Back in the day, and by that I mean when the Romans occupied Israel, there was fraud the likes of which would do Madoff proud. So Jesus, perhaps alluding to a current event, told this story which has baffled many good christians. It seemingly flies in the face of what Jesus stood for. It goes pretty much like this:
A man, let’s call him Jack The Fraudster, was in charge of a Wealthy Man’s possessions (somewhat like a financial planner, I suppose). He had climbed his way through the ranks of the household staff and over time paid certain staff favours in exchange for them turning a blind eye to various peculiarities. This really pissed off the honest staff who found themselves unable to climb the ranks unless they colluded with Jack. Finally a few were mad enough that they approached Labour Relations in HR who waffled for years because they didn’t have any real power and besides some of them were in on it … but eventually the rumours reached Wealthy Man who ordered an investigation. The findings were troubling to say the least.
So Wealthy Man hauls in Jack the Fraudster, whom he’d trusted with pretty much everything, and confronts him. Jack the Fraudster is nothing if not weaselly and manages not to get sent to prison on the spot, but he is sent packing. Because Wealthy Man didn’t heed HR’s sound advice, Jack the Fraudster was allowed to personally clean out his desk. He did so, taking along his stewards Seal.
Jack knew as soon as word got out he’d never find employment as a steward again. He also knew he had no other particularly useful skills. He was screwed for life. Unless…. unless …
Unless he committed one last grand act of fraud which would gain him serious favours with some up-and-coming people and at the same time might, just might, appease Wealthy Man enough to have him shut the you-know-what up about his bad behaviour.
This is what he did. He went tearing around to all the up-and-coming people who owed Wealthy Man things like hundreds of jugs of olive oil, or cattle, or exotic spices. And he offered them pretty much a receivership deal: If they would pay just half of what they owed, he’s stamp (with the Seal) the records as being Paid In Full.
This accomplished 2 things:
1. Up-and-coming people owed him, big time. He’d be welcome at their homes for extended couch-surfing stints.
2. Wealthy Man, who probably assumed he’d never recoup his losses, got at least half of what he was owed instead of having to write it all off.
Wealthy Man had to hand it to him. In fact he chuckled about it at many a dinner party. (By the way, you didn’t think Wealthy Man became Wealthy Man by playing clean, did you?)
Here’s where things go sideways. We all expect Jesus to say, “Don’t do that!” but instead, he says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”
Here’s my take. First, there’s just no way, no way, he is encouraging his followers to commit fraud. But I think he is acknowledging that Jack The Fraudster got one thing straight – he knew that finding himself a home was the #1 thing to be concerned about, and Jesus is acknowledging that it was really savvy to use all things at his disposal, things of much less personal significance (no kidding), to secure a future home for himself.
So for us, religious or not, the message could be something like: Get Clear on what’s of supreme importance to you. The things that make life worth living. Home. Family. Friends. People. and Get Clear on what is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Make sure what is inconsequential is serving the purpose of what is of supreme importance. A bit no-brainer, yet we always seem to need the reminder. I certainly do.
I’m no theologian. But that’s my take wearing my money-coaching lens.