|Even the unrighteous servant gave grace|
The story of the unrighteous servant in Luke 16 has often invoked intrigue as how could Jesus commend on a servant who was apparently cheating on his master as wise and to be followed. A casual reading of it may lead one to conclude that Jesus was teaching Christians or the “sons of light” to be as wise as the world (Luke 16:8), or in a more liberal reading, to advocate for practical pragmatism of the servant in complex situations and management to cause least harm. Although we were not told that the accusations of the servant was factual, it was probably true, if he was now willing to cut the debts owed to the Master by half, hence cheating the Master. However, a more insightful interpretation can be found in the context of reading the entire Luke 16:1-15, and recognizing who the players were in similar “Master/ Servant” stories told elsewhere. The unrighteous servant represents the Jewish religious leaders that were secularly minded and money orientated who had lost the focus of their calling and became unfaithful through time. Yet, unlike the religious leaders, had the wisdom to see the judgement that was coming for them, and showed grace as a way of escape.
The “Master/Servant” story is also told in Mat 24:44-50. Here the servant was abusing those he was supposed to take care of. The listeners would immediately relate this to the Pharisees, who were the “Servants” of God. Jesus, “the Master”, would be coming back, and find him abusing the servants – not giving them food as he was supposed to. These were religious people who knew the bible and were supposed to have a shepherd heart to take care of the people and not to use this position to glorify themselves nor to take advantage to become rich. Yet, as time grows, they became weary of doing good, and starting to take care of their own self instead. Time is a great test of faith. We might start of pure and holy, but over time, it is difficult to maintain our faith and zeal for God in the face of the temptations of the world, until one day we make our alliance with the secular world. There are great ministries such as Focus on the Family (FOTF) which started of good but over time became involved in the politics of power and wealth with gays as a scapegoat to achieve their means.
Luke 16 talks of the same story, but with a twist. The players were the same. Jesus was the Master coming back, the Household was the nation of Israel, and the Religious Pharisees, the servant. In Luke 16, the Master came back, and there were accusations that the servant was “wasting his goods”. Ie the servant did not take care of the goods – it may be lost, misplaced, and getting spoilt. This is a reference to the Pharisees who did not do a good job of taking care of the people’s spiritual needs. The people had gone astray with their hearts towards the worldly affairs and yearning instead of towards God and taking care of the poor and outcasts. It was a failure of duty (Luke 16:2), for which the master is now asking the Servant to give an account or be taken to tasks. Likewise, one day, we may be faced with the Day of Judgment and be asked to call to account of what we have done or have not done. And so, what will we say? For the penalty of being kicked out for the servant may be great suffering since he was not a farmer and he does not want to lose his dignity by begging (Luke 16:3). Are we afraid of judgment of the bad things we have done? If we were really as smart as the servant, we would have never come against the gay community, to invite trouble and judgement.
In Luke 16:4, he begin to plan for judgment day with the master knowing that he would be surely be kicked out of the household. Many of us who are in positions of great responsibility often do not consider judgment. We put big banners against gays in the church, preached against them, and even mobilize the entire church to call for the government to put gays in prisons. Do we ever consider judgment day? Perhaps Jesus was correct when he said of the Sons of Light not being as wise as the servant, because the servant thought about the consequences and knew that he could not lie to the Master who will know everything. In the day of judgement, our defence that the bible said that homosexuality was sin could never hold sway because it was meant to be read based on the religion of those days which were sexual in nature, and the social structure which meant that men had a much higher status than women. It was the whole city that came out to rape to angels and we interpret it as if the gays did it, when gays only form at most 5% of the population.
