Jesus tells an intriguing story in Luke 16:1-9 about a dishonest manager who strikes off significant amounts owed by debtors so that when he is dismissed, he would be welcomed into their homes.
“His master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are shrewder in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light,” Jesus said. “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” (Luke 16:8-9).
Who are the “children of this age”? Those who live according to the values of this age and are clever in arranging and securing their future in this world. Not everyone is good at that, but that is the goal – to secure one’s place and future.
Let’s be honest: We are all caught up in securing our place and future in this world. In some measure, we are all children of this age, and we don’t stop being children of this age even when we identify ourselves as children of light – at least not practically.
Practically speaking, we are not one or the other. We are both children of this age and children of the light. We must learn to see that it’s almost always a matter of degree.
So, the issue is to what degree are we children of this age and to what degree are we children of the light? That’s the real issue.
To be “children of the light” means that, in some measure, we reflect the light that Jesus is.
We share Jesus’ values, embody his compassion, incarnate his concern for the poor, exercise his love for all people and are committed to God’s dream of a just world, the dream for which Jesus lived and died.
Jesus is saying that we who identify ourselves as children of the light can learn something from those who are living primarily to secure their own well-being and future.
What can we learn? We can learn how to use money for kingdom purposes and to make kingdom friends. As we follow Jesus in the Gospels, we learn who these kingdom friends are.
They are the “tax collectors and sinners” with whom Jesus eats and drinks (Luke 5:30) and becomes friends (Matthew 11:19). They are “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind” (Luke 14:13), whom Jesus tells his disciples to invite when they throw a banquet.
These instructions reveal that Kingdom purposes are of a different nature than that of securing one’s own well-being in the world.
Kingdom purposes are “kin-dom” purposes – purposes related to the common good because we are all kin, we are all one family.
The kingdom or “kin-dom” of God is about securing justice for the poor, liberating the oppressed, healing the diseased and demonized, setting free the addicted, forgiving sinners (that includes forgiving ourselves), bestowing dignity upon outcasts and including the excluded.
I find it interesting that Jesus or Luke calls money “dishonest wealth” (NRSV) or “unrighteous mammon” (RSV). Mammon is a transliteration of the Aramaic term that references money as a god.
Money has a god-like quality that appeals to our allegiance and devotion. By calling it “unrighteous,” Jesus is saying that money is not morally neutral. It is a rival god that must be dethroned.
Richard Foster, in his book “The Challenge of the Disciplined Life” puts it this way: “Money has power out of all proportion to its purchasing power. Because the children of this world understand this, they can use money for noneconomic purposes.”
“And use it they do!” he said. “Money is used as a weapon to bully people and to keep them in line. Money is used to ‘buy’ prestige and honor. Money is used to enlist the allegiance of others. Money is used to corrupt people.”
“Rather than run from money, we are to take it – evil bent and all – and use it for kingdom purposes,” Foster concluded. “We are to be absolutely clear about the venomous nature of money. But rather than reject it, we are to conquer it and use it …to advance the kingdom of God.”
When money is subdued and captured and stripped of its power to corrupt, it can then be used for kingdom purposes.
Instead of serving money, we are called to use money to serve the higher goals of God’s purposes. This is a very different agenda from that of securing one’s own future.
We can learn from the children of this age (this involves learning from ourselves) about how to use money wisely and shrewdly to help create a just world and bring healing, hope and redemption to whomever we can.