Being Shrewd with Finances – June 10, 2018

In the Steven Spielberg movie “Catch me if you can”, Leonardo Dicaprio plays the real-life Frank Abagnale Junior, a young man who coned many. He was a check forger, imposter and took on 8 different identities, including: a cook, an owner of a grocery, a movie projectionist a teaching assistant, an airline pilot, a pediatrician, an attorney, and a United States Bureau of Prison’s agent.

He escaped from “police custody” twice (one from a taxing airline – and once from a US federal penitentiary). He served less than 5 years in prison before starting work for the federal government. He now owns a company that teaches the FBI and other police how to catch con men and other frauds, like himself.

In the end, we almost find ourselves cheering him on. We celebrate his ingenuity, his skill and his risk. In a way, ‘we wish’ we could get away with stealing 4 million dollars without getting arrested. But the reality is, most thieves are caught in the end. That is what happens to con men.

That is where our Bible passage in Luke fits in today. Luke 16 is often titled, ‘The Parable of the Shrewd Manager’. It says in chapter 15 that Jesus is speaking to; the Tax Collectors and Sinners, the Pharisees, the crowd and the disciples all at once. What does it mean to us today?

It is clear that the entire 16th chapter dealing with the use of money. Here is the story. There was a rich man who employed a manager to take care of his business. Then, someone complained to the boss saying, that this manager was squandering, wasting, or miss-using the owner’s possessions.

So the Boss called the man in and said, “What is this that I hear aout you? Show me your books and give an account of all your transactions. If there is ‘one error, you’re finished! I will not have an employee ‘who is a cheat’.” Knowing he is cauht, the manager said to himself, “What shall I do now? My boss will take away my job.”

So the unscrupulous manager found himself in a bad way. “I am not strong enough to dig – and I am too ashamed to beg”, he thought, “yet I have a plan – that just might save me.” And so, the manager calls the boss’ debtors in ‘one by one’ and slashes their bills, drastically discounting what they owe.

This way, the boss ‘got some debt paid back’ and made a quick trn around ‘to cash in on the profits’. There is a good chance the manager did this by ‘simply cutting out his commission’. So in the end, everyone winds. Then, the boss commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.

Then Jesus ‘gave us all’ insight into this parable, “For ‘the people of this world’ are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind – than are ‘the people of light’. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings..”

“Whoever can be trusted with very little – can also be trusted with much, and ‘whoever is dishonest with very little’ will also be dishonest with much. “So, if you have, ‘not been trustworthy in handling earthly wealth’, who will trust you with true riches?”

In this passage, Jesus is recognizing 2 kinds of people; those he calls ‘people of this world’ and ‘people of the light’. People of the world are really good at what they do yet many people of the light still have a lot to learn. Sadly, Christians can be some of the most gullible, naive people around. Jesus told the disciples to be ‘as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves’ in Matthew 10:16. Yet, almost every week, in the news, we hear about Christian folks being scammed.

While money is ‘simply a tool’, we are called to use it and all of our resources well. IN the end, our earthly wealth means nothing to God. But how we condust our lives around money, what we do with it and what it reveals about our priorities and goals in life, matter immensely.

Luke tells us that money reveals character. It is used to build trust, it shows that we understand responsibility and reveals that ‘we take all that God gives us seriously’. Our motive is more important than ‘any quantity of money we accumulate’.

All that we have should be used to glorify God, that includes our use of money and every other resource available to us. Scripture explains in so many words, “Only a fool wastes what could be used for a greater purpose.” (Proverbs 17:16)

James chapter 5 reads, “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers ‘who mowed your fields are crying out against you’. The cries of the harvesters have also reached the ears of the Lord Almighty”.

Then, if the message is not clear enough, Luke 16 ends with the story of “The Rich Man and Lazarus”. The rich man lived in luxury, was dressed in purple and had fine linens. He lived life to the fullest, ate, drank and had every luxury. But outside, by his gate, laid a beggar named Lazarus. The rich man loathed him. He watched him rot by the gate and never gave him anything. He despised the man.

What is on trial here is our lack of compassion, our selfishness and our waste ‘at the expense of others’.

The Wall Street Journal ran this statement: “Money is an article ‘which may be used as a universal passport to everywhere’ except heaven, and as a universal provider of everything – except happiness.” Money can be a great tool or your downfall.

When we scan the Bible we find, that Jesus talked more about money than any other topic. Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions. In the Gospels, an amazing ‘1 out of 10 verses’ (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.

The reason is, Money like power can corrupt us quickly. And it can also be wasted, if we are careless. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism said, “Earn all you can, save all you can and give all you can.”

WEsley wrote, “As riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.” He encouraged believers to take care of their basic needs and the needs of our families; buy food, clothes, housing, take are of your health and education, but never hoard money at the expense of causing suffering for others.

The New York Times had an article in July of 2015 called, “Your Spending Choices Often Reflect Your Values”. In the article, Carl Richards writes, “My top priorities are spending time with my family and serving in my community. In theory, every decision I make, every action I take, should be about meeting those priorities. But sometimes, my statements show I have made other things a priority.”

And Richards finishes this way, “We can flip the equation. We can put our values first and make spending decisions that better align with our true selves. And we can end up with statements that reflect a personal manifesto that we’re proud to call our own.” I think that is what Jesus was trying to say to us.

I want to end with this short story: A teacher of third graders asked her class, “What would you do with a million dollars?” One girl responded, “I would buy new clothes and lots of candy.” A little boy answered, “I would buy a train and a monkey.”

The the teacher asked, “Do you suppose that buying those thins would ‘really be the best use of your money?” “Gee”, said the boy, “You ask what I would do with a million dollars, not what I should do with it.” Even a third grader can get a little insight!

While we, on occasion root for the con man, a good con only gets us so far. And foolishness, the Bible says, only separates us from our hard earned money. (Proverbs 21:20) It takes wisdom and careful planning to take us back home again. So bank on Jesus and ‘use your money wisely’ to build eternal relationships and to point to heaven.

Your assignment is to take account of your fiances this week. Be wise, count the cost.

Amen