Friday, November 04, 2016

Gotta Serve Somebody

By Colleen O’Sullivan
For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their end is destruction.  Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their “shame.”  Their minds are occupied with earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it, we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.  (Philippians 3:18-20)

Jesus said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property.  He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you?  Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’  The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?’  … He called in his master’s debtors one by one.  To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’  He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’  He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note.  Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’  (He did likewise with the other debtors, decreasing the amounts they owed.)  And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.  For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than the children of light.”  (Luke 16:1-3a, 5-6, 8)

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
(Gotta Serve Somebody, Bob Dylan)

Parable of the Unjust Steward‎. 2012.
Canvas, oil. 80 x 70. Artist A.N. Mironov
When you read the gospel stories, do you ever try to imagine Jesus’ voice or facial expression? I picture Jesus telling this parable with a sardonic smile or maybe even laughing as he finishes up. Here are characters anyone in Jesus’ day could picture because a rich landlord exploiting his tenants and an estate overseer taking his cut as well were part of the fabric of everyday life. Landlords were the “loan sharks” of their time.  Their stewards were, in effect, the debt collectors. Owners and overseers alike profited at the expense of the poor. 
This particular steward has been caught defrauding the landowner. He’s going to lose his job and we find him breaking out in a cold sweat at the thought. He’s not so young anymore.  How will he live?  Aha, he comes up with a solution!  Forgive a portion of the debt of each of the tenants, and then they’ll be inclined to cast a favorable eye on him when he’s unemployed and in need of help.  He’s rather cunning and it does almost sound like Jesus admires his shrewdness.
But I think Jesus feels about this steward the way I feel about computer hackers.  Instead of defrauding your boss and the poor (or wiggling your way into places you don’t belong on the Internet), why not put your smarts to good use?  Everyone serves somebody or something and, in Jesus’ view, the only god worth serving is the Father.
Paul says much the same thing in his letter to the Philippians.  We get so wrapped up in earthly things, we forget all about the Cross and the great love that enables us to be sons and daughters of God and heirs with Christ in both his suffering and glory.  No, we’re too much like the steward in Jesus’ parable, eyes and thoughts trained only on the riches of this life.

It’s true that we all serve something or someone.  Try keeping a journal of how you spend your time for a week.  On the eighth day, sit down and look back through it.   How you allocate your time, energy and financial resources will give you a pretty good picture of who or what you serve.  It’s never too late to make changes in our priorities, if necessary.  God is always ready and waiting to be the center of our lives.

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