Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
Luke 16:1-13 (CEB)
Jesus also said to the disciples, “A certain rich man heard that his household manager was wasting his estate. 2 He called the manager in and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give me a report of your administration because you can no longer serve as my manager.’
3 “The household manager said to himself, What will I do now that my master is firing me as his manager? I’m not strong enough to dig and too proud to beg. 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I am removed from my management position, people will welcome me into their houses.
5 “One by one, the manager sent for each person who owed his master money. He said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil.’[a] The manager said to him, ‘Take your contract, sit down quickly, and write four hundred fifty gallons.’ 7 Then the manager said to another, ‘How much do you owe?’ He said, ‘One thousand bushels of wheat.’[b] He said, ‘Take your contract and write eight hundred.’
8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted cleverly. People who belong to this world are more clever in dealing with their peers than are people who belong to the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to make friends for yourselves so that when it’s gone, you will be welcomed into the eternal homes.
10 “Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much, and the one who is dishonest with little is also dishonest with much. 11 If you haven’t been faithful with worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 If you haven’t been faithful with someone else’s property, who will give you your own? 13 No household servant can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Most of us think that we are pretty smart folks. Most of us think that if we believe a certain thing and then are given evidence to the contrary that we use this new information and change our beliefs.
For example, say you believed that the earth was flat. Everything you knew growing up taught you this and you were absolutely convinced. Then one day someone shows you a picture of the Earth from space, and it clearly shows a round earth. Most of us think that if this were us we would examine this new evidence and change our beliefs.
The problem is, that just doesn’t happen. Researchers have found that when our beliefs get challenged by contradictory evidence that our beliefs actually get stronger.
This research explains why people someone like Galileo was rejected. During the 16th century it was believed that the earth was the center of the universe. That the sun and other planets and stars revolved around the earth. People held tightly to this belief that they thought was informed by their reading of books, the bible, and just looking outside. After all, the sun rises each day in the east and sets in the west. Clearly the sun revolves around the earth.
Galileo observed something else. With the aid of a telescope he discovered that earth actually revolved around the sun. Though he had the evidence to prove this, this evidence was not enough to change belief. Galileo was threatened because of his evidence.
Simply we like evidence that supports our beliefs. And when we encounter evidence that contracts our beliefs we can easily find ways to disregard it.
We don’t have to look far for to see this at play. Just take about any issue you see in the news right now. One that seems to stay at the top of my Facebook news feed is Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem. He didn’t stand while the national anthem was being performed prior to a football game in protest of racism in America.
Now, you probably have already made up your mind about this. I’ve heard three basic reactions. 1) Good for him, racism is huge problem and this raises awareness, 2) whatever, he’s got the right but I don’t particularly care for what he did, 3) and some have taken this as a personal offense against them. And I’ve tried to read people presenting different points of view, but I found in doing all this—I couldn’t find anyone who changed their position when presented with more facts and evidence.
While this is type of thing happens all the time, there are occasions when people actually do change their minds and have a change in perspective.
As a child I had the dream being an astronaut. I never could really figure out math beyond algebra, I tend to get motion sickness, and I don’t like small confined spaces, so the whole astronaut thing probably wouldn’t have worked out too well—but one can dream. One thing I find fascinating about astronauts is this thing called the overview effect.
It’s a change in perspective that often happens to astronauts when they look back to earth from space. Astronaut Ron Garan writes about this in his book, The Orbital Perspective. He was performing a specific maneuver on the International Space Station, and about this experience he writes:
As I approached the top of this arc, it was as if time stood still, and I was flooded with both emotion and awareness. But as I looked down at the Earth — this stunning, fragile oasis, this island that has been given to us, and that has protected all life from the harshness of space — a sadness came over me, and I was hit in the gut with an undeniable, sobering contradiction.
In spite of the overwhelming beauty of this scene, serious inequity exists on the apparent paradise we have been given. I couldn't help thinking of the nearly one billion people who don't have clean water to drink, the countless number who go to bed hungry every night, the social injustice, conflicts, and poverty that remain pervasive across the planet.
Seeing Earth from this vantage point gave me a unique perspective — something I've come to call the orbital perspective. Part of this is the realization that we are all traveling together on the planet and that if we all looked at the world from that perspective we would see that nothing is impossible.
