“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”
They walked into the coffee shop together, the three of them – a middle-aged couple, dressed casually in shorts and flip flops, along with another man, a businessman who was probably much more comfortable in a suit but who was trying hard to dress down and look informal for the meeting with the couple. They grabbed a wobbly little table and the businessman took the couple’s orders up to the counter. The woman told a joke, and the businessman laughed loud and hard, just a little too loud and hard for what she’d said, a little too forced for it to have been genuine. Once their coffees came to the table and the preliminaries were out of the way, the businessman started into his pitch, trying to sell them a package of insurance coverage to protect their financial security in case of death, disability, dismemberment, disease, and all sorts of mayhem. After peppering them with all sorts of personal questions about their finances that they were clearly uncomfortable talking about in the openness of the café, he laid out all the details of how his products could be their financial salvation in case of catastrophe – and he was laying the catastrophe on pretty thick, painting pictures of all kinds of horrendous possibilities, and how they’d never have to worry about any of those things, if they’d just sign on with him.
I’m sure we’ve all sat through similar presentations. We want to be prudent, to save for a rainy day and to insure against some reasonable amount of risk. So it’s through that mental filter that we hear Jesus’ words in today’s passage from Luke – sell your possessions, give the money away to help others in need. This is how we become truly rich, and secure, in God’s eyes. Don’t be afraid, Jesus says.
And he says don’t be afraid to a group of people who live lives that had to do little else but cause fear. They were living lives of near nonexistent medical knowledge. Most of them had a standard of living that we’d consider well below the poverty level today. No retirement plans, no Social Security, no Medicare, no life insurance. An average lifespan of maybe 45 years if they managed to survive childbirth and youth – and all under the thumb of the oppressive occupying force of the Roman empire. It would seem that they had every good reason to be afraid about their security, and to squirrel away every little bit they could. But Jesus tells them not to worry. To not be afraid. To take even what little they have, and to give it away.
By comparison, we’re lucky. We have all sorts of protections and wealth and social and economic advantages over the average people of Jesus’ time. And yet, with all of those things, are our lives really more satisfying? In the end, are we really any more worry-free, stress-free, fear free, or have we just shifted our fears to preserving those things that would supposedly protect us from fear? Have all of those safety nets brought us nearer to living more closely to the way we should, as members of God’s kingdom, or do they push us further away?
It’s no mystery that so much of the world, and our society, is sending us a message – teaching us a catechism, if you will, that’s almost completely at odds with the one that Jesus is laying out to his disciples, and by extension to us, all through this section of Luke. So much of our culture, our culture’s values, our economy, is based on scarcity and fear. Fear of not having enough, having to hoard for ourselves. Fear of not having as much as someone else. Fear of not being cool enough, or smart enough, or attractive enough – better buy something to fix that. Fear of not wearing the right clothes, the right shoes. Fear of being different, not fitting in. Fear of death, which really just boils down to the biggest fear of all – the fear of not being loved.
Even though their lives were more difficult than ours, maybe in those simpler times it was easier for Jesus’ listeners to tap into his message than it is for us. Maybe it’s harder for us to really hear and accept Jesus’ message that God loves us, and is trying to offer us this amazing, abundant, eternal way of living, and that it doesn’t have anything to do with all the things we try to do to create and safeguard our own security. Maybe all those kinds of insurance that we try to provide for ourselves just entangle us and keep us further away from the kind of joyful living that God is trying to hand us. Our society and its values are every bit as much fishers of people as Jesus and his apostles were, and we’ve got to consider just whose nets we’re really in.
But… we can’t really do what Jesus says here, can we? We aren’t supposed to take his words literally, are we? Well, honestly, I don’t know what Jesus is telling you to do; we’re all on our own path laid out for us by God. But based on his words, that’s exactly what he’s telling at least some of us to do, at least to some degree or another. Divest. Simplify. Use less of our money for ourselves or to ease our fears and shore up our security, and use more of it for the purpose we’ve been entrusted it to begin with – to advance God’s kingdom, to help others and support the mission that God has given to the church. Stepping out in faith even if it seems scary and our guts tell us it’s contrary to our own self-interests. Because trying to cling on to all these false securities only increases the anxiety and fear in our lives, and that fear clouds our judgment about how we are to live as Christ-followers.
Contrary to what pretty much all of the advertising world tells us, we don’t need the newest thing, the nicest thing, the biggest thing. Christ has called us to have fewer things, smaller things, simpler things, so we can channel our money in the directions Jesus tells us please God. We’re being called to have more faith, more trust, that God will provide for us and reward us for this kind of faithful risk-taking – and not least of all, by immediately rewarding us – transforming our hearts through compassion whenever we use our resources to help others. We all know just how good it makes us feel inside whenever we see the gratitude of someone who’s been helped by us. Imagine feeling that way most of the time; imagine the deep-in-the-soul joy and contentment that kind of life would cause in us. That’s the eternal way of living that God is offering to all of us, according to Jesus, if we just trust enough to do it.
Shifting our financial priorities away from ourselves and our own concerns, and more toward a Jesus-driven life, is scary, there’s no doubt. But in this passage from Luke, we can hear Jesus coaxing us to not be afraid, to have the faith and do it anyway, because God has promised us our lives would be better, not worse, more joyful, not less, more secure, not less. This better way of life that God is putting in front of us is so close, we really can reach out and grab it. Jesus is coaxing us on, like a parent teaching their child to swim. The nervous child standing on the dock, Wrapped with water wings and enough other inflatables to keep the Titanic afloat; little toes curled over the edge. And the parent standing down in the water just beyond the dock, smiling, arms outstretched, trying to coax them to jump in – it’s OK; you’ll be fine. Don’t worry; I’ll catch you. That’s my image of Jesus in this passage. He’s coaxing the disciples, and us, to have faith, to trust, and to jump into this new kind of life because he knows it builds our real treasure in the kingdom of God, and it produces results immediately. It gives us a more joyful way of life. God promises us that. And that blessed assurance is worth far more than any insurance that we could ever buy.
Thanks be to God.