On Finding A Comfortable Home

Jesus wrapped up a parable about a scheming and dishonest business manager by saying, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” [Luke 16]

 This is what we call a “hard saying” of Jesus! It’s not especially hard to understand, of course. It’s just hard to swallow! We all know that money—in its practical application—is just a means for exchanging goods and services. We need it to make life work: to pay the rent or mortgage, to buy groceries, to pay for clothing, furniture—in short, we need it to do almost anything and everything. We earn it and we spend it without ever “serving” or “loving” it . . . right?

 Yet listen to the response of those in the audience: “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things and they ridiculed him.”

 Before moving on we should at least ask: did the Pharisees have a point in reacting to Jesus? And what of the label, “lovers of money”? I don’t know that I’ve ever met someone who loves money. Who, for instance, ever takes money to bed with them? Or collects sacks of it to pour out and enjoy whenever time allows? The real challenge of life is to learn how to live with too little money! And the Pharisees were a religiously focused group—devoted to Scripture studies, solid doctrine, and strong traditions. How could they, of all people, be lovers of money?

 What Jesus said to them next is even more remarkable: “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”

 As we reflect on this exchange we’re left with a number of issues to ponder. Among them: why and how did the Pharisees ridicule Jesus? And, on Christ’s side, how broadly did his point about “what is exalted among men” apply? Was it just to that setting, or was it broader? Does God view everything humans value as “an abomination”? Or just the narrow set of issues related to the “love” of money?

 No full answer can be offered, but one reality stands out. Just prior to his clash with the Pharisees Jesus spoke of a financial officer who was being investigated for malfeasance. Before being fired the man’s shrewd response was to reduce any outstanding charges owed to his employer in order to curry favor with those who owed the payments—thus setting up a new future for himself. Jesus then made his point by offering a contrast: in life there will always be successful schemers; and, alternatively, there are also those who seek and gain “true riches”. Which sort of person would each of the parable-listeners represent? The Pharisees who ridiculed Jesus had exposed their own standing!

 The point Jesus was making was ultimately all about relationships! The shrewd financial officer was strictly utilitarian in his activities—his personal security was at stake! It was a case of self-love, making arrangements with other shrewd managers (those he hoped would later hire him—even when they knew that their benefit from him was illegal). Jesus was merely pointing out the “birds of a feather flock together” reality of life. The ridicule of the Pharisees almost certainly had to do with their own “feathers”.

 I can imagine them mocking him: “Having a plan for success is the way the world works, Jesus!” They would have been dismissive, I’m sure: “and if you don’t get it you’re clueless!” Jesus, after all, had never been formally educated, nor had he ever owned a home, nor did he have the right connections he needed to succeed! He certainly had no prospect of being invited to join the Sanhedrin unless he learned a lesson or two about how life really works!

 So what are the “true riches”? In the bipolarity of his “two masters” statement, Jesus made it clear: God was the alternate choice. The riches of relationship with God, and with his Son, were presented to the listening Pharisees as an option.

 But they had other values. Did they love money? Yes, of course, just as Jesus said they did. Not the “cash” itself, but the trajectory of companionship it represented. Money is, indeed, just a means to exchange goods and services with others who have money as well as goods and services to offer. But those relations represent an idolatrous focus of the heart: representing a collective devotion to personal security, pleasure, and prestige. And not a devotion to God.

 But what about the range and weight of what Jesus said about “what is exalted among men” being an “abomination” to God? The answer comes into focus when we realize God’s eternal Triune communion existed before the creation. Before there was an earth, or stars, or sun and moon, and houses, and cars, and money, God was sharing a relationship of mutual love and devotion. The glory of God is found in his love, offered freely: as in the glory of God’s purpose to send his Son—the “Word”—to join humanity and to die so that we can gain access to God’s eternal glory. This is what God loves. But to serve and worship the creation rather than the Creator—that is an absolute abomination, as Paul observed in Romans 1.

 So Jesus was representing two trajectories. One leads to a fading glory, as Jesus explained in the parable: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Those dwellings are well away from God, of course.

 Or, alternatively, to become fast friends of God—as those who love him and all he represents. So that heaven will hardly be noticed as anything different than what this life is about: our relations of love for God and neighbor. And then, in entering eternity itself, nothing but our setting will change.

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8 Comments

  1. Mark

    I think it was Randy Alcorn who said that for the one who stores up treasures in this world, the closer he gets to the end of his life, the further he gets from his treasure. But for the one who is building a treasure in Heaven, the closer he gets to the end of his life, the closer he gets to his treasure. It is a sobering thing to think about the trajectory of success and our vulnerabilities to it.

    And by the way, the actions of the financial officer who had been dismissed for malfeasance stand in stark contrast to the response of his master. I believe the steward was banking on the integrity of his master. Each customer was given a 500 denari (roughly) break on what he owed. I’m not convinced the customers were aware of the trouble the servant was in, or were aware that he had already been dismissed (he was only around to complete an accounting).

    How easy would it have been to call each of those who received favor and nullify the deal based on the fact that the steward was no longer in a position to represent him? The grace of the master was to honor what had been committed and to bear the cost of the malfeasance in an act of grace. That is a powerful contrast.

  2. Leanne

    I think I would much prefer it if you “tickled our ears”, Ron.

    You could start with a little “prosperity gospel” and then segue into “apostolic wonders*

    Truly, it would fill PAGES of content and we’d never have to take too hard a look at ourselves.

    That’s the idea, right?

