Weekly Bible Reflection
Luke: Signs of the Kingdom
Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
Text: Luke 16.1-13: "Your Money or your Life "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Who would you turn to for help if you suddenly found yourself destitute, homeless or penniless - perhaps through a house fire, or your bank collapsing?
What is the nature of your relationship with the people from whom you would seek help? What makes you sure you could depend on them in a crisis?
A Window on the Text
This teaching of Jesus is difficult to understand and has been open to many different interpretations.
The master was a very rich man, possibly a multi-millionaire in our terms, and each of the individual debts is huge (v 6, 7). Did he accuse the manager because he had allowed them to reach a level that could never be repaid? (Comparable with 100% mortgages granted prior to the recent banking crisis.) Maybe the debts had been inflated instead of charging interest, as usury was not allowed in that society? This was common practice, so writing them down might simply have restored their real value and explain why the manager was commended for his shrewdness (v8). We just don’t know.
However, in focusing on the detail of the story we may miss the real message. So let’s take this as an extreme illustration, while noting how remarkably close it is to some of the recent banking and business dealings that have devastated our nation’s finances. Then look elsewhere for the point Jesus is making.
He is talking about the most crucial decision we have to make in our lives: whether to choose money as our source of security or whether to put our trust in God (v13). In this context ‘money’ and ‘God’ are used as shorthand. For ‘money’ read high earnings, insurance policies, pension plans and investments; for ‘God’ read trusting in other humans (v9) and building supportive, loving relationships with all aspects of the created world.
It is a decision that has to be made without compromise – an absolute ‘either/or’ with not a trace of ‘both/and’; we cannot choose both God and Money (v13). Even the Israelites, wandering in the wilderness before they finally reached the River Jordan and the land of Canaan, were given the same choice: between trusting in God – with life and prosperity - or ‘bowing down to other gods and worshipping them’ – with consequent death and destruction (Deuteronomy 30.15-20). (See More Background, below)
Responding as a community
- Make a Risk Assessment listing the risks associated with following each of the two ways, Money or God.
- Why is the search for financial security so all absorbing? Can one ever fulfil that search?
- Say or sing “Inspired by love and Anger” by John Bell & Graham Maule (Complete Anglican Hymns Old & New No.325 or Common Ground No. 63)
- Say the Lord’s Prayer up to ‘thy kingdom come’, then pause and name some of the people and situations for whom the kingdom has not yet come – perhaps light candles for them.
- Continue the Lord’s Prayer up to ‘give us this day our daily bread’, then pause to reflect on some of the ways in which you have already secured ‘daily bread’ for days or weeks to come.
- Complete the Lord’s Prayer then end by blessing each other and your endeavours to live by faith using the words of the Grace.
- In their Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Malina and Rohrbaugh note that rich landowners frequently employed slaves as estate managers. They were usually paid in commission and under Israeli law of the time were held responsible for any losses incurred.
- Malina and Rohrbaugh also note that the size of these debts in these examples might represent the rent due on the land farmed by a whole village community rather than one individual farmer.
- Capital & Kingdom by Timothy Gorringe (Orbis 1994) explores an ethic for modern western society based on the book of Deuteronomy and it takes as its theme the choice between Life and Death (Deut 30.15). His starting point is that the political and economic structure of the First World countries buys wealth and prosperity for a few and the cost of death to many. From that beginning Gorringe looks at our understanding of Work, Ownership, Capital, and Usury and formulates an ethic which might bring life to all aspects of creation rather than to some.