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Fellow Managers of the things of God,
We studied the life of Joseph over the past few weeks in Bible History class. You probably remember that Joseph’s brothers hated him because their father, Jacob, made it clear that Joseph was his favorite son by giving him a special coat. When his father sent him to check on how his brothers were doing and how the flocks were doing, they saw their chance to get rid of Joseph. They beat him up, and threw him in a pit. They wanted to kill him, but ended up selling him to a caravan that was passing by. Just like that Joseph went from being the favorite son to being sold as a slave.
Try to put yourself in that situation. What would you do? That’s where I see a connection with what Jesus teaches us in the Gospel for today. When the caravan got to Egypt Joseph was sold to a man named Potiphar. We are told that Joseph was a faithful servant. In fact, he was so faithful in his duties that Potiphar put him in charge of everything in his house. He was faithful in the little things so Potiphar put him in charge of many things.
When Joseph refused the advances of Potiphar’s wife, she lied about him and Joseph was put in prison. But again, Joseph was faithful in the little things. The warden noticed, and eventually Joseph was put in charge of everything that was done in the prison. It didn’t seem to matter to Joseph what his situation in life was. Whether he was a slave, or in prison, he did whatever he was asked to do faithfully. Paul indicates to us that such an attitude comes when we realize that, no matter what we are doing, we are really doing it for God, not men.
Jesus’ parable sometimes causes us a problem because, unlike most parables, it presents a bad example. The manager in the parable is a lazy, unfaithful manipulator. He wasted money that wasn’t his. He didn’t want to do manual labor after he got fired from his management position, so he used his position to cheat his boss out of even more money just to make sure people owed him something. We would expect Jesus to say, “Don’t be like that.” But, instead, he says we should learn something from what this wicked man did for himself. He used what he had to make friends for himself. We ought to learn to use the things that we have to make friends for eternity. Use whatever you have faithfully, keeping in mind that you are serving God, not men. Use whatever you have faithfully, remembering that the most important thing in life is having eternal life.
What does that mean? How do we use whatever we have faithfully?
I suppose someone could say that Jesus is simply teaching a practical lesson. Be like Joseph. Even if you don’t own a thing, work hard, be honest, and someone will notice. Sooner or later you will work your way up the ladder. People will see that you are faithful in little things so they will begin to trust you with bigger things.
Although that may be generally true, it’s not really the main point that Jesus is making. Any observer of society, any philosopher, could make the point, “if you work hard and don’t steal from your boss there’s a good chance you might get promoted.” But Jesus isn’t trying to teach us how to get ahead in life. He makes that clear a number of times. He reminds us that “unrighteous mammon”, will run out. He doesn’t say the goal is to get ahead in life and have lots of mammon, stuff. He says the goal is, when mammon runs out, and as both the Preacher and Paul remind us it will, because you can’t take anything with you when you die, you are welcomed into eternal dwellings. He warns us that if your goal in life is amassing mammon, the stuff of this world, then mammon is your god. And, you cannot serve both God (the one true God) and mammon.
Jesus calls mammon, the things of this world, unrighteous, untrustworthy. The Preacher does a good job of illustrating what Jesus means by that when he says, whoever loves money never has money enough. Satan tempts you to think that if only you had a little more money, then you would be happy and everything in life would be great. But, if you get what you thought you wanted, you soon realize that it didn’t really make you happy. So you think if only you had a little more, then you would be happy and everything in life would be great. It’s a mad circle. It’s like a dog chasing its tail. You can never have enough stuff because stuff doesn’t have the power to satisfy. The only thing that can make you content, no matter what your situation in life, whether you have a lot of stuff, or hardly any stuff, is trusting that God will never leave you or forsake you and that in Jesus you have an eternal dwelling when this life comes to an end.
Mammon, the stuff of this world, is untrustworthy because, as any winner of the lottery will tell you, as goods increase, so do those who consume them. You suddenly have all kinds of friends and relatives you never knew you had. And you have to hire security because someone is always looking to steal from you. Mammon is untrustworthy because it can’t save you from illness, or war, or natural disasters. Mammon doesn’t do you any good when you die. Trusting it can’t get you to heaven.
Mammon is unrighteous because those who love it, who make it their goal in life to have as much stuff as possible, are tempted to obtain it by any means necessary. Money isn’t evil of itself, but those who love it often give in to the temptation to get more through unrighteous, evil means, like fraud, identity theft, cheating on their taxes, shoplifting; as Paul says, all sorts of evils. But the worst thing is that only one thing can be your dearest treasure; only one thing can sit on the throne of your heart at a time. If that thing is mammon, the stuff of this world, then it’s not God who is sitting on the throne of your heart. Paul says, by striving for money, some have wandered away from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.
So, our natural reaction might be, if mammon is unrighteous, untrustworthy; if it can even be a temptation that leads us away from God and causes us to lose our eternal life, maybe we shouldn’t have anything to do with it. Maybe we should all take vows of poverty. No, Jesus says make friends for yourselves with unrighteous mammon. Use it to make eternal friends, friends who will be with you in heaven. Just make sure it doesn’t become your master.
How do you do that? Remember that you are a manager. There isn’t a single thing you have that really belongs to you. It all belongs to God. And, like the manager in Jesus’ parable, you have to give an account to God, who owns everything you have, for the way you are using his stuff. Jesus says, If you have not been faithful with unrighteous mammon, earthly stuff, who will entrust you with what is really valuable (eternal stuff)? If you have not been faithful with what belongs to someone else (everything you have), who will give you something to be your own (an eternal dwelling)?
That’s pretty scary when you think about it. As you think about your life you can’t help but think about all the times that you have wasted things. You can’t help but think about all the times when you thought that if only you got that raise, or a better price for your crops, or a better place to live, or a newer car, or better equipment, then you would be content, but you weren’t. Maybe there were even times when you defrauded someone, or were guilty of stealing, not to mention all the times you have been selfish or greedy. You can’t help but think about how God should not only be disappointed with the way you have managed his things, but he should say, depart from me, you brought the curse of the law on yourself by your unfaithful management.
Every single one of us have been unfaithful mangers of God’s possessions. But thanks be to God, when we are called to give an account of our management, Jesus stands in for us. He offers to God his perfectly faithful management of everything thing he had while he was on earth. He points to his suffering and death as satisfaction for God’s justice, for he allowed himself to be cursed for us. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Now, because of God’s undeserved love for us, because of our forgiveness in Jesus, our goal in life is not to amass as much stuff as we can. We don’t want to serve mammon. We want to serve God in thankful love. As we serve God, we want to use whatever he has given us, whether much or little, faithfully. We are constantly asking ourselves, “how can I use these things that God has given me to serve him and my neighbor? How can I work to the best of the ability God has given me so that, if I am blessed with more stuff, I can use it to spread the good news about Jesus, and to help those in need? After all, nothing really belongs to me, it all belongs to God.”
Joseph didn’t have anything that was his own when he was a slave of Potiphar, or when he was in prison. That didn’t stop him from doing whatever work he was given to do faithfully, to the best of his ability. He was faithful in little things and so he was entrusted with much. But he didn’t let that go to his head. He still gave credit and glory to God, giving witness to Pharaoh and to his brothers that it was God who had blessed him. Such a godly attitude comes only when we daily confess our failure to be faithful managers of God’s property, and then daily rejoice that our failures have been forgiven by Jesus. As we rejoice in what God has done for us, whether we eat, or drink, or whatever we do, we will strive to do it all for the glory of God. We will strive to use everything we have faithfully.