“And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly;”
I love this story. Like many of Jesus’ stories it makes no sense, no logical sense from where we sit. How can Jesus tell a story in which the hero is a conniving survivor who uses graft and corruption to build for himself social capital? A man who, when under pressure from the corporate watch dogs, does a deal with as many business connections as possible in such a way as those investigating applaud him for his business acumen. It doesn’t save his job but does maintain his income and his lifestyle.
Jesus was a good judge of human nature for we can all put names and faces to this man, people we have watched through the media be caught and yet miraculously comeback in the business world due to the deals they did with others which guaranteed them support when they needed it most.
A business acquaintance used to say to me that there ‘is no connection between personal ethics and business success, if you want to be successful leave your personal ethics right where they belong, in your personal life’, was his mantra.
In this story Jesus seems to give approval to the shrewd and calculating nature of the corrupt manager, as if that is something to be aspired to. What was Jesus saying and is it relevant in this modern age where greed is not only prevalent but often the only reason for people doing business, undertaking studies or pursuing goals? People are seeking instant success and will sacrifice their personal ethics for a shot at the big one.
I am an unusual person. I simply cannot stand reality TV and especially not talent shows or cooking shows like Master Chef. And Junior Master Chef – what is that all about? The exploitation of children for TV ratings, parent delayed gratification and some vague hope that success on a TV show at 11 will make you successful for life? Bizarre is the word and the only word I can use. Hasn’t anyone caught on – reality TV is about producers making money at the expense of others and has very little to do with valuing and developing human beings.
Why would parents allow their 10-11 year olds to step any where near a Master Chef kitchen? These are children, little children, not little adults. These are children who have yet to develop an understanding of themselves in relation to the world and need space to be children to do that. I am constantly amazed (and have been for some time – this is not a new phenomena) at the confusion caused by parents and society who pressure children to be adults, way before they are ready. Today they are treated as equals, they are not; they are given choices and access to resources such as the internet and mobile phones that they do not need nor are ready for; they are allowed to wear styles of clothing and facial jewelry that are inappropriate for their age; they are applauded, awarded and treated as fledgling superstars or geniuses when they are simply precocious with an over inflated sense of self-importance, sadly, not necessarily of their own making. And no one ever says no to them for fear it will do some ghastly damage to their fragile egos. (OOOPS! I do!)
What happens when these young people find their dreams and hopes were just wishful thinking and they are left having to wash dishes at McDonalds, play guitar in pub bands or simply be unemployed and forgotten. We have an endemic of depression amongst young people and the blame sits squarely at the feet of those who have set them up for a fall. Their form of depression often is the result of them not getting what they thought or have been lead to believe by the adults in their lives, was or is rightfully theirs. And we are all implicit in this for we are apart of that society.
Breanne Potter offers an insight into how we might respond better on behalf of the children in our lives. She says;
I’m a member of Gen X, and my generation has it’s own unique set of characteristics and challenges, but thank goodness my parents taught me the value of my actions. They taught me that in competition, there are winners and losers. Everyone doesn’t get a trophy, and we always kept score. They taught me that you must practice and give 100% to win as well. I wasn’t paid to get good grades. I got good grades because they expected and would tolerate nothing less of me. I was taught the consequences of my actions. If I left my bicycle outside and it was stolen, then I would have to save my allowance (which I received for doing chores) and buy a new one. My parents scolded me when I was wrong and praised me when I did well. They also taught me that presentation matters. I remember a heated debate over my signature on my college applications. According to my dad it was too sloppy and I would never get into college with that kind of first impression. I did in fact get into college, but the lesson was still an important one.
It’s all about what we value. Jesus’ shrewd manager reminds us that what we value is what we will do everything in our power to protect. For him it was wealth, position and respect. He wasn’t interested in the finer points of life such as ethical behavior, life affirming values or respecting others. He would do whatever was necessary, including graft and corruption and the manipulation of others to maintain his place, or as it turned out, to better his position in society. At the end of this even his former boss admires him for his ruthless business acumen.
Forget Gordon Grecko and greed is good, this man adds, ‘greed is good and stop at nothing to get it!’ But as my father is oft to say, “You can’t make a good man out of a bad one with money”. It is what we value that will define us and we cannot have a foot in two or more camps. It becomes very uncomfortable.
Jesus smiles and says:
3No 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.”
Interesting choice of words – no slave – we are slaves to our values. What we value controls, owns, our life. We are what we believe in. We are slaves.
Jesus is clear when he seemingly congratulates the underhand activities of the wayward businessman. As Christians, we are to know what we believe, what we are slaves to, and to do everything in our power to turn that belief into a way of life which is rewarded both here and now and in heaven. We are either a part of the culture of our society or committed to the counter-cultural ethic of the gospel – we have to make a choice.
The prevailing attitude of our society is that the world owes us a living and we will manipulate it and others to achieve our goals. Unfortunately many Christians are unable to extricate themselves from this dilemma. Finding ways to interpret the Gospels to give respectability to greed, exploitation and bullying is at the very best a poor excuse for not making the choice.
It is not about us as individuals but us as a community, a community called to share at the well-laid table of Christ in what ever form that table may be laid. It is how we live out our allegiance to God’s creative compassion, which will distinguish us, not how materially well off or powerful we are. It is how we raise our children as children to be other focused adults, allowing them the time and the opportunity to become who and what they are meant to be and not what we want them to be – mini-me’s living out our missed opportunities. It is how we ensure we share whatever grace God has shared with us, with others.
Thomas Merton suggests:
“A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.”
Jesus says to you and I today to be shrewd in our how you live out what you believe for it is what you believe which will define how you live.