Daily Reading & Meditation

 Sunday (September 22):  "Either he will be devoted to the one and despise the other"

Scripture: Luke 16:1-13

1 He also said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a steward, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 2 And he called him and said to him, `What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.' 3 And the steward said to himself, `What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that people may receive me into their houses when I am put out of the stewardship.' 5 So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, `How much do you owe my master?' 6 He said, `A hundred measures of oil.' And he said to him, `Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' 7 Then he said to another, `And how much do you owe?' He said, `A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, `Take your bill, and write eighty.' 8 The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness; for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations. 10 "He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."

Meditation: What kind of future are you investing in? Jesus seemed to praise a clever manager who used underhanded means to secure a profitable and happy future for himself. What's the point of this perplexing parable? The steward was responsible for managing his wealthy landowner's property. He very likely overcharged his master's tenants for their use of the land and kept more than his fair share of the commission. When the landowner discovers the steward's dishonest practice he immediately removes him from his job, leaving him penniless and ashamed to beg or do manual work. Before news of his dismissal becomes public knowledge, the shrewd steward strikes a deal with his master's debtors. In discounting their debts he probably was giving up his generous commission. Such a deal won him great favor with the debtors. Since he acted as the landowner's personal agent, such a deal made his master look very generous and forgiving towards those who owed him money. Surely everyone would praise such a generous landowner as the town hero! Since the master could not undo the steward's cancellation of the debts without losing face and making his debtors resent him, he praises the steward for outwitting him as a generous and forgiving landowner.

Jesus obviously thought that the example of a very clever manager who took thought for his future well-being would be a perfect illustration for anyone seriously interested in securing their future in God's kingdom. What lesson can we learn from this parable? The dishonest steward is commended for his shrewdness. The original meaning of "shrewdness" is "practical wisdom" or "prudence". It is the ability to deal with a given situation, to see what needs to be done and to do it. A shrewd person exercises foresight, discernment, and judgment (the ability to see through and understand a situation and what will likely happen if he doesn't take appropriate action). Three other parables where Jesus commends this kind of practical wisdom are the parables of the wise builder who built his house on a rock (Matthew 24:7), the wise steward who orders his household well  (Matthew 24:45; Luke 12:42), and the wise virgins who remembered the oil for their lamps (Matthew 25:2-9).

Jesus commends his listeners to be wise and prudent not just in the exercise of their material and financial resources, but more importantly in how they use these resouces for advancing God's kingdom and the work of the gospel. What we invest our time, money, and material resources in shows what we treasure or value the most. Some invest solely for their own personal advancement, comfort, and security. Some invest for the future well-being of others, such as loved ones or individuals they want to support or help in some way. Jesus warns us to invest in and not neglect what is most important and crucial that which lasts forever. When we invest in God's kingdom his kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy (Romans 14:17) we are not only securing our relationship with God for all eternity, we are also promoting the spread of the Gospel and the advancement of God's kingdom on earth. How we invest our lives and resources today has consequences not just for tomorrow or for the rest of our earthly lives but for eternity as well. How invested are you in the kingdom of God and in the things that last for eternity?

Jesus encourages us to be like the shrewd steward who used money generously to make friends and win for himself a secure and happy future. Generous giving is connected with almsgiving giving financial assistance to those in need (sell your possessions and give alms -Luke 12:33). Those who receive alms become your friends because you are merciful to them in their time of need, just as God is merciful to you in your need for his forgiveness and help. Ambrose, a 4th century bishop said: The bosoms of the poor, the houses of widows, the mouths of children are the barns which last forever. True wealth consists not in what we keep but in what we give away. What is the enemy of generosity? It's greed, the excessive desire for personal gain and security. True generosity does not impoverish the giver, but enriches that person a hundredfold! Generosity expands the soul; greed contracts it. God is generous and superabundant in lavishing his gifts upon us. We can never outgive God. He shares all that he has with us. Do you know the joy and freedom of a generous heart and liberal giving to others?

Jesus concludes his parable with a lesson on what controls or rules our lives (Luke 16:10-13). Who is the master (or ruler) in charge of your life? Our master is that which governs our thought-life, shapes our ideals, controls the desires of the heart and the values we choose to live by. We can be ruled by many different things the love of money or possessions, the power of position, the glamor of wealth and prestige, the driving force of unruly passions and addictions. Ultimately the choice boils down to two: God and mammon. What is mammon? Mammon stands for material wealth or possessions or whatever tends to control our appetites and desires. There is one Master alone who has the power to set us free from the slavery of sin and addiction. That Master is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Possessions and material resources are a great responsibility. The Lord expects us to use them honestly and responsibly and to put them at his service and the service of others. We are God's servants and all that we have belongs to him. He expects us to make a good return on what he gives us. God loves generosity and he gives liberally to those who share his gifts with others. Love of money and wealth crowd out love of God and love of neighbor. Jesus makes clear that our hearts must either be possessed by God's love or our hearts will be possessed by the love of something else. Where is your treasure?

"Lord Jesus, all that I have is a gift from you. May I love you freely and generously with all that I possess. Help me to be a wise and faithful steward of the resources you put at my disposal, including the use of my time, money, and possessions."

Psalm 113:1-8

1 Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD!
2 Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and for evermore!
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised!
4 The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens!
5 Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high,
6 who looks far down upon the heavens and the earth?
7 He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
8 to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.

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 (c) 2013 Don Schwager