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THE QUESTIONS JESUS ASKED: What is this I hear about you? (Luke 16:1-15)

THE QUESTIONS JESUS ASKED: What is this I hear about you? (Luke 16:1-15)

By Ted Schroder,
January 15, 2017

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 a manager any longer' (NIV) OR 'You're fired. And I want a complete audit of your books.' (The Msg)" (Luke 16:1,2).

This parable is similar to several others where Jesus is using the analogy of commerce to raise the issue of accountability -- how the nation of Israel and individuals have fulfilled their vocations to be stewards of all the God has entrusted to them. The question is as relevant for us today as it was when Jesus asked it. What does God hear about us? What has been our management of all that God has given us? We have all been given a certain number of years to live on this earth for a reason. We have been given time, talents and resources to use wisely in God's service. How have we used them? We are to use them wisely and generously rather than selfishly and short-sightedly. All the stewards mentioned in the parables of Jesus are called to give an account of their management. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad" (2 Cor.5:10).

While we may be saved by grace through the Cross of Christ, we are still to be judged on how we have lived our lives. Jesus said, "The Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done" (Matt.16:27). It is not our salvation, but our judgment, which will be according to our use of what has been given to us.

Therefore, every day I must seek to fulfill my Master's will and be a good steward of what he has given me to do. I pray that "thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" in my decisions, priorities, attitudes, faithfulness to the responsibilities God has given me each day. When I stand before him on the Judgment Day and he asks the question: "What is this I hear about you?" I pray that he will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and share your Master's happiness" (Matt.25:21).

In the parable Jesus tells us that the manager considers his options in the face of his being fired. He asks, "What shall I do?" He doesn't have the aptitude for physical labor, and he doesn't want to be thrown on welfare. Instead he decides to curry favor with his Master's debtors by reducing their obligations. Whether he does this by foregoing his hefty commissions or by cooking the books is a matter of debate. The bottom line for him is that he is creating goodwill for himself. The master commends him for his creative accounting and his ability to do something about his situation. Jesus comments, "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" (Luke 16:8,9).

I take away two lessons from this conclusion. First, the steward acted urgently to provide for himself. "He knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits." (The Msg) Jesus wants to motivate us to action. We should ask ourselves about the stewardship of our lives: "What shall I do?" I pray most mornings in the words of St. Paul, "Father of glory... Make my eyes focused and clear, so that I can see exactly what it is you are calling me to do..." (Eph.1:17, The Msg) Then, like the manager, I try to plan and act wisely in using my position and my possessions in a way to forward the kingdom of God.

There is an urgency about what needs to be done. There can never be complacency in the Christian life. We are called to act as if our lives depended on it. Procrastination is lethal. Too many people are in denial of their situations and delay doing anything until it is too late. We never know when we will be called to account for our lives. Are we ready? Are we willing to make final arrangements? Have we updated our wills? Have we written that letter to a loved one? Do we have unfinished business to attend to?

We may be critical of people we know who have dedicated their lives to a cause. They are urgent in their support and advocacy of it. They sometimes put the people of light to shame for their lukewarm commitment to the kingdom of God. Can we learn from them what we should be doing?

The second lesson is that we should use our resources to ensure that we will be welcomed into eternal dwellings by the friends we have made with our stewardship. In other words, Jesus is telling us that his followers are to use their money generously with eternity in view. In his parable of Lazarus and the rich man Jesus pointed out the lamentable condition of the rich man in the future life because he was not generous in this life. The lesson here is to prepare for the future. As he said in the Sermon on the Mount about laying up treasure in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroy. The point is simple: invest your money in God's kingdom, not in this temporary and insecure world with its limited span.

This is not to advocate buying your future in heaven through charitable good works as was popularly taught in the Middle Ages and is still believed by many today. God acts generously, with grace -- undeserved gifts of his love in Christ coming to suffer and die for us so that we might experience eternal life. When we surrender our lives to Christ, we enter into the kingdom of heaven now. What Jesus is saying is that we make it our priority to reflect God's character, the image of God in us, of grace and generosity.

Jesus' teaching urges us to invest in the kingdom of God. Just as the dedicated revolutionary or terrorist is expected to commit himself and his finances to the cause, in the same way Jesus expects his followers to be practically committed to the exciting world-changing mission that he inaugurated. This is what actually happened in the early church. The first Christians of Jerusalem took Jesus' words seriously, under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. "No man should appear before the Lord empty-handed: Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you" (Deut.16:17).

The parable of the steward is about living out the generosity of God. God honors those who are generous. When the end comes and no more money is available, the one who has seen into the future and acted prudently will have handled the resources and stewardship God has given him wisely. Those who can be trusted with little can also be trusted with much. Who can entrust people with significant things of real value if they cannot handle worldly wealth? Are our resources put to selfish or generous use? Some day God will evaluate our use of resources, whether we have handled them in a way that anticipates his desires. If we have, his commendation will follow.


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