It took an experience; it took going to space to fundamentally change Garan’s perspective. It’s not new facts or evidence that changes perspective; it is usually only an experience that can fundamentally change long standing beliefs. If we can change beliefs, though, we could change the world.
Looking at our society, really looking at most of the world, there is one central belief that drives most of humanity—the quest for more. I don’t really mean this in a greedy way. But what I mean is that there is ultimate value placed on things like working hard, being independent, and getting more out of the economy. One’s value is determined on what she contributes to society or the economy.
This reminds me a bit of the scripture passage that we read earlier. You have a wealthy landowner who has a manager that is responsible for doing his business. The landowner only values his manager if he is working hard, and this same value is shared by the manager. The manager knows that his happiness is dependent on how hard he works to make money for the master.
But there is a rumor going around. You know how vicious rumors are. And the rumor says that this manager isn’t a very good manager and has actually been costing the master quite a bit of money. We are told the rumor is that the manager is wasting the master’s estate.
Not to take any chances, the master decides that he has to let the manger go. He can’t have someone working for him that might be wasting company resources, that might be mismanaging the assets of the master. This is not a good business practice. So he brings the manager in, confronts him, and just lets him go right on the spot.
The manager is now in a panic. He’s lost his job; how is he going to support his family? He has likely worked as manager his whole; he doesn’t have any other skills. He doesn’t know how to farm or dig, he can’t bring himself to beg. What is he going to do? And on top of this, no one is going to hire him as a manager because he has been terminated from his job.
So he concocts a scheme to win some friends.
Part of his job as the manager is to collect and manage the debts from those that have borrowed from the master. And the manager knows that those that owe the master money, are not his best friends because he is constantly calling on them to collect what is due. But what if, he thinks, there is something I can do to get this these others to like me. Maybe then, if I’m fired here, the other households will hire me, and then I can still make a living.
He implements his plan, and goes to the debtors and slashes their bill.
He’s already been fired; he doesn’t have the authority to do this; but debtors don’t know that. Surely his boss will be angry with this. It was suspected that the manager was wasting the estate, and now there is definitive proof that this is the case. But when the boss figures out what has happened, he has a choice to make. He can tell the debtors that there has been a terrible mistake and make them pay the entire debt or he can bask in the goodwill and joy of the debtors. He can go ahead and dismiss the manger, but if he does so, he will lose face, because it will be made known that he can’t even control his own employees.
This manager acts in a way that runs completely counter to values of hard work and gaining more. If he were just trying to save his job, perhaps instead canceling the debts he goes collects them all. Surely if this manager were to have brought the remainder of the debts and given them to his master those rumors would be proven false. And he would have security in his job, security in hard work.
But the thing is, I think the manager’s perspective on life has changed. He has experienced something that completely changed his perspective. He has come face to face with a scary reality of being destitute and alone. He had worked hard for years, and he was going to be left with nothing. Based on a rumor, the company’s ownership was robbing the pension program and leaving the employee to figure things out on his own.
What he realized is that relationships are more important than wealth. He realized that relationships were even more important than hard work. When work failed him, he realized that he was investing in hard work and money and was mistaken for not investing in relationships.
So what does he do? He decides to invest in relationships. Now, he does it in a way that seems unethical. He does with someone else’s money—but he does it, he invests in what actually matters most-relationships.
This is exactly what Jesus says a few lines later. Jesus says, “No household servant can serve two masters.” You can’t serve money and hard work AND value relationships the highest. The ultimate loyalty is held somewhere. Either one is ultimately loyal to money or one is ultimately loyal to relationships.
The same is true for us. We can’t serve two things. God desires a relationship with us; God desires us to have a relationship with others. Jesus says, “you cannot serve God and wealth.”
And Jesus says one more thing that I don’t want you to miss. He says, in verse 9, “use worldly wealth to make friends for yourselves so that when it’s gone, you will be welcomed into the eternal homes.” Money, wealth, hard work, these are things that can be your master—they can run your life. But if you serve God and you value relationships, you can put your hard work, your money, and your wealth to work for God.
Just as the astronaut and the manager had a change in perspective, Jesus is giving us a change in perspective. And here’s the main point: For Christians hard work and money are not the goal; they are a tool to help us serve God and change the world.
Decatur United Methodist Church
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