Over the years, so many preachers have commented on today’s gospel, which prompts us to think about our attitude towards money and material possessions. The gospel warns us against making money the goal of our existence. And yet money plays such an important role in our daily lives that it influences us deeply, whether we have money or not. In a world where values and standards are completely out of focus, money talks, money opens doors, money is a voice that is always heard and listened to. And so given the emphasis society places on having lots of money, it’s hard to remain indifferent to its influence and power. Money is something we have to use, but at the same time we should watch out, just in case it gets a grip on us and destroys us by becoming our god. At the end of our life, what will count is the person we have become and the good we have done, and not what we have accumulated in material possessions.
Our Lord says to us today: “You cannot be the slave of both God and of money”. Our Lord expresses the belief that people who can’t be trusted to deal with money can hardly be trusted with the genuine riches of the Kingdom of God. The danger is that they will begin to twist their religious beliefs around their bank accounts.
Our Lord tells an unusual parable which, at first glance, appears to support dishonesty. A steward who manages his master’s estates is accused of wasting his employer’s goods and as a result of his mismanagement he is dismissed. But before he goes he has to give a final reckoning of his stewardship. He has a little time and so he uses it to plan his future. He is about to join the ranks of the unemployed and he quite naturally wonders how he will survive. And so he calls in all his master’s debtors and deals with them one by one. He appears to be a smart operator and he knows the value of secrecy. He makes them an offer they can’t refuse by reducing their debts and by the time he’s finished a number of merchants owe him for his inventive arithmetic. Now his job prospects look a little healthier, and his future is looking quite good for him.
In a time of crisis, the steward takes firm and immediate action to ensure his own security. And yet he is praised not for his dishonesty, but for his resourcefulness in coping with an emergency with such speed. And so, if a dishonest man can use his employer’s money to ensure there will be people to welcome him when he’s out of a job, how much more should honest people use their money in such a way that they will be welcomed into the Kingdom of God? Now I don’t mean to argue that people can buy themselves into heaven, what I am saying is that we should acknowledge that if the use of money is unrelated to the values of God’s Kingdom then generally people get hurt. And the people who usually get hurt the most are the poor.
The old saying ‘Money is the root of all evil’ contains an element of truth. When money dominates our lives, we easily forget the distant goal of life’s destiny. Our values become muddled and our Christian commitment to God is drained of all its strength. Greed creeps into our hearts; it deadens our conscience and dulls our sense of responsibility to the poor and needy. Today’s gospel seeks to discover whether God is taking first place in our lives or whether the pursuit of wealth is a more important consideration. If we are using our earthly wealth to attain our heavenly goal, then we are on the right road; because this is the only possession worth striving for, as death cannot take it away.
Experience teaches us that longing for happiness and security is simply not satisfied by any created thing; yes, things may satisfy us for a while, but not permanently. Our life isn’t made secure by material wealth, simply because we have a heavenly destiny. We are all created for eternal life with God. We are here today and gone tomorrow, and we don’t take our material wealth with us. And yet we are here for a purpose. The closer we come to eternity the more material possessions lose their value. When life draws to an end, riches prove worthless and have got to be left behind. We can take nothing with us from this life except the good we have done, and the person we have become in the process of living. It’s a custom in some parts of the world that when a person dies they are not buried in their best suit or in their finest dress, but in a simple linen shroud. And the shroud has no pockets. We take none of our hard-earned money and wealth with us when we die.
Some of you may have seen the commercials on television advertising ‘MasterCard’: one of them depicts a father taking his son to a football game, and little captions come up on the screen telling us how the father uses his credit card to purchase tickets for the game, popcorn and drinks, a souvenir scarf, a program, all with a tally of how much he’s spent; and finally the caption, ‘quality time with your child: priceless!’ I think that’s pretty novel for a credit card company to tell us that money cannot buy the best things in life.
The message the Church wants us to take home with us today is summed up in a quote I’ve remembered for years but can’t remember who wrote it: ‘Money is an instrument that can buy everything but happiness, and can purchase a ticket to every place but heaven.’