This weekend the Lake Wales High School Class of 1979 is having their 40th reunion. That caught my attention because I am also from the class of 1979. My reunion was last spring and we were too busy with moving for me to go, but I was able to see a lot of pictures and reflections on Facebook.
I have a lot of happy memories from high school. I had my struggles, too, of course, but on balance it was good. But there’s an aspect of high school for many if not most of us that gives us a path to understanding this odd parable.
Adolescence is a rather intense time of trial and error as we make that long transition from boys and girls to men and women. Everything is changing: physically, emotionally, relationally and we gain an ever-widening perspective about the world around us.
Ideally, parents are preparing their teenagers for life by allowing them to take on more and more responsibility. “I’ll knock before I come into your room.” “Here are the car keys.” “Yes, you can go, but be home by …” There is real risk in that, real danger. But if you and they don’t take on the risk, they can’t grow.
Chores around the house have hopefully prepared them to get a job. (This is where farm and ranch kids have a real advantage. They’ve been working from day one.)
So, teaching children responsibility is very important. That includes responsibility to themselves. It includes responsibility to their future selves – learn, prepare, stay out of trouble.
And eventually, we hope and expect they will develop some vision that will carry them forward into a good and meaningful life. Some kids get it very early, some struggle with it. (I felt called to the priesthood at age 14 and finally went to seminary at 38.) But if that light never comes on, if no one challenges them to contend with their future, it too easily slips into squander.
When we look back, I expect our happier memories involve those decisions and experiences that helped us become the people we are today, especially as it pertains to our character and relationships.
That applies to life and it applies to faith. And that is what Jesus is getting at in this parable.
Jesus tells this parable about a fairly lousy fellow. He has squandered his master’s property. Squandering anything is not at all good. Squandering means that you have let it flit away with no apparent benefit or purpose. He’s literally throwing money away, in our own terms, with nothing to show for it.
Worse, it is not even his money. Waste is bad enough when it is your own money or property being wasted. It is, after all, yours to do with what you please.
But when someone has entrusted you with their property, then your responsibility is to them. Of course you should do the best job you can do. Sometimes people make mistakes and don’t do such a good job. That’s bad. But squandering implies not only mistakes but a sort of willful negligence – as though you just don’t care.
And we get the impression this is sort of a weaselly fellow. He apparently doesn’t feel like he can do an honest day’s physical work, nor does he want to beg.
So he embarks on this plan to use his master’s wealth to his own advantage. He’s cutting deep discounts as though he was running a clearance sale at Ross or TJ Maxx – without permission or instruction to do so.
That, too, is mismanagement – I’d call it stealing. Would you put up with it for a minute? Yet we find the master praising him for it and Jesus Christ himself holding this scene up as a teaching moment? And did Jesus tell us to use dishonest wealth to pad our own futures?
I think there are at least two points Jesus is teaching us:
The first is that squandering means you don’t sufficiently see or care about your responsibility or your future. This manager’s panic has suddenly gotten him motivated to care for his future. His perspective has gone from the immediate to a bit farther out.
So our first message from Jesus is this: “If even this reprehensible guy can suddenly start looking out for his future, can you?” Christ is calling us to be with him for eternity, and to live for his Kingdom today. He’s calling his disciples to believe in him, to love him, and if they do, then they will follow his commands, which involved the ways we faithfully and healthfully love others in his name. So develop that long term perspective in him, and let it shape your vision and purpose today.
To get at the second, we need to break down a key word. You see where Jesus tells his disciples “…to make friends by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you in to the eternal homes.” Dishonest is one way – and I don’t think the most helpful way – to translate mammon. Mammon is earthly wealth; the kind you can’t take with you when you go.
Jesus is telling them to use earthly wealth through acts of charity and care to build up their treasures in heaven. If you follow all manner of hard work, sound judgment, saving and investing to amass a nest egg or even a fortune, if you don’t put it to work for the Kingdom, you will have squandered it because you cannot take that wealth with you when you go.
In all we do, we’ve got to move our perspective from the immediate, temporal aspects of our live to the eternal. And if we can do that with these earthly things that are under our management, then God will trust us with the eternal things.
One of those two will take precedence. One has to lead the other. One will come first. It’s up to you. Choices get made all the time. People in this crowd are going to make a choice: to follow Christ or to crucify him.
That seems to us an obvious choice today, when put in those terms.
That choice comes at us all the time, in small things and in big things. Choosing consistently to serve God, to serve the good, to be honest and charitable in our dealings with all people is not always as obvious or as easy. When we consider that in the shadow of the cross, we might grow nervous about all we have under our management.
Peace be with you.
Better still, as we get on about his work, we will find that he moves quite wonderfully through us, in ways we cannot anticipate. His grace is sufficient to work even through cracked and broken vessels like you and me.
And someday we will be enjoying our forever reunion with Him. Much of this life will seem very high school. And our joy will be in looking back on how he brought us into his vision.