Sometimes I wonder if pets and possessions own their masters or if the masters are in charge. One quickly learns that a nice car, house, pair of shoes, watch, or fountain pen needs care and maintenance if the “owner” expects the prized acquisition to stay in good condition. Any family that invites a cat, dog, or miniature pig into the house learns the pet quickly runs the household and captures the affections of most family members.
A few worldviews seek to detach from the ‘stuff’ of life to find freedom. Western efforts to downsize possessions can be seen in the minimalist decorating styles. Victorian period ancestors would be looking for silver and ceramic objects to fill up the empty spaces. Eastern Buddhism seeks to get out of life by distancing self from as many things as possible; by detachment a person hopes to be free from suffering and all other aspects of life.
I do not think materialism limits itself to rich people. People in any station of life can be quite possessive of things and find a part of their identity in their things. Jesus’ teaching in the middle of Luke 16 addresses this very basic truth: a person cannot serve both God and the stuff of life. While a few of His audience may have had possessions, most of them would have had very few possessions. Both rich and poor can spend their days in acquisition and conserving ‘stuff’ activities. Wars and unfair business practices take these personal behaviors to whole new levels.
Luke 16 provides another great example of Jesus ability to convey wonderful truths through parables. His parables usually left the disinterested without understanding (Matt 10:13-17). Those who wish to hear Jesus find themselves in the compelling stories. These two parables can perplex, convict, and point the way for faithful kingdom living.
On the surface, Jesus seemed to advocate shrewd financial embezzlement when He said, “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (Luke 10:8b). The wisdom zeros in on one specific point. When the mismanaging steward gets kicked out of his position, he will find welcome in homes in the next period of his life. In his last days in office he used what little power he had left to benefit others; in turn they would care for him.
The second parable goes straight to the rich man and bypasses the manager. He epitomizes The Good Life in his gated house, luxurious attire, and lavish dining. If he lived today, then magazines would do pictorial spreads of his life. Reality cable TV shows would sign him to a contract so the ‘have-nots’ could get lost in dreams about how it must feel to live like that. Of course, the magazines would skip the beggar pushing the dog away long enough to see if the garbage can held scraps from dinner.
Both of these parables convict the hearer. If one does not experience conviction, then that person did not hear. The good gifts I have come from the Father of Lights (James 1:17). All the ‘stuff’ that comes my way belongs to my Master since my baptism. Those who find a way to use those material gifts on behalf of others will find the afterlife a welcoming place. On the other hand, those who cannot faithfully use these trivial riches will not be trusted with true riches (Luke 16:11). Selfishly using the gifts in our hands exclusively for personal benefit (as seen in the rich man’s life) horribly embezzles the Master’s treasures.
Sometimes I do not want my ears to work. My understanding of the “good life” looks so different from Yours! As I read your parables again today, I must recommit to my choice to follow You. How quickly I return to self-centeredness when I go through times of blessings and times of suffering alike. I tend to treasure the things that come my way as something I have earned and deserve. I tend to doubt and question when suffering comes my way. Somehow I make both about me!
Forgive me I pray. I live selfishly, and I live in a selfish nation. Forgive us I pray. Open my ears again; I do want to hear how I can live more faithfully. All the law and prophets came up to John the Baptist. Those laws and prophecies do not pass away. They call us to walk boldly in the Kingdom of God. Order my steps I pray. I think my mind and heart will have to be ordered before You can order my steps. For some reason, I sometimes think You will order my steps but will leave my self-centered mind and heart in place. My life is not a cartoon where I can be split into two or three dimension. I must live completely in one dimension … I want that dimension to be in Your purposes.
Thank you for the wonderful gifts You have given Sherri and me! I know our many life opportunities came from You. I lift our life up to You as a living sacrifice again today. Please purge away those things that reflect my selfish thinking. Help us to grow in those ways that cause us to live for You and serve others.
In Jesus’ Name,
Thank you for walking with me through Luke 16. Maybe reading these parables will cause you to pause and reflect on God’s many good gifts in your life. Maybe we can all see more ways to bless others and reduce the scowls when we encounter someone in need. Just maybe, the Master let us be stewards of so much for moments like these. How blessed we are!