In Luke 16:5-7, instead of doing his work more zealously and demanding those who owed the debt to return them so that he can show how good his work is when meeting the Master, he gave grace and mercy to the debtors. As Christians we would have acted very differently. We would be having a crusade to persecute gays to show how righteous we are compared to them. Surely gays are responsible for the breakdown of our straight marriages and society – ie we would be engaging in the blame game – to blame gays. Yet, it would be of no use, for God knows everything. If we had been as smart as the unrighteous servant, we would have given grace, in order to receive grace. Even the unrighteous servant is more righteous than the religious Pharisees. We can never go wrong when showing love, grace and mercy. Even the unrighteous servant was saved by doing this and had something to fall back to. We Christians have nothing to fall back to, and in Nigeria and Uganda there is even a push for the death penalty against gays.
Luke 16:8 is commonly misinterpreted as Jesus asking Christians to be as street wise and shrewd as the World system. The term “Children of Light” is mocking the Pharisees. Weren’t they supposed to be the Children of light giving revelation to the Word of God, and be the Priests and religious leaders giving direction on the will of God? Yet, they did not. The true “Children of Light” here were the followers and disciples of Jesus who if they really had been so cunning and money minded as the Pharisees were, would not be in the position they were – being poor, and outcasts and having jobs that are “low class”. Yet, the danger here is best presented In Luke 16:13, for when you start having a money focus, your eyes will be away from God. I once attended a service where there were rows and rows of BMWs and Mercedes in the car park, for the church was very rich. This is the world where the Catholic Church once ruled over 2/3 of Europe, and the church did become very powerful and wealthy, then and today. Once, wealth control us, we stop to become the simple minded “Children of Light” who walk by Faith instead of a large bank account for the rainy days. In Proposition 8, the Church had bank roll the USD 40 million crusade against gays. It was only small change for the church who had money and power, who are so afraid of gays even though 5% of the population would deconstruct their theology and bring down their power.
It is ironical, when churches such as City Harvest talked about being against a World System, whilst at the same time strongly emphasizing on prosperity, Are we part of the World System and culture without even knowing it. The biblical culture of 1 st century Christians were so different and found their true identity as “Children of light” with the outcasts rather than aligning themselves with the wealthy and the people in power or having big cathedrals and mega buildings. They had nothing, and left with nothing except the Gospel preached throughout the known world. The televagelists travel around the world in luxury leveraging upon those where God is their last hope. Many gave up their enire savings for the promised of healing which never came but the money went into the tax free haven of the churches.
In Luke 16:9-11, Jesus was commenting the morality of the story. Jesus mockingly commented that we should be aligned with wealth and prosperity; so that we have something to fall back to if we fail God’s purpose and direction for our lives. Surely, with the money, we will enjoy “heaven” on Earth if we don’t get into heaven. The moral here is about faithfulness to God, whether we could be faithful to the interest of the kingdom, rather than our own self interest and using the ministry God given to us for great financial gain. Faith is believing God even when we do not see the results, or trusting God to provide when we could otherwise follow the ways of the world when God seemingly does not show up. Time is the greatest test of Faith. It also doesn’t matter the size of the Christian Ministry that we have. If we have been unfaithful even though our calling may be small, God will not be able to use us for a greater calling. And, if we cannot be faithful in the areas of finances and use the ministry for our financial gain, how could be faithful to preach true riches found in the Gospel Message. An example is the late Rev Jerry Falwell, who in order to keep his ministry and bible college afloat was willing to demonize gays and use gays as a punching bag to gain more funds in order to fight this fictitious threat. Money became the god. Rev Falwell also supported the Rev Moon, the Korean cult leader, when Moon gave a large donation to his ministry. Therefore, some are willing to sleep with the Devil, the god of money, to extend their ministry.
