The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 13, 2019
It’s All About the Bottom Line!
Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. He told them,‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? No servant can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Perhaps it’s because for almost 15 years I lived about 15 minutes away from the birthplace of the United Auto Workers Union, perhaps it’s because in my previous congregation a large percentage of the members either worked for GM and/or were members of the UAW, perhaps it’s because I have friends who are either directly or indirectly being impacted by it, but for the last few weeks or so I have been keeping tabs on the UAW strike against GM. The narrative has not changed much over the course of those weeks. The UAW maintains that it is fighting for better wages, better profit sharing, better healthcare coverage and better job security. GM maintains, “The company is continuing to negotiate in good faith with very good proposals that benefit employees today and build a stronger future for all of us.” From my limited perspective the strike comes down to— the bottom line. The difficulty, however, centers on whose definition of the “bottom line” one is using. GM’s definition of the “bottom line” seems to focus on things such as the long-term profitability and viability of the company. The last thing that GM wants to do is to agree a contract that could possibly result in another bankruptcy. The UAW’s definition of the “bottom line” seems to focus on the things that impact its members on a personal level.
While the UAW strike against GM does not seem to gain much traction out here in California, I think that this strike and these contract negotiations give us a real-life modern-day illustration of what Jesus is talking about here in our text for today. With that in mind let’s study our text under the theme: It’s All About the Bottom Line. Just as there are two different definitions of the “bottom line” in the contract negotiations between GM and the UAW, so also there are two different definitions of the “bottom line” here in our text for today. Let’s look at both of them. First, let’s look at the “bottom line” from man’s perspective. Then let’s look at the “bottom line” from God’s perspective.
Our text for today is a part of a series of parables that Jesus used to point out to the Pharisees the error of their ways. Since the Pharisees were well-known for looking down on others, Jesus spoke the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin and the Parable of the Lost Son to emphasize the tremendous value that God places on each and every human being. (See Luke 15) At the same time since the Pharisees “loved money” (See Luke 16:14) Jesus spoke our text for today— the Parable of the Shrewd Manager. Personally, I think we need to factor in both the Pharisees’ attitude toward others as well as the Pharisees’ attitude toward money in order to properly understand our text.
When it comes to looking at the “bottom line” from man’s perspective we need look no further than the opening words of our text. Jesus says, “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’”
The “rich man” was understandably concerned about his “bottom line.” As soon as he heard that the person he trusted to manage his wealth had taken advantage of that trust— he fired him! Who wouldn’t? But before the manger left he was required to bring the books up to date and turn them in to his master. All of that makes perfectly good sense. Then Jesus continues, “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’”
Was the dishonest manger concerned about his own personal “bottom line” He most certainly was! He knew he couldn’t defend himself. He knew he couldn’t pass an audit of the books. He knew he couldn’t take a job that required physical labor. He knew that he was too proud to beg. So what did he do to protect his “bottom line”? He did what he knew best— he cheated his master. He quickly contacts the people who owe his master and then he “cooks the books” by reducing their debts. His plan to protect his “bottom line” was to earn points with these people so that they would owe him a favor. He still had the books so he still had authority over what was in those books. What could the master do? Fire him again? So, how did the rich man react to what the dishonest manager did? Look at verse 8, “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” The rich man understood the “bottom line” from a human perspective perfectly well. Even though he had been cheated yet once again he praises this manager— not for his dishonesty, but because he was “shrewd.” The dishonest manager saw the “bottom line,” he saw what needed to be done and he made a plan to see that it got done.
Here is where Jesus’ parable takes an extremely unexpected turn, my friends. Jesus goes on to say, “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
I’m pretty sure that for many people this portion of Scripture can be classified as “meat” and not “milk.” (See Hebrews 5:11-14) We need to “chew” on theses words for awhile before we can properly “digest” them. To help us understand both these words and this parable properly I think we first need to focus on the word that is translated here as “shrewd.” Very literally, this word means, “intelligent, discerning, judicious.” Even though this manager was indeed dishonest he was praised for being “intelligent, discerning, judicious.” He was not only able to see the “bottom line,” but he planned ahead to protect that “bottom line.”
For me it was extremely helpful to see how this Greek word is used in other parts of the New Testament Scriptures. As an adjective this word is used to describe the “wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24); it is used to describe the “wise servant” who faithfully carried out his master’s wishes even though his master had gone away for an undetermined amount of time (Matthew 24:45); and, it is used to describe the “wise virgins” who took extra oil with them while they waited for the bridegroom to arrive (Matthew 25). In each of these examples the Greek word that is translated here in our text as “shrewd” is used to describe someone who is “wise”— “wise” enough to recognize the “bottom line” and then plan their life accordingly.
That, my friends, is what Jesus is teaching us when He says, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Like the Pharisees our old sinful nature “loves money.” We work hard to try and make sure we have enough money to not only satisfy our “needs,” but also our “wants.” But like the Pharisees our old sinful nature all too often wants us to diminish or even disregard the truth that Jesus emphasized in the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin and the Parable of the Lost Son. Our old sinful nature wants us to be concerned mostly if not only exclusively about ourselves and let everyone else fend for themselves — even when it comes to their eternal welfare.
When we lift up our eyes and behold the cross on Calvary’s hill to see what our God has already done for us, (Pointing to the cross) when we realize the all-encompassing forgiveness that we already enjoy purely by the amazing grace of God, when we contemplate the glory and the perfection, the joy and the happiness that the good Lord already has stored up and waiting for us in heaven (See 1 Peter 1:3-9) the “bottom line” for us needs to include sharing the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others. Yes, that means using our “worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves”— not so that we will always have someone to play cards with or to go hiking with, but so that we will always have an opportunity to share our faith with them both by what we say as well as by how we live our life. And yes, my friends, the “bottom line” includes using our “worldly wealth” — the material wealth which God Himself has given to us— to support God’s Kingdom work here on this earth through the offerings that we place on His altar.
This perspective on the “bottom line” — which is God’s perspective on the “bottom line”— is supported by the closing portion of our text for today. Jesus summarizes what He is emphasizing here by giving us the well-known words, “You cannot serve both God and Money.” Just as we can’t walk in two totally opposite directions at the very same time, so also as Christians we can’t have two totally opposite “bottom lines” in our heart and in our life. We can indeed designate money and enjoying our life here on this earth the “bottom line” in our heart and then plan our life accordingly. But, all those plans will come to a very abrupt end the instant we die. On the other hand, we can make “serving our God,” sharing His Gospel and supporting His Kingdom work the “bottom line” in our heart and then plan our life accordingly. Now, however, those plans will not come to an end when we die, will they! Instead, those plans will carry on into eternity on an even more glorious level!
It’s All About the Bottom Line, my friends. Whatever we designate the “bottom line” to be in our heart will automatically determine the plans that we make for our life. My prayer is that we will define what our “bottom line” is by staying focused on the cross of Calvary’s hill. (Pointing to the cross) That cross not only reveals to us what the “bottom line” was for Jesus, but that cross also reminds us of what the “bottom line” is to be for us— the saved children of God.
To God be the glory!