Why is money referred to as filthy lucre? Because we all sin, all money is tainted by sin of some kind. Is filthy lucre usable for heavenly purposes?
I want us to learn that filthy lucre can be used for heavenly purposes.
We will discuss a shrewd manager and his wise of use of filthy lucre.
Bonuses versus profits (vs. 1)
The background to Luke 16:1-13 may have been the story of an absentee landowner who bought land from debt-burdened farmers at rock bottom prices. The poor farmers then worked their former land, not as owners but as hired hands. The main part of the story centers around his manager who seems to have had a great amount of authority, perhaps while the absentee owner partied in town. He may have been more generous towards the tenant farmers than the owner would have liked and so was falsely accused of wasting the boss’s investment. Investors are often more focused on their return on investment rather than the economically oppressed. Being crucified for the sake of others is not a great theme in a greedy world. There are those rare business people who give generous consideration of the hard-working poor before profits.
Squandering versus investing (vs. 1-2)
One man’s investment is another man’s waste of money. In the business world of time and motion efficiency, human efficiency and quality of life are often ignored. Everyone is pressured to produce more with less cost. Truck drivers are forced to drive dangerously and fiddle the books. Quarterly earnings are fudged. Family life takes a back seat to profit. Staff breaks and lunch hours are timed to the minute and biological functions must fit in or be suppressed. Benefits and bonuses are cut to meet the bottom line while pay and work conditions are minimized. Under such burdensome circumstances, any manager with half a heart could be tempted to protect his staff from corporate bullying and run the risk of being falsely accused of squandering. Perhaps the manager in Luke 16:1-13 believed that generous giving was the best investment.
The manager who forgave debts (vs. 5-7)
In Luke 16:1-13 we read the story of a manager who made arrangements to forgive his boss’s debtors a large portion of their liabilities. Whether or not he overstepped his authority could be argued. He is certainly called dishonest or unrighteous. However, the boss then faced a dilemma. Ought he to tell the debtors that his manager did so without proper authority or ought he to accept their vociferous thank-yous, loud acclaims and his sudden popularity with former debtors? Whatever his motive may be the boss commends his manager for such shrewd action. The boss is perhaps a hero and the manager has secured future prospects. Maybe the manager was entirely unjust as he is often accused, or perhaps his motives are partly for the benefit of others as well. Even for purely selfish motives, forgiveness if good for all.
Worldly wisdom versus righteous foolishness (vs. 8)
In a world where praise is heaped upon those who have climbed over others to gain wealth and power, it hardly seems appropriate for Jesus to join the chorus. Yet, that is precisely what he seems to have done in Luke 16:1-13. Like smug, moralistic fools have Christians been overly much righteous and illogically averse to money? Have we become so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good? Rather than using a dirty system for good, have we avoided using it wisely at all, believing that keeps us clean? Have Christians actually shot themselves in the foot by running from the corrupt resources of this world, rather than using them for any possible good they can do? Has the church missed out by avoiding any insight from the worldly wise, that it has become unwise and unprofitable?
Being stupid with money (vs. 8)
We can all think of many examples of where people have been naive and stupid with their money, investing in promises which are all sizzle but no steak. Such charlatans exist in the religious as well as the commercial world. If we have found a good church, that is wonderful, but we also face a danger. In such loving communities where relationships of trust exist, we can sometimes be insanely idiotic when it comes to our handling of money. We assume that all this world’s teachings about money are evil and so avoid them. If Jesus’ comments in Luke 16:1-13 are any guide, that would be a huge mistake. One of the best things that a Christian can do with money is use it in the world, in a manner similar to this world, but to reap eternal dividends.
Challenged to think (vs. 8-9)
Parables are imprecise stories that leave room for hearty conversation and deep thought. One of the most challenging of all is the Parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16:1-13. Commentators are in disagreement on the meaning behind every detail. Was the steward dishonest or merely shrewd? Was he truly unrighteous or facing false accusers? A lot of people love dogmatism and certainty. We want rules and not challenges, black and white not grey areas. We don’t like free thinking. Yet, that is just how Jesus preached. He used exaggeration and teasers. He taught principles not Pharisaic rules. He challenged people to think. Like a lot of parables, this one is also about the wise use of money, not just for short-term goals. Jesus challenged hearers by the steward’s example to have a long-term, eternal perspective in financial planning.
