Last week, the familiar parable of the Prodigal Son depicts a younger and immature son coming to his senses. He finally returns to his father only after realizing his life was spiraling out of control and his demise was near. Today’s Gospel message, also takes the form of a parable, and the conditions are similar to the Prodigal son, albeit focusing on a different conclusion and lesson to be learned.
The latest parable describes a manager of a wealthy man being confronted about his malfeasance and a demand to give a reason or else be terminated immediately. Like the younger son in the previous parable, the manager is faced with the same horrifying and life changing reality of hitting rock bottom. The manager is faced with the threat of losing his job with the inescapable reality of never holding a comfortable position of managing someone’s money again. Although he is not faced with starvation immediately, his dishonest actions now brought to light, will inevitably turn him into a beggar.
Our corrupt manager unwilling to beg or starve, has an idea to get himself out of trouble. He summons his master’s debtors and makes them part of his criminal activity by demanding they change the amount owed to the master to reflect a lesser amount on the bill. A clever move on his part. First, by having the debtors change their own invoices he can hide the money he pilfered from his boss. Secondly, even if the manager is dismissed from his present position, surely those who benefited from the fraud are now part of the fraud and are just as guilty as the manager. He is no longer the only one cheating the master out of his money and perhaps he can be supported by his fellow cheaters in the future.
Now comes the twist in the story. Without any narrative from the wealthy man, the parable commends the manager thief, “and the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently”. What a twist! Is the parable trying to teach dishonesty actually pays? Not at all. The next sentence in the parable describes part of what must be learned. “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”
When it comes to our physical presence on earth, there are no stones too big to be unturned to secure our present way of life. Most people will do almost anything to keep their job even if the job entails a fuzzy moral leaning. When it comes to money, no sane child of the world is willy-nilly about their most beloved financial resources. The same doesn’t hold as true when the topic of a person’s eternal soul is involved. There seems to be no urgency, no prudence, about spiritual matters as it is with our temporal problems. The prevailing rationale for most is the spiritual life is never as pressing as a financial problem. Within every person there is quite a disparity between our own ‘child of the world’ and our ‘child of the light’.
Now comes the crushing conclusion of the parable. “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other.” For Christians there is a balancing act between serving two masters. The financial is most often given preferential treatment. Money is important, no one can live without it, but it cannot be our master. Serving one master means using the other in that service. If money becomes the master, then the spiritual life become nothing more than the means to acquire more wealth. We may pray to God for financial gain and in doing so manipulate God into our service. On the other hand, when God is our master, then the financial aspect our life becomes the servant, thereby making the instrument of wealth a way to serve God and his people through charitable acts.
You cannot serve both God and mammon. Either you will love one and hate the other. Dear God, let me choose you.