Luke 16:1-13 “Squandering”
This morning I need to jump right into the thick of the scripture right to verse 9. Don’t worry, I will get back to the parable that Jesus shares in the first eight verses. Yet, in verse nine, Jesus is explaining the parable, and sometimes it is easier to understand a parable after Jesus’ explanation of the parable, right? This is just like one of my sermons; generally it is easier to understand after someone else explains it! So you are listening to someone else explaining the sermon, and you wonder to yourself: “Why didn’t Pastor Olaf just say that!?”
In verse nine we read that we are to make friends. I want to stop just shortly to affirm that this is the Word of Jesus that we should be making friends. To be sure it is always better that we make friends with people before we share our deepest faith with them. Jesus commands us to make friends here. This is one of those somewhat hidden commands of the Bible. However, when you think about it, this makes obvious sense that if we are to love others, and yet not make them our friends, then we are perhaps not really loving others as we ought. How are we to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with those who need to hear the Word, if we will not sit together with them at meal? Or worse, if we have condemnation in our hearts, then how can we be showing the love of Jesus to them?
Jesus tells us that we might go ahead and make friends for ourselves “by means of dishonest wealth.” Do you see that in verse 9? You must know that I do not like that translation. There is a footnote in the pew bible that takes us to the bottom of the page where it reads “mammon.” Please note that it reads “mammon” not “Mormon.” There were not any Mormons back then anyway!
The word “mammon” exists only in two places in the New Testament. The other place is in Matthew where we are instructed to choose between God and mammon (Mt 6:24). The common scholarly understanding is that mammon was a god (small “g”) of the Chaldean peoples. Mammon in the Chaldean pantheon of lesser gods was considered to be a son of Satan. You may recall that the Chaldeans were the ones under their King Nebuchadnezzar that destroyed Jerusalem and carried the Hebrews into captivity in Babylon. That was certainly a great evil indeed.
So, if we are being asked to choose between God and mammon, we are being asked to be righteous and choose God over the old pagan god of wealth. What Jesus is suggesting here, seems to take the issue one step further in that we are to make friends of those who would claim this pagan god of wealth as their own. Become friends with greedy people!
My own thinking goes back to the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament. Daniel was held captive in Babylon at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. He and his cohorts became well respected in that kingdom and were promoted to handle the affairs of the province of Babylon itself. Yet, eventually Nebuchadnezzar made a golden idol that all were supposed to bow down to. Daniel refused and his buddies Shadrach, Mischach and Abedego were thrown into the fiery furnace only to be saved by angels. Check out Daniel 3 if you want homework for tonight!
I believe that Jesus chose this word “mammon” with the understanding to his audience of the day that they would remember instantly the story of Daniel. In other words, to make friends with greedy despots does not mean to forsake the Lord at all, but rather to become that witness of God’s ultimate power to people who are indeed worshipping false gods in their lives. That is Jesus’ very explanation of the parable he tells.
So, now that we have that in mind, let us look at the parable again. A man is squandering his master’s property. He knows that his master knows that he is stealing. Does God know everything in our lives? Does God know when we are dishonest? We would be dishonest with ourselves if we denied this! So, God in heaven is already aware of our hearts. As WE struggle to know the heart of God; I imagine God in heaven trying hard to fathom the human heart!
The parable says that the master asks for an accounting. He has heard that there has been some squandering going on. He wants this man to be accountable for his own actions. Wow, here is a new idea: WE are to be accountable to God our master! We have to be accountable to our employer. If we are students, we have to be accountable to our teachers. We pay our taxes, so we are accountable to the government. Now, what about being accountable to God in heaven?
Have you been squandering what God has given you in your lives? Make an accounting. At the end of the day, when you are in prayer to God, say: “Lord, this is exactly what I have done for you this day! I got up to your glory. I spent time in prayer. I read my holy Bible. I helped a friend. I helped a stranger. I spoke your Name to an unbeliever. I kept your commandments.” Account for your life before God.
But what if your accounting before God is like this servant’s in the parable that Jesus speaks about? Dear God, this is my accounting: “I cheated someone. I broke your commandments in five different ways. I was unloving to my spouse. I cursed a homeless man. I got angry and enraged when watching the evening news.” And, I could say much worse things. We all know how wretched we can be.
God still wants that accounting. When the master hears what the servant has done, what does he do? Verse 8, he commends the servant. He does not discharge the man. He does not punish him. He finally gets what was wanted all along—an accounting. Suddenly this bad servant is being accountable!
What did the master actually want from this man? What does God want from us? God is not really interested in driving us away, or punishing us, or making our lives miserable. But, God does seem to want us to be accountable.
I have to mention my dog Nikos here. This last week I have been hearing so many stories about people and their dogs giving them some kind of grief. My friend John’s dog (Mc Dougal) apparently got into and consumed a whole bunch of baby wipes. That meant a trip to the vet with x-rays. Clint’s dog, Chewy, has been hopping the fence and getting out, so Clint has had to build a new fence for the dog. My dog Nikos has required medication twice a day for a skin condition. So, why do we keep our dogs?
What do I want from my dog? What do want from our dogs? Why do we keep them? When Nikos was a puppy, I trained him how to shake hands, sit, and roll over. I gave him a little bit of a hot dog every time he performed for me. Well, that stopped a long time ago. My dog is not for performing before others. And, guess what, I am not a Christian because I expect that God is going to throw me a hot dog if I perform well. So, why does God keep me? I am an awful lot of trouble to God. So are you!
God wants us. I do not know why God wants me, but God does. God even sent his Son down here to earth just to let me know that He wants me. Thank you, Jesus.
I keep Nikos because I love the dumb dog. God keeps all of us because God loves us—even though we are a lot of trouble.
The parable continues with the servant taking what is owed to the master and giving it away to the debtors that he has to deal with. In this way, he is able to make a friend or two among those people. How does the master feel about this very clever action? The master seems to be all right or even pleased with this! How can this be?
God in heaven is not interested in our paying off all our debts. God instead wants us to know His grace and kindness and love. In a way, the clever servant is doing more of the master’s bidding by forgiving the debts than he ever realized. God does not want our money! God wants us all to stop worshipping greed and money! So, forgiving debts in the name of the master is really a very good thing to do!
The issue in this parable is that the servant is squandering. When he forgives the debt of others, guess what, he is not squandering the master’s money anymore. He is actually being very accountable for the first time!
I have lent money to others. However, when I have lent money, I have always taken the position that it is a gift that I might not ever see again. That way, if I do see the money coming back, I am pleasantly surprised and affirmed in that other person’s accountability. And, I think to myself, that person has chosen a relationship with me over the money I just lent him. You see, they could just take the money and forsake me completely.
That is what folks are doing mostly today. They are taking the price that Jesus paid on the cross for their sins, and just forsaking God. They are saying to themselves, “Just because God has given me this life and the hope of life eternal, I do not have to be accountable back to God.” Let me tell you, “You do not want God to let you go!”
As I said before, I do not fully understand why God wants us. But, I do know that I do not want God to let me go! And, if all I have to do is stop my squandering and make an accounting before God, then I am super good with that!
“Jesus, you paid the ultimate price for my life! Let me tell you what I have done with that today.”