As we settle into our new reality it’s useful to try to put a positive spin on what we’re experiencing. God has given us time inside our homes, with our families, time that we didn’t have before. And time is one of the most precious resources of life. What are we doing with that resource – and our other resources for that matter – not just now, but how have we spent it before? During this time of reflection let’s think about the lessons from the parables from yesterday’s reading in Luke 15 and today’s in chapter 16.
The chapter break is unfortunate because it can prevent us from noticing the connection between the parable of the Lost Son in chapter 15 and the parable of the Unfaithful Manager in chapter 16. The lost son “squandered his property in reckless living” (15:13) and the unfaithful manager was “wasting his possessions” (16:1). Both had resources given to them and both wasted them. It’s interesting to note who Jesus was talking to when he spoke these parables, and the parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin. At the beginning of chapter 15 we learn that there were two groups listening – the tax collectors and sinners on one hand, and the scribes and Pharisees on the other. Two extremes in society but with a shared problem – they both waste the resources given to them. You can see Jesus drawing out the connection in each parable. Either you’re lost outside the house – the lost sheep, or inside the house – the lost coin. The tax collectors and sinners had wandered off from the house and Jesus was bringing them back. But the scribes and Pharisees, despite remaining in the house, were lost themselves. The tax collectors and sinners are represented by the lost son, but the scribes and Pharisees by the elder brother.
So, we’re all in the same boat and none of us can claim that we haven’t been lost and need to be found by our Lord. And all of us are guilty of wasting the resources God gives us whether we’ve wandered from the house or remain in it. There are other similarities between the two men in the parables of the Lost Son and Unfaithful Manager. Both come to their senses and have an epiphany. The lost son “came to himself” (15:17) when he realized “I perish here with hunger” and resolved to “go to my father” (15:18) and be welcomed back as a servant in his house. Likewise, the unfaithful manager realized he would go hungry saying, “I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg” (16:3) and resolved to remedy the situation – “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses” (16:4).
It’s the differences, however, which are enlightening. One of those differences is the type of relationships they had. The lost son, despite going astray, wanted to return to his father. The unfaithful manager didn’t have that kind of relationship. The equivalent to the father in his story is the manager, all of which explains the difference between the tax collectors and sinners, and the scribes and Pharisees. One group was being brought back to God, a loving heavenly father who wants to embrace them and welcome them into His house. The other group thought they already had the right relationship, a way in which if we’re not careful, our attitude towards religion can end up. You do your religious duty, the rituals and ceremonies, and God will bless you in return.
The other difference is seen in the attitude of mind of the two men. The lost son was humbled by his experience, repentant, and desired to become his father’s servant. The unfaithful manager, on the other hand, wriggled out of his predicament using “shrewdness” (16:8), something the scribes and Pharisees were expert at with their loopholes getting around the Law of Moses to their own advantage.
There may soon be coming a time, one of the outcomes of the pandemic, where our resources will become much scarcer. It is probable that the economic fallout will be severe for some of us and the world could fall into a deep recession. We’ll also have less time on our hands once we’re released from isolation and resume normal lives. So, let’s take advantage of what God has given to us right now. He’s given us time. Time to reflect. Time to spend with our families. Are we spending that time wisely? Have we learned the lesson that it’s so easy to waste the things God has given to us? And are we spending that time reflecting on whether we’re a tax collector or Pharisee? We’re all lost sheep or lost coins to one degree or another, but we have a choice when we come to our senses and realize we’re going to go spiritually hungry unless we do something about it. Our Father is there ready to embrace us. He’s not looking for a business relationship. He wants to welcome us into his house as his sons and daughters.
Simi Hills, CA