Jesus really doesn’t care for money. There was an old Jack Benny routine where a robber pokes a gun in Jack’s side and says, “Your money or your life!” There follows a long pause. Jack has to think about it. The old comedian’s routine was funny because Jack Benny played a middle-class bloke who thinks about money the way we do. We will admit to worrying about money. But do we love it more than our lives? Jesus thinks we do.
Jesus tells a story about a dishonest accountant who is crooking the books at the place where he works. Now back then a person caught embezzling might lose his life. If you were disgraced and put out of a job, no one would hire you. Your family and friends would shun you. Back in Bible times, you would starve unless you were strong enough to get work in the mines or building Roman roads and digging your way to an early grave. When the dishonest accountant got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he faces a choice between honoring his master’s money for the rest of his short career or his life. He chooses life. Jesus says this is the right choice. Many of us would fail the test.
This parable that begins Luke chapter16 is difficult for us to understand. We are so deeply into loving money, even to the point of making it more valuable than life, that we don’t see this accountant taking his master’s checkbook and writing checks to the people who owe the master money as a lifesaver. What the man does with money is buy relationships with outside community which will support him after his job is gone. He saves his life by dishonoring money. Remember, Jesus really doesn’t care for money. Jesus is teaching us a lesson. When someone says, “Your money or your life,” you give any money you have in your hand away.
The master in Jesus’ story sees what his account has done and approves. He, like Jesus, understands things better than us. There is coming a Day when money will have no value at all. Do you believe that? For each of us there will be a Judgement Day when all of our careful saving and worrying about money will be seen for what it is, stupid. At the end of the story, Jesus, who will one day judge all of creation, says, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of [dishonoring] wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes” (Luke 16:9). In other words, use money to build loving relationships. That is the only thing money is good for.
Let me retell this as a modern parable. Imagine that you were born into a wealthy family. Your father and his brothers bought a small pharmacy company and in the mid-1990s that had developed a highly addictive drug. As a teen growing up in this family, they groom you to take over the business. They show you how the marketing department encourages physicians to over-prescribe this addictive drug. You see how the money rolls in from little rural communities who don’t have enough legitimate use of OxyContin to earn Purdue Pharma a cent. And let’s say, they start you in the accounting department of the firm. Do you honor the money by following the family plan and stashing it all in offshore bank accounts, where it will be safe and untouchable? Or do you break with those who trust you and dishonor the money by turning state’s evidence and channeling it back where it will make a difference in the opioid crisis?
The Bible says, “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
It outrages us when a company chooses profits over life. Yet most of us, in our day-to-day choices, will honor money above relationships. We will cut off the neighbor or family member who borrows from us and fails to return the money. We will balance our checkbooks to the last penny and yet do not find time for daily devotional reading or weekly worship. We will worry and worry about how to find the money for the home improvement or the new car that we want, but we choose not to give a thought for the needy around us. We will answer email and bring home unfinished work from the office, because we value our company’s money above the life-giving effect a weekly sabbath and an uninterrupted dinner time will have on our family.
Your money or your life? Which will it be?