Abraham Lincoln put it succinctly in a speech given on June 16, 1858, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The division about which Lincoln spoke was slavery: “this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.”
The then current political, economic, and social crisis notwithstanding, Lincoln’s point was based upon a simple reality, a simple fact of life: divided passions, divided, commitments, divided loyalties soon betray themselves and lead to death.
Jesus speaking almost two thousand years before spoke of this same fact of life, but pertaining to a different and even more fundamental matter, the matter of faith in God: “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
The words themselves ring true enough. They certainly would have rung true for Jesus’ listeners-that is except for what comes immediately before and after these familiar and agreeable words.
What comes after is this: No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’
The poor among us get it immediately. The wealthy among us-well we usually have a lot of questions about exactly what these words say to us and about us; and I say we because the person here today who has the least, still is wealthy by the worlds standards.
Add to that what comes before, what the New Revised Standard Version calls the Parable of the Dishonest Manager and we are really in a quandary.
Let’s review what the text says:
There was a rich man. The rich man had a manager who was in charge of the rich man’s property. Word had come to the rich man that the manager had somehow wasted the rich man’s property; the text says squandered it.
Just how the manager wasted the money is not clear. Squandered does not convey the ideas of cheating and stealing so much as dribbling it away. From the parable we know that he liked to be liked-maybe he used the owner’s property to entertain his friends or to buy their favors. That is what happens later when he is found out.
Anyway, the owner asks for the books and fires the manager. But before he goes, while everyone still thinks he is in charge he does some wheeling and dealing-reducing the bills of those in debt to the owner- why?; So that when he is out of work those who have had their bills reduced will treat him well. So again, the manager exploits the owner in order to feather his own nest.
There is nothing in this story that we would call admirable. Yet here is where the strange twist occurs. The manager commends the manager for his shrewdness; and to make matters worse, Jesus adds his apparent approval saying:
“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”