Monday, September 23, 2013

Kingdom Finances 101: Not What You Would Expect.

Jesus tells an intriguing story in Luke 16:1–9 about a dishonest manager who, on his own, strikes off significant amounts owed by the owner’s debtors so that when he is dismissed by the owner the debtors will welcome him into their homes. Jesus or Luke says (it’s hard to know where the story ends and the commentary begins):

“And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are shrewder in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes” (9:8–9).

Who are the “children of this age”? These are persons who live by (who are motivated and driven by) the values of this age. Jesus or Luke infers that the “children of this age” are quite clever in arranging and securing their future in this world. This is obviously a general observation. Not everyone is so good at that. But that is the goal isn't it? To secure ones place and future in this world.

Now let’s be honest. We are all caught up in securing our place and future in this world. Let’s not pretend to be more pious than we actually are. I’m caught up in it and you are too. In some measure, we are all children of this age. And we don’t stop being children of this age even when we identify ourselves as children of light—at least not practically.

We have to be very careful about drawing narrow and rigid distinctions in either/or terms. Unfortunately, this is a common practice that must change. Practically speaking, we are not one or the other, we are both. We are both children of this age and children of the light. We desperately need to move beyond the talk of “in” groups and “out” groups as much as we can. I know it’s not possible to do that completely, but we must learn to see that it’s never totally one way or the other; it’s almost always a matter of degree.

So the issue is: To what degree are we children of this age and to what degree are we children of the light? That’s the real issue. It’s never absolute; it’s never simply one way or the other.

To be “children of the light” means that in some measure we reflect the light that Jesus is. It means that to some degree we share Jesus’ values, we embody his compassion, we incarnate his concern for the poor, we exercise his love for all people, and it means that we are committed to God’s dream of a just world, the dream for which Jesus lived and died. 

Jesus is saying that we who identify ourselves as children of the light can learn something from those who are living primarily to secure their own well-being and future.

What can we learn? There’s a lot not to learn or to unlearn, but we can learn this: We can learn how to use money for kingdom purposes. We can learn how to use money to make kingdom friends.

As we follow Jesus in the Gospels we learn who these friends are. The religious leaders complain to Jesus and his disciples: “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Luke 5:30). Jesus is accused of being the friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matt. 11:19). Jesus tells his disciples that when they throw a banquet to invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13).

Kingdom purposes are of a different nature than that of securing one’s own well-being in the world. Kingdom purposes are kin-dom purposes—purposes related to the common good because we are all kin, we are all one family. The kingdom or kin-dom of God is about securing justice for the poor, liberating the oppressed, healing the diseased and demonized, setting free the addicted, forgiving sinners (that includes forgiving ourselves), bestowing dignity upon outcasts, and including the excluded.

I find it interesting that Jesus or Luke calls money “dishonest wealth” (NRSV). The RSV translates it “unrighteous mammon.” Mammon is a transliteration of the Aramaic term that references money as a god.
                                 
Money has a god-like quality that appeals to our allegiance and devotion. By calling it “unrighteous” this means that money is not morally neutral. It is a rival god that must be dethroned. 

Richard Foster, in his book The Challenge of the Disciplined Life puts it this way: “Money has power out of all proportion to its purchasing power. Because the children of this world understand this, they can use money for noneconomic purposes. And use it they do! Money is used as a weapon to bully people and to keep them in line. Money is used to ‘buy’ prestige and honor. Money is used to enlist the allegiance of others. Money is used to corrupt people . . . Rather than run from money, we are to take it—evil bent and all—and use it for kingdom purposes. We are to be absolutely clear about the venomous nature of money. But rather than reject it we are to conquer it and use it . . . to advance the kingdom of God.”  

What Foster is saying is that when money is subdued and captured and stripped of its power to corrupt, it can then be used for kingdom purposes. Instead of serving money we are called to use money to serve the higher goals of God’s purposes. 

This is a very different agenda from that of securing one’s own future isn’t it? We can learn from the children of this age (this involves learning from ourselves) how to use money wisely and shrewdly to help create a just world, to help bring healing and hope and redemption to whomever and wherever we can.


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