Children of the Light
Children of the Light
Our passage today is a difficult one. The key to interpreting it properly is ensuring we are reading it within its context, which is Luke’s gospel as a whole. Upon taking a second read of the passage a critical question to ask ourselves is do we identify as children of this age or children of the light. Focusing on this helps us put into perspective what Jesus is trying to teach us.
Scripture: Luke 16: 1-13
This is a difficult passage. I had the benefit of the entire week, multiple read throughs the passage, and consulting with a variety of commentaries about what is going on here. It still took me a while to process some of what feels like inherent contradictions in this passage. Some of the words that Jesus speaks, didn’t seem right. As always, the context of the passage, where it is set in the gospels matters.
This passage is lodged between our passage from last week. Going out an finding the one which is lost, the parable of the lost son also referred to as the prodigal. It is followed by the story about the rich man and Lazarus. It also still follows in the theme we’ve been looking at in Luke’s gospel of divine mercy and grace.
There are a number of questions we might ask of this passage as we read it. Sometimes an interesting approach to scripture is to ask a question, read the passage, and answer it. Then ask a new question, read the passage again, and answer the question. In this way we can peel back the layers of meaning that are embedded in scripture.
We might ask:
- To whom is the manager responsible?
- What does it mean to be faithful with dishonest wealth?
- What does it mean to be faithful with another’s property?
- Who are the children of this age and who are the children of light?
This is a passage where we need to be cautious, we can’t read the passage too literally. Doing so might get us into trouble. Remember it’s context and the message of the gospels as a whole. This is a passage where Jesus tells a parable about a dishonest individual and then heaps praise on that individual. But I wouldn’t say that Jesus wants us to live dishonestly and to go about cheating one another.
How do we interpret the shrewd manager? What do we make of his negotiating and looking out for his future? Kendra Mohn offers this interpretation, she writes, “It is tempting to think that our only options for living within complex and troubling systems are accommodation or resistance. But the reality for most people, whether in the Roman Empire or [North America] the United States in the twenty-first century, is more akin to negotiation, weighing options and choosing who or what to prioritize in the next decision with less-than-ideal options. Perhaps Jesus’ admiration for the shrewdness of this generation has this kind of orientation in view.” (Kendra Mohn)
This offers us a way of approaching this passage. Recognizing that the world we live in, just as when Jesus walked the Earth, is not black and white, but rather is full of shades of grey. We are constantly in a state of negotiation of what is good for us, what is good for our family, what is good for our neighbours, and what is good for creation. Often the answers to those questions don’t line up, in fact they seldom do.
This is where the reference to the children of this age versus the children of light comes into play. We aren’t to identify with the shrewd manager or his boss. Instead, we need to identify as either children of this age or children of light. Jesus wants those who are following him to be children of light. Individuals who might belong to a new world order, rather than the status quo of the existing order.
Justo González describes it like this, the praise the manager receives from his master proves how the shrewd manager is “rewarded in the new order for the use he made of what he had in the old order.” (Center for Excellence in Preaching)
If we are children who live in this age, but we long to be children of light. Then we are encouraged to use what gifts and resources we have in this age for the purposes of the next. Jesus isn’t encouraging us to be dishonest or cheat people. He also isn’t saying don’t be rich. It’s saying don’t love money. There’s a difference. We are encouraged to use our earthly riches towards heavenly purposes. On Earth as it is in Heaven.
Chelsey Harmon reminds us that “when Jesus is speaking about true riches, especially in the gospel of Luke, Jesus means the things that make us rich towards God. Analogous to the dishonest manager as he considered where his future was headed as he took action in the present, followers of Jesus are meant to weigh current decisions with their future in mind. If they want to “fill their heavenly bed with feathers” they need to do it now, and in ways that are rich towards God.” (Chelsey Harmon)
Now I want to be clear. Doing good in this life for the goal of a heavenly reward doesn’t necessarily make you a good person. That’s what the shrewd manager did. He was dishonest, got caught, and then continued to be dishonest to secure his future. Our motivations matter. That’s the importance of the final warning Jesus provides us. You cannot serve God and wealth. Whether it is material or monetary wealth in this world or the wealth of a heavenly reward, if that is what you are in service to the reward of wealth, then you’re going to find yourself in a tight spot.
This isn’t a parable about cheating people or being dishonest. It isn’t about being rich or chasing dollar signs. It’s the opposite. As children of light, we use what we have, whatever that might be, for the benefit of God’s people and God’s kingdom.
Faithfulness to God and God’s gifts is the priority. That is what we are called to be in service to. As Children of Light, we leverage everything else we have towards those purposes. Serving God, following God, loving God’s people and creation, that is our vocation and calling. Amen.
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