Can we be trusted?
When I was attending university, I worked for the railway in the summers. It was a great job that offered a good wage with excellent working conditions and many opportunities for overtime. However, getting a full-time job in the summer took time. At first you would be on the spare list. Back in those days, you had to be at home to get called. So, three times a day you had to be near your phone about an hour before shift would start. If you missed a call, your name went to the bottom of the list and you might not get called again for three days. You did everything possible to be sure you didn’t miss a turn. Once people started taking vacation, the shift boss would take people off the spare list and have them fill a vacancy. At first this meant being a car checker which was the lowest position in the office. You would walk miles of track checking car numbers as trains were formed or you would sit in a room and use a Dictaphone to record car numbers as trains entered the rail yard. I decided early on that the only way to ensure I kept steady employment would be to learn more than one job in the office. So, when I was in the office using the Dictaphone, I would use my breaks to ask the next guy up the line how his job worked. With a little bit of knowledge, I then approached the shift boss, told him I knew a little and asked to be trained. Once I got trained there, I then had two positions I could fill. Then I started asking the next guy up the ladder what he did and repeated the process with the boss. By the end of the summer I had learned 6 different jobs in the office and could be moved around from one to the other. I was indispensable to the boss. I collected overtime, extra shifts and had a great time. The effort I put in paid off and year by year when I came back, the same shift boss would see my name and pull me in to replace someone as soon as possible. It also paid benefits when I took a year off from school and was looking for work. I went back to my old boss looking for a job. I was hired in an instant and worked right through till school started again. That was a story of self-preservation.
The story that I have told you today is about self-preservation. I had a vested interest in maintaining my employment. I was being proactive in ensuring that I would be valuable to my employer.
The dishonest steward in our story today obviously had crossed a line. It was not uncommon in Jesus’ day for people to be overcharged with the manager or steward pocketing the difference, but this steward had probably gone beyond a certain point. People had started to complain about their bills. The employer heard about it and was probably concerned that people would fail to pay and just declare bankruptcy. The shrewd steward, realizing that the jig was up, decided to redo everyone’s bill to make them more palatable. The result was that everyone was happy. The owner got paid for what he had sold to people – even if it appeared to be less than first decided on and the bill payers felt they were getting a good deal. All the steward looked for was their support if he ever lost his job. He was looking for self-preservation.
Self-preservation is a natural state for humanity. It would be insane not to try our best to preserve ourselves – be it our employment, our home, our family or even our life. But we also need to be ethical at the same time. And there’s the rub.
Jesus uses the story of the dishonest steward to show the disciples what can happen to people when self-preservation becomes the overriding concern to the point where they will do anything to preserve their position or wealth. Ever since its creation, money has made the world go around. Money – and the possession of it – has been security. It has often been equated with success in life. You know that my youngest son has often expressed a desire for lots of money. But, life is about more than money and having it is no guarantee of happiness.
Jesus, more than discouraging the disciples from the possession of wealth or money, is urging them to be aware of their relationship to wealth. He warns them that wealth or money can become their master and when that happens, they will be led in all their decisions to follow it. The disciples need to be as shrewd as the dishonest manager in that they are to be keenly aware of how people think and operate in the world and learn how to live in relation to the world but at the same time reveal that that world in which they live is not at the heart of their life. They are to cultivate a relationship with the world not in order to preserve themselves but in order to learn how best to be servants of God in the world.
They are to exercise the same diligence and energy as the dishonest steward exercised just not in the pursuit of self-preservation – rather in the service of God. They are to be keenly aware that they can only effectively maintain allegiance to one master. And so, they need to make a choice. Will they serve God or money? What will be the overarching factor that determines the path they will take in life?
We are here because we have chosen to believe in God and seek to follow where He leads. We have made a choice as to who will be our master. Let us ever be mindful that we can be tempted to try and serve two masters. And so, let us be vigilant and seek daily to be sure that our heart, mind and soul are serving the One we truly desire to be Lord and Master of our lives.