Jesus knows something about life, and how we handle it. He spoke to his disciples and others about it, often in parables.
I wish I could tell you what the first parable in this chapter is talking about when it says the dishonest, steward should “make friends by unrighteous wealth” so they will be his help when he needs it. In the parable, the steward’s master called it prudent, but I find it hard to believe Jesus is not being sarcastic in this comment, since the story is about someone for whom money was the motivation for his choices.
What spoke loudest to me in today’s reading was the apparent theme, in each section, of faithfulness and honour in relationships, both with God and man. Specifically, honour for God’s words and the ways of the Kingdom—and how they affect our relationships—seems to be the message of the day.
The verse that talks about not being able to serve both God and Mammon, or money, found in the middle of the offering, seems to anchor the passage, acting as connector for the other seemingly disparate sections.
That verse stands out to me because it has acted as a guiding light for me through several decades. When we were in our forties—with a teenaged daughter—my husband went back to university for three and a half years. We were in a foreign country and had very little money. I was teaching in a private Christian school, and my salary was much less than we were used to living on—and we weren’t wealthy before then!
I worried constantly about money—bean counter that I am—and tried to help the Lord come up with ways to help us. One day, after I read the version of this “mammon” verse found in Matthew 6, I noticed the word “therefore” that came after it.
“Therefore, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, what ye shall drink, not yet for your body, what ye shall put on…,” (Matt 6:25). Because life is more than those things.
Food, home, and clothing are all things we need, but is he here saying we shouldn’t think about them—plan for them? Certainly not. Since prudence is extolled as a virtue in Proverbs, the book of wisdom, this passage surely means don’t give them an anxious thought, because your Father has said He is Provider of even the ability (power) to get wealth.
The main reason for me not to worry, therefore, was so that I wouldn’t make decisions based only on the bottom line—decisions that left God out of the equation. If I did, I’d be serving money without even knowing it, and that would not bring the joyful, peaceful and meaningful life God wanted to bring. Not then; not now.
As we move into the story about Lazarus and Abraham, and the nameless rich man, we see that money itself wasn’t the deciding factor in the outcome of their lives. Abraham was rich, as we know, but honoured God with his riches, not letting the opportunity for riches be the motivator behind his decisions. The nameless rich man apparently gave no thought to the right way to spend his wealth. One was comforted in the afterlife, one was not. Lazarus, a beggar, was also comforted.
Given what we know of what Jesus came to do, and what His Cross accomplished for all who would believe, we can be sure that no one can buy his way into Heaven with good deeds. In fact, trusting in your righteous deeds—as much as we admire and appreciate them—is compared to wearing rags, unlike the righteousness that is of faith in Christ.
Therefore, I would think that the purpose of these stories, parable or true, is to underline the fact that having a wrong relationship with money is dangerous. Trusting God enough to let His word be the light on our path, and the One who directs our relationships and our choices, is what produces the truly good life God intends for each of us to have. Honouring our relationship with Him in this way, and honouring our relationships with others, is a Kingdom key.
And it’s a good idea, not just at Christmas, and even in a New Covenant.
“Therefore, all things whatsoever you would that men do unto you, do ye even so to them…” (Matthew 7:12)