In Luke 16:13-14, it finally dawned upon the Pharisees who were listening to Jesus, that Jesus was talking about them in Luke 16:1-14, for they loved money. They loved money more than their duty and role for the ministry of Christ. We are not talking here about basic necessity and needs, but using the Ministry to be very rich. In Luke 16:15, we can justify before men, that God does not intend us to be poor to rationalize our incredible wealth, and having very large buildings and properties as monuments to our ministries. This is God’s house we claim, as we seek support for our building fund. The Christian Religious leaders such as the Popes, the Archbishops and the Mega Church Pastors are highly considered before men, and before the Government for they hold so much following, property and wealth. Their sermons are listened to Worldwide with mega media empires of television, radio, print, and internet. Government Ministers and leaders would be invited to come for events. God is asking us to check our hearts today. Are we like the servant taking glory away from God and taking away all that is due to God, for ourselves. Are we exalting ourselves, building our own empires instead of preaching the Word of God. If we were not careful, what we will be left with is a religious system of do’ and don’t rather than a tangible experience of the presence and work of God in our midst to heal, deliver, and to set free, and to convict the hearts and minds of people, of their need for Christ. We might still preach the Gospel, but it may be an empty gong, without spiritual power nor revelation.
The greatest irony in the Aware Saga is when you have 40 major churches planning to enter into all spheres of society to transform the kingdom of this world to the “kingdom” of Christ, they need not have the “Transformation 2009” seminars, for Satan had already offered Jesus, the entire World but with a catch that He bowed down to Satan. When we try to conquer the World, it is the World that will conquer us. It is the World that has conquered the Church – the Catholic Church from the 5th century onwards, and though we had the Reformation in the 16 th century, the political power and wealth was still one with the Church. Otherwise, how do we have the Anglican Cathedral in Singapore, in the most expensive plot of land right next to the Parliament House. Who are we bowing down today?
Money is a temptation that has fallen upon the church time and time again, and even this anti-gay crusade from the Christian Right in America is all about money and power, to use it as a wedge issue to gain power and for self interest. We are reminded of Mat 24:44-50, whether Jesus would come back finding us taking care of our own worldly interests and abusing the weak and the outcasts, instead of taking care of the least who whom he came to lived and abide with. The warning here is the test of time where time is the test of our faith, having to wait for God, and over time succumbing to temptations. There is a tendency of large mega churches when it first started was small, pure and uncomplicated, but when there was growth, acceptance by the community, and wealth there comes the temptation for self interests and glory. We become more and more self righteous over time. We even forget that we were once a minority persecuted, and we now persecute the gay community. We become not much different from the world, with a religious form separating us.
Jesus is coming back again. Will he find us faithful doing the work and ministry of Christ, providing comfort, peace, and a helping hand to the least and those who are despised, such as the GLBT community! We may be exalted before men for our mega ministries and large congregation, but God looks at our hearts. Jesus defined Faith as not succumbing to the temptations of power and wealth of this world but staying true to the calling and ministry of Christ. Did you find Christ ever persecuting the Gay people, you would not. The extent of which the church has fallen is reflected in how it is persecuting the weakest and most despised in our society - the gay community instead of proclaiming the Gospel message of God’s love and salvation.
There is a call to be true servants of Christ, servants that are faithful to Him alone, not misusing the ministry platform for their own self interest, having wisdom to discern the times and courage to follow the ministry of Christ to the most despised and least exalted GLBT people group in the community. Luke 16:1-15, is about having the wisdom to give grace, for over time, all of us are not clean and subject to judgment. It is a call to show forth God’s love, mercy and compassion in Christ Jesus. If we erred let it be in doing and giving too much love and being persecuted for righteousness sake, for the sake of the Gospel message. God has put the last people group to be reached, a tribe that Christians have judged and despised as vile sinners right in the middle of the major cities, so that we could not miss nor ignore them. Ironically, we instead put these people into prisons and deny that they exist. We rationalize it as a “sinful lifestyle” and a “Choice” when the real choice is for us to change our hearts of self righteousness and religious pride.
Just as the Gospel first came through Phillips ministry in Samaria, the Church must again pass through Samaria before we can return to Jerusalem, the City of God. God is looking for people after His own heart, a heart big enough to accept people so different from them because of the work of Holy Spirit in their hearts to reveal to them God’s Grace to the Nations. It is a time to give grace just as did the unrighteous servant for over a period of time, all have indeed strayed from God.