Dear siblings in Christ,
This past Sunday I preached and taught on the parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-13), which I had never really known what to do with until recently.
We proclaimed the good news that while we cannot extricate ourselves entirely from the ungodly power of Mammon, this doesn’t mean we must pretend that Mammon is fine.
Rather, in the midst of the tension we feel, our Lord Jesus gives us freedom to experiment with dirty hands in the upside-down economy of God’s kingdom, using dishonest wealth to make friends with those that Mammon has marginalized and oppressed, trusting that eventually Jesus will come to dismantle Mammon completely, judging and renewing all things in love.
(You can listen to the whole sermon here.)
Sunday afternoon someone messaged me with a question:
There’s something about Jesus’ commentary on this parable that seems unusually transactional to me. A lot of his teaching seems to be more about giving or lending and expecting nothing in return, but after this parable he seems to be explicitly saying, “Cancel debts and be creative with Mammon for your own sake.” This sits weirdly with me, and makes me wonder if I have assumptions that need to be challenged with regard to this. At a foundational level something about this parable seems contrary to how I see Jesus talking about money in other passages.
This is a good question, and prompted me to think a bit more about what Jesus is doing in this parable, and it seems to me that Jesus is being a little cheeky here, as if to say “Y’all, even if it’s just to save your own life, get invested in God’s kingdom!”
I think that Jesus trusts that goodness will come about for all of us if we will just enter into the new solidarities of God’s kingdom, even if we start with dubious motives. In other words, it’s not necessary to purify our own motives ahead of time. In fact, it is likely impossible to do so.
Instead, just make the kinds of investments that make sense for God’s future, and trust that the Spirit will be at work to purify us as we go.
So I imagine Jesus saying, “If you won’t do it for love’s sake, at least be like the shrewd manager and do it for yourselves… and I’ll teach you to love in the process. You don’t need perfect motives to get started.”
We want to continue these kinds of discussions and experiments beyond this series, so let’s talk about these things in our Table Groups and share with one another what we are learning as we go. God will be with us in the process, refining us as we participate in the economics of the kingdom.
Grace and peace,
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