we are, in a time of unprecedented wealth – unbridled capitalism – and unimaginable opportunity.  In North America, at least, the church has been the beneficiary of the ‘success’ of capitalism…and also its primary victim; because enough is never enough, is it.

When times were promising, and possibilities endless, churches grew without counting the cost.  congregations seemed to flourish, and that gave us an appetite for more.  We wanted (and thought God wanted) a church on every corner – and in some places that dream became a reality.  But what God wants is devotion in every heart, and that comes with a different price tag.  We thought our buildings and our programs were the key to success, and we pour money into both.  Now we do need places to gather, and it is wise to have plans in place once we have gathered; to teach, to encourage, to praise and to pray – but it is too easy to slip off the edge; to forget whom we serve.  The building or the program – the status as a “happening place” – can quickly become our master.  The world approves – the world understands success that can be seen and measured in buildings or bank balances – but that is not the pattern we were called to follow.

Money cannot become the thing that defines success for God’s people – for Christ’s church!  It threatens to do just that, because cash is still king, and the bills must be paid.  But I say this as one who has turned my passion for God into my vocation – my livelihood; the money doesn’t matter.  Mercy, mission, grace and generosity – the marks of the church and the habits of those who would follow Jesus – these are the signs of true wealth, independent of our seemingly constant concerns about money.  The call of Jesus to follow him was a call, not to poverty, but a different kind of treasure.

We have been invited to share the treasure of God’s love – and to do that with our worldly wealth or in spite of it.  Jesus life – spent trusting in the goodness of God and the hospitality of his fellow travellers – might have ended in failure by the measure of the world; a short trial, a grisly death and an unmarked grave.  But the fullness of the story includes resurrection – the gift of new life, new hope, new possibilities – things that money cannot buy.

Because we are ‘in the world’ we will always struggle to find our way.  but we must remember that because of that resurrection mystery – because we are not ‘of the world’ – because of the love of God in Jesus Christ, we need not be held captive to our fear of ‘failure’, nor should we confuse our priorities:  We serve God; our resources serve us.  The moral of Jesus’ parable restated – though it doesn’t look as good on a bumper sticker – stands as our invitation to imagine a way forward; a vision for those who long for the vision of God.

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