    *shakes head at herself and slaps duct tape over Mark’s mouth for good measure*

  3. morgan

    well, its took a few days of getting over one of my burning resentments (yet again! first love? now money?) i soared all over the net collecting statistics on the unravelling of our infrastructure due to the greed of our world and came up finally with the HOLY SPIRITS leading me to this story.
    my foster mother sent me to the store with my dad to pick up some fruit and vegetables…i was overjoyed a the prospect of filling our pantry. imagine my surprise as we pulled the station wagon to the back loading dock of the store. we were met by a rather sheepish looking grocer standing in front of several box’s..as we loaded the car i realized it was going to take the rest of the afternoon to clean up the produce. i’ll never forget the look on his face..this was not my first experience of seeing the worlds view of those that ‘have not’ and i suspected this would change forever my views on the ‘haves and have not’s’. it did.
    so..this accidental christian (me) has been a lover of GOD and his word for a couple decades only, and we have had many conversations about money. mainly attitudes about money…i’ll let him weigh the hearts and keep my mind on his glory. the rest usually sorts itself out.

  4. R N Frost

    I like your point about the Master, Mark. He does keep all his promises, even to his own hurt. I can’t imagine how that played out as God watched the Son go to the cross.

    And Leanne, and Morgan too, thanks for letting me know that the posting made some sense in real life. These really are tough issues to consider, aren’t they. Yet the invitation to a much deeper relationship with Christ beckons if we ever…or, better, as much as we distance ourselves from loving this world in place of loving God first and foremost. He must shake his head at our slow responses! My ambition is to at least be looking in the right direction, even if I haven’t made much mileage yet in getting there!

  5. Jack

    I’m not inclined to let you off the hook so easily on this posting (On Finding A Comfortable Home)! It is the practical application that troubles or confounds me. For instance, Luke 14:33, “any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” And Luke 18:22, “you still lack one thing: sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven”

    Of course, these are but the beginning of similar commands.

    What IS the practical application, Ron? (hint, by this I’m not letting you off the hook quite yet). Most likely, you–like all of us–live in a home that you own, have irrelevant possessions, drive a car (we neither walk, nor ride a borrowed donkey), have at least a little money in the bank.

    While I think I understand fairly clearly your “two masters” and “exalted among men” reasoning, Jesus’ command appear to be much more stark and blunt. Who among us can claim to have given up (sell, etc.) everything he has to take up the cross and follow him?

    Indeed, how much more difficult for the wealthy man! Yet there are few(er) Americans who can claim to be so poor (or rich in their righteousness) as to have given up everything.

    So I ask, what is enough?

    I’ve heard it said, just a little more than you have, is the answer.

    Our hearts can clap and sing “bravo” at such head knowledge–or even heart involvement–as inspired by the words in your letter, but who has set his feet to the very practical tasks of doing fully what Jesus asks? I wonder in what minority are these few?

    🙂

  6. Leanne

    In response to Jack’s comment: “Who among us can claim to have given up (sell, etc.) everything he has to take up the cross and follow him?”

    I can, Jack, and I and all those who stood by in incredulity are the better for it.

    Jehovah Jireh. THAT’S my Lord’s name. 🙂

  7. R N Frost

    Sorry to be slow in tracking with the conversation here! My access to the internet went down for 4 days and I’m still digging out of all that stacked up from my time away.

    Jack, I’m not able to answer your questions. I can certainly comment a bit more, though!

    For one, while there is certainly a relativity in speaking of “treasures”, e.g. as I think of what my new-found friends in Rwanda have as resources and what I have, I’m vastly wealthy. Yet by other standards I’m a relative pauper (especially in these days as I continue to raise support for my Barnabas role)! So there isn’t some absolute standard we use.

    But the real issue that comes to mind is the question of trajectory. Jesus was clearly talking about the direction of where our souls are traveling: “love” is pitted against “hate” as the two masters are compared. So by that measure I know the direction that you and I both desire!

    Let me add that I usually don’t do much in the way of offering applications–something you must have noted by now after our shared time at Warren Community! I prefer to let the Spirit do that work, otherwise we start to set up the kinds of moralistic directives that aren’t great ways to motivate; change always comes “from the heart.”

    So my real desire in writing these posts is to expose my own heart to the bright sunshine of the Word and to try and reflect that to others. And my decisions on what I write about has much to do with exploring the sharper edges of Christ’s ministry. As Lewis said of his Christ-like Aslan figure: “He’s not a tame lion.” Yet much of what I experienced from my youth in the church was all about taming Jesus. I’d rather let him roar and frighten me if that’s what I need to hear.

    All that to say that I’d love to hear your own thoughts about how the radical Scriptures need to be treated . . . but that’s best done over coffee.

  8. Leanne

    Well, I just had to go and open my big mouth, didn’t I?????

    Seems like God is asking, once again, that I let go and trust Him. That brings this post to an even brighter light shining upon my soul.

    Funny, while I KNOW He is the provider, and by “know”, I mean, I truly, physically and experientially KNOW this, I still find, when He moves to drive this truth home even deeper/closer, I still have a bit of a knee jerk reaction.

    On the flip side, I will say that while I’d sometimes, (okay,most times) prefer a reprieve, my “downtime”, meaning, the time between faith/trust/obedience/praise and human/world-based reaction/fear gets less and less.

    That’s heartening to me because it lets me know that, just like skipping a workout (IF I worked out, that is!) I still have some “muscle” that has already been built up. Getting back to “fighting” shape doesn’t take as long and when I DO have to “perform”, I’ve got enough reserves (God!) to get me to the finish line.

    Isn’t that amazing?????

    I always thought that once I learned the “lesson” I would not have to take that “class” again, yet, time after time, even though I “pass” with flying colors (Thank You, Holy Spirit!) I find God inviting me to go deeper, learn more, apply it even better than I had…………..all for His glory and MY benefit.

    Simply amazing.

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