I Timothy 2:1-7
Like so much of the Bible, the story that Jesus told about the dishonest manager is not meant to be an example of how we should run our lives. It is instead an example of something we should avoid. Jesus is trying to make the point of how silly and ultimately dangerous it is to flirt with dishonesty. If the manager had simply been honest in his business dealings in the first place, he wouldn’t have had to go to all the trouble that he did in order to cushion his landing when he was fired. We don’t know a lot about his boss, but it seems that he was also dishonest, or he would not have been so congratulatory to his servant for cooking the books. It all sounds like an episode of “I Love Lucy”. How sad. Unfortunately, it also sounds like episodes from our own lives, because we so often act like the people in the gospel story or “I Love Lucy” –wasting our time with dishonesty to get what we want, instead of simply doing the right thing and trusting God to take care of the outcome.
So many of our problems could be avoided if we simply went about our tasks honestly and were satisfied with the good things that are already in front of us. We heard Paul recommend such a way when he instructs Timothy to pray for everyone, “so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” There may have been a hint of worry about persecution in Paul’s instruction, but we can still relate to his desire that we live with dignity. Dignity can not mix with dishonesty, and it has no need for silly schemes. All of us are of infinite worth. Our lives are important, as are our jobs, no matter what they may be. There is no need for us to pretend to be anything other than who we are, or to have more things than we can afford. After all, God chose the life of a carpenter, not the life of a senator. If being middle class and ordinary is good enough for God, it is good enough for the rest of us. If there were no carpenters, the world would be in much worse condition than if there were no senators.
Of course, none of this is meant to say that we should accept any sort of poverty, sickness, or lack of opportunity as being ordained by God. We should work to eradicate those things, but we don’t all have to have the biggest house on the block, or the fastest car, or the most glamorous spouse. Most of us have more than we could ever use or need. Most of us have lives full of people that we could never run out of love for. There is no need to waste time desperately trying to get more, or creating false images of ourselves so that people will be impressed and pretend to like us, because usually the only ways we can figure out how to get more stuff is either by making sure other people don’t get it or by working ourselves to death (which is selfish), and the practice of putting up false images of ourselves to impress people is destructive to our own personalities, and is dishonest. Selfishness and dishonesty can only lead to disaster for ourselves and everyone around us.
The prophet Amos just told us about some of the disasters that selfish dishonesty brings. He addresses those who “trample the needy, and bring ruin to the poor of the land … practic[ing] deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweeping of the wheat.” Amos was pointing out the fact that the laws that God had given Moses to insure that everyone got a fair chance at a decent living were being broken, and disaster was looming because of it. If you read the entire book, it becomes apparent that some of those who were breaking these laws and hurting the poor were the very same people who were quite scrupulous about following the proper religious customs of the time. They were careful to treat God with respect, and yet treated the people around them like trash. What they failed to
realize is the fact that one of the ways we encounter God is through other people. Any dishonesty or callousness shown to our neighbors is dishonesty and callousness shown to God. The way we run our businesses and lives is the way we run our relationship with God. As we heard Jesus say: “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If you then have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No 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.”
Most of us have not been burdened with wealth, and most of us are quite honest in our business dealings. But we still so often go through life comfortable with the petty falsehoods that we pass along to others to make us look more impressive, and we all have times when we commit petty misdemeanors to get things we want (like pretending to understand a conversation when we don’t, or sucking in our guts when a romantic prospect walks by). We don’t do these things because we are evil; we do these things because we forget how truly holy we are. We are perfectly adequate and acceptable and beautiful without the false fronts. So is everyone else. It is our job to realize that fact and leave behind the petty falsehoods that separate us from God, from others, and from ourselves. It is up to us to realize that we have more than enough of everything we will ever need. Then we can let others know that it is ok for them to be themselves; to come out from behind their facades and to stop killing themselves and those around them by constantly grasping for more stuff. They can stop doing those things because they are acceptable to us and we love them, not their possessions or their false images. Pretension is not beautiful, people are. Wealth is not valuable, people are. Image is not real, people are.
We can not love what is not real, and we can not love until we are real. As Paul wrote to Timothy: “This is right and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” May we all come to the knowledge of the truth that God knows the real us, and yet still loves us. God sees us naked and with no possessions, and yet still loves us. There is no need to falsify our accounts, like the dishonest manager in the gospel story. We have God and we have each other, and that is all we will ever need. AMEN