I guess all I can do is start today’s blog with a story. There was a very wealthy man who was quite stingy with his money. He never gave to the church, never gave to those in need, and still thought he was a good man. When he got to the pearly gates after he died St. Peter looked in the book and said: “Sorry, your name isn’t in this book.” The man was indignant, he said: “What do you mean? I remember vividly giving that homeless man by McDonald’s a dollar, and then last year at blanket offering I’m sure I gave at least $5, and I’m pretty sure 25 years ago when I got married I gave the church $10. How can you say I’m not in?” St. Peter was about to say something when a voice from heaven boomed out: “Give him back his $16 and tell him to go to…” I’m guessing you can finish that line, I’m probably not supposed to.
The first 9 verses of chapter 16 are a bit puzzling. Read them again one more time. I love the fact that every time that Jesus talks about money he never takes up an offering. What a breath of fresh air. The beginning of chapter 16 is puzzling if we have never seen the world through the eyes of someone who lives in a reality where you are just trying to survive one day to the next. The five years that we lived in Russia I quickly came to distinguish between morality and legality. It was illegal to hire a refugee from Cameroon to run your food ministry. It was immoral to not allow a refugee from Cameroon to work for your social ministry. Which one will you choose? Will you choose to do that which is moral or that which is legal? We don’t often have to make that choice here in the United States. Morality and Legality are often two sides of the same coin. We are not placed in situations where we have to choose between one or the other. In Russia I had to make that choice every day. I paid off police officers, I gave money to government employees to expedite our application to become legal, I made decisions that should have had me deported had people found out, I exchanged money on the black market, I used two passports, I paid for an exit visa… The list continues, but I’m not sure you want a continued running of the illegal actions that I took. But I would argue that they were all moral and all were that which contributed to the kingdom of God. The ends never justify the means, but that which is illegal is not always immoral.
In Jesus’ day the reality was the same. The soon to be fired manager called in his boss’ clients and reduced all of their bills so that when he was fired he would have a body of people who would be nice to him. Was that immoral? It was certainly illegal and yet the boss when he saw his soon to be fired manager: “commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” It actually gets worse, so if you are squirming, you just might want to close your computer and move on to the next thing on your agenda. Jesus actually says in vs. 9: “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” Jesus tells his disciples to make friends with entrepreneurs who might not have made their fortune in the most honest way possible. Notice that he is not telling them to make their fortune dishonestly, but become friends with people who did make their fortune dishonestly.
My brother and I have a long running debate on what is called BAM (Business As Mission). Just to be clear my brother is the Dean of New College of Biblical and Theological Studies at Eastern University, so he is way smarter than I am. But he is a strong proponent of business being able to provide a launching pad for mission while I have all along argued that business to its core is antithetical to the type of mission that Jesus would want us to do. I’m sure that he is right, and in light of these Scriptures I may have to succumb to the pressures that are about me and say that he may have a point. But isn’t there something unsettling in the words of Jesus when he encourages us to make friends with people who are dishonest? Wait, let me take that back. I am not in any way equating business with dishonesty. In fact, the owner was the honest one, the manager was the one who was dishonest. It does make us think.