If we stick to the understanding that we need to consider what the parables say about God, what does the parable of the shrewd manager tell us about God? William Barclay tells us that there are at least four lessons in this parable that we as Christian people need to learn to function in this world and prepared for the next. What are these lessons?
First we need to recognize that the children of this world are better at living in this world and this society than are the children of the light. They know how to live in it and to maximize the benefits of being here in the moment. It is what they live for. The children of the light are not as adept at looking after themselves as are the children of this age. But then the goals of the children of light are different from those of this age. Which begs a question – how are you planning? Are you planning for the next 20 years or for the next 20 light years? There is a difference in what you will be ready for depending on your plan.
Second, are you prepared to use what you have as possessions to build relationships with others, including God? There some who don’t like the clergy to talk about money and possessions from the pulpit but not to do so is to ignore a large portion of the Gospels and the teaching of Jesus. It is possible to use materials to build relationships. Just the other night my son and some friends were playing a youth group game. The group was split into two teams and each team was given a tooth pick to trade for something else that could be given and did not needed back. As a result one team traded up from a tooth pick to a large comforter from the tooth pick while the other team managed to trade up to an old love seat. It is amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it. And that is the whole point. We need to be wise in the ways in which we act so that we can actively and intelligently extend the ministry of the Church and the reach of the kingdom.
Third, anyone that that does small things and tasks well, can be trusted to do big things well. And let’s understand that the goal here is not to find people with skills alone. The goal is to find people who can act and walk humbly and with integrity. Skills and be learned and they can be gifted from God. Yet there is a reality that the most gifted people in the world, without integrity and a bit of humility and other things that engender trust, are some of the haughtiest people the world has known. People can see and know the nature of other people. We must be careful to consider the nature of the person when dealing with them – wise to know where they are coming from and where they could be headed. And we can bring material wealth and goods to bear on situations that would help promote relationships, not only with each other but also and more importantly with God.
Fourth, we need to know where our focus is and get our heads “in the game”. We need to decide who it is that we are serving and then focus on our master to the exclusion of others. This kind of focus changes what we do from duty and transforms it into worship. What we do and what we say becomes worship because it is offered to and on behalf of who or what our focus is and what we have assigned worth to. How you give and share your time, your talents and gifts, your treasure and material possessions, your little piece of creation and your tears and compassion matter. They are all gifts from God and we need to be wise in how we use them.
How does this relate to God and what we might learn about living a godly life? Greg Rickel tells a story about a man who collects pearls. One day he was walking on a town street and spotted in a store window the most beautiful, the grandest and largest pearl his eyes had ever seen. He knew that he had to have it. So he enters in though the store and an old man comes out from behind a curtain and the back room. The collector addresses the store keeper, “That pearl. I want it. How much is it?” the storekeeper answers, “What do you have? How much do you got? ” the collector said excitedly, “well I have three hundred dollars in my wallet!”
“Great,” said the storekeeper, “I’ll take that. What else have you got?”
“I have my sports car outside – 1966 Corvette. A real classic.”
“Good, I’ll take that too.” said the ancient. “What else have you got?”
“I have 30,000 dollars in investments and GICs” said the collector.
“Good, I’ll have that too. What else do you have?” by the time the deal was struck the collector had given everything away to the store owner. They man took the pearl and was about to walk out the door when the shop owner called out and said to the man, “ look I don’t need a family and a big house in St. John’s. I don’t need a fast car or investments. In fact come here I and I will give you back your three hundred dollars. I give them back to you but remember they are mine. Take them and care for my family and use my wealth and possessions wisely. Care for them for me won’t you?”
The man left the store with everything he had before he entered the store and now he had a pearl of great price. But there was a difference. None of it was his now to own. He went in with everything and come out with nothing. Everything he had was now a gift. That is how we ought to live. That is Christian stewardship.