The Lord says, ‘Use money …to win you friends, and thus make sure that …they will welcome you into the tents of eternity’ (Luke 16:9)
Since I was a child I’ve often heard a common complaint parishioners have towards their priests, “He always goes on about money!” I hope this is not the case with you, but on a day like today, even the most subtle preacher cannot easily shy away from talking about this subject. Then again, money is widely covered by the Scriptures both in the Old and the New Testaments, as we see today, and we should not feel uneasy or embarrassed to talk about it. A couple of weeks ago the gospel already touched on the topics of possessions and wealth encouraging us to detach ourselves from material things in order to pursue a Christian life in which the first priority is doing the will of God, and in which the ultimate end is entering God’s Kingdom. Today we go a little further. Our readings present us first with God’s judgment on dishonest money-making, and then with a reading about the way in which we can use money for our good and the good of others.
The entire gospel passage can appear strange and rather challenging to make sense of. Particularly, in the parable, the rich man ends up praising the dishonest steward who squandered what wasn’t his own in order to make friends for himself. Why is that? Then, how can Jesus encourage us to behave in like manner to win friends for ourselves who will help us in time of need?
I think that in order make sense of this text we need to focus on two rather crucial expressions that may have gone unnoticed; one is ‘what is not yours’ in reference to wealth in v. 12, and the other is ‘the tents (or dwellings) of eternity’ in v. 9.
The words “what is not yours” used in reference to personal wealth may appear rather unsettling. Anyone in employment, and especially people living from pay-cheque to pay-cheque, would expect their hard-earned money to be referred to as “their money”. Likewise, those who are beneficiaries of wealth they didn’t earn may also feel uncomfortable. But the reason behind these words is because for Scripture wealth is not something we can ever truly own, but rather something that we can use (for ill or for good), and that we definitely cannot take with us. Indeed, as Scripture says elsewhere, ‘we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.’ (1Timothy 6:7)
To the words “what is not yours”, Jesus contrasts expressions such as “your very own” and “genuine riches”. These are descriptions used in the same way as “the dwellings of eternity” and they signify the vision of God in heaven. This is the true treasure we are promised and the true compensation we will receive if we prove ourselves loving and generous towards God and towards others (particularly so if we are generous and cheerful in giving what has been entrusted to us), so that we may receive from God that which cannot be taken away from us – the glory of heaven.
So we see that when Jesus tells us to use money in winning friends for ourselves who will welcome us in ‘the tents of eternity’, he is not asking us to imitate the self-serving behaviours of secular society, but he is really instructing us to use widely the money and possessions we may have at present for the poor, the needy, and yes, for his Church. Jesus invites us to spend our treasures wisely, raising the poor from their misery in the name of God and supporting his Church, because ultimately the Father by giving us great fortunes has, in the same way, given us the opportunity to be greatly generous. In this way the poor, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and the angels will welcome us as their friends within the blessed vision of God, within the dwellings of eternity.
I leave you with the thoughts of St Basil the Great on this subject. May they serve as a further encouragement for us to heed today’s gospel.
You must leave your money behind in the end whether you will or not, but the honour that proceeds from good works will escort you to your Master. All people will surround you when you stand before the Judge of all, calling you “father” and “benefactor”. […] So why are you fainthearted about your giving, when you are about to attain such glory? God will receive you, angels will extol you, all people from the creation of the world will bless you. Your glory will be eternal; you will inherit the crown of righteousness and the Kingdom of Heaven. All these things will be your reward for your stewardship of perishable things. (St Basil of Caesarea, Homily I will tear down my barns, trans. C. Paul Schroeder).