God did not design me to be fleet of foot.
The North Country Run is a 13.1 mile half marathon, a 26.2 mile full marathon, and a 50 mile Ultra in the beautiful National Park system called the Big M Trailhead near Wellston, MI. I am not a runner. My stride might best be described as “an old man shuffle.” Thankfully, that pace worked for me over the course of 26.2 miles up and down hills and through narrow, rain soaked trails. I admit to enjoying the hospitality of the volunteers at the aid stations as I chatted and drank pickle juice and flat coke (and ate quite a bit of goodies) to keep fueling myself for the “onward shuffle.”
Our Scripture passage in many ways reminds me of that trail. It has obstacles to get over and pitfalls to avoid as we seek to reach the finish and grasp the meaning of the lesson Jesus is lifting up.
First of all, Jesus is talking to his followers; not the crowds or the Pharisees that overhear him. He tells a story about a dishonest employee who has abused his position for personal gain. When the employee is confronted and learns that he will soon be fired he uses his resources to better place himself in the next “life” that he will be moving on to after he loses his job. His employer then commends him for his cleverness. Note that Jesus does not end the story with the manager not being punished or fired… just that the employer recognized that he had acted shrewdly.
Jesus points out that the church could learn something from the employee’s “worldly” behavior. We are often confused by the advice found in this Scripture passage… with Jesus recommending that we act in a similar fashion. But He is not suggesting that we act with criminal intent… but by using the resources found in the world to further the kingdom.
Do you find this hard to swallow? Let me offer a biblical example…
In Luke 19:1-10 Jesus encounters Zacchaeus the Tax Collector. Jesus tells Zacchaeus that he is going to dine with him in his home. The crowd… literally “all who saw it” grumbled and judged Jesus for going into the house of a sinner to dine. But what does Zacchaeus do? He lives out the advice Jesus has just given his disciples in the story of the dishonest steward. He gives half of his wealth to the poor and restores with interest all whom he has defrauded. Jesus points out that Zacchaeus’ acts are reflections of the spiritual change that has taken place within him.
I believe that Jesus is suggesting the radical concept that… what we do with our physical possessions has an impact on our spiritual lives. Please note that he doesn’t instruct people to give their wealth to the church but rather to place more value on the poor (and those which the church has considered sinners) rather than placing value in our wealth.
When the religious leaders ridiculed his message Jesus responds, saying in essence, “You may make yourselves look superior to others; but God knows your hearts. What may be impressive to your peers is an abomination to God!”