Bad money (vs. 9)
I once heard of a particular church which returned an offering freely given by a man who had earned it in a business that they did not approve of. They didn't want what they saw as dirty money. Perhaps they should return the money donated by any people in business, because they also make many mistakes. Or perhaps they should have taken it further and returned all donations from any source, because all money is corrupted in some way. Traces of cocaine can be found on most paper money. No one is completely perfect in ethics or obedience to the law. If the truth be known, all money is tainted, and as is very often the case, Jesus’ instructions were quite the opposite of what we may think. He said to use unrighteous mammon to make friends (Luke 16:1-13).
Final-end financial planning (vs. 9)
If we kept the final end of all things, including the end of our personal lives, in mind during financial planning, what would that look like? The Parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16:1-13 gives us some clues. Financial planning takes into account potential crises. When Joseph saved Egyptian grain during boom times he was preparing for the bust that finally came. Many people plan for retirement, when our ability to work slowly peters out. We plan for buying a home, having children and their education. We make sure we are insured against sickness, accidents, fire, flood and other crises. In the parable, Jesus also encourages us to plan for our ultimate end. If we use financial planning to ensure our temporary salvation, how much more should we consider using it wisely in light of our eternal salvation.
Respect for a smaller fish (vs. 10-12)
We live in a world where greed possesses people's souls and corporations increasingly find morally questionable but legal ways to skim money from our pockets and call it customer service. So, when Jesus praised someone who was clever with money it may seem a little bit strange. Yet that is exactly what he did in the Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-13). Money is appropriately called filthy lucre because so many of our financial dealings are tainted with sin. Even the most honest of us have at least a little blood on our hands. Yet in the shark tank of capitalism there is a certain respect we pay to a smaller fish who wins against the merciless predators. The financial world is a dirty game. But, we can use money, which is so often abused, for good purposes.
Selfish generosity (vs. 12)
The motives of those who give generously in service to others are sometimes questioned. A recent example was that of several billionaires pledging to give away half of their fortunes to charities. The move has been viewed by some with suspicion as guilt money. No doubt all of us have given at times out of guilt or obligation. In the Parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16:1-13 Jesus seems be saying that questioning motives is in some ways irrelevant. What is important is that something good was done for others. The bottom line does not seem to be what our motives are, but whether or not we can be trusted with very little. In comparison to God’s universe-filling true riches, our worldly wealth is nothing. God loaned to us his property temporarily. Have we been trustworthy with it?
A billion is just a little (vs. 13)
In ancient Israel the wealth was redistributed equitably in a planned pattern to minimize poverty, using a seven year and fifty year readjustment. Yet it was not anything close to socialism. The land was still privately owned and those who were diligent could still gain wealth. What the jubilee system did was prevent some abuse of wealth. Economic sharks could not completely dominate and oppress the poor. After a maximum fifty year lease, the land went back to its original owners. In Jesus’ day, as in ours, we have economic systems that favor the rich and hurt the poor. It is up to believers to bring small jubilees to the poor as we have opportunity. In comparison to eternity, anything in this life, even a billion in wealth, is just a little (Luke 16:1-13). Can we handle it faithfully?
Dangerous wealth (vs. 13)
Whenever we deal with money, questions remain. Have we dealt honestly and fairly? What is an appropriate markup in retail? Is a 6500% markup for mobile text messages ethical? Have we given our employers an honest day’s work, our employees an honest day’s pay or have we shortchanged them in some way? Have we given customers real service, or have we deceived and robbed them? Wealth is dangerous because we so easily use it unethically. Wealth is also deceptive. It blinds us to the suffering of others and to our own shortcomings. We deceive ourselves that it is permanent, when in reality it is a transitory power. Ownership is a fiction. We merely recycle things after having borrowed them for a time. A way to avoid the dangers of wealth is to generously share it with others (Luke 16:1-13).
The entire world operates on financial systems that are dirty business. Yet, let’s not be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. God expects us to use money wisely. This world’s financial systems are corrupt, but can still be used for heavenly purposes.