Jesus said to his disciples, "There was once a rich man who had a manager. He got reports that the manager had been taking advantage of his position by running up huge personal expenses. So he called him in and said, 'What's this I hear about you? You're fired. And I want a complete audit of your books.'
"The manager said to himself, 'What am I going to do? I've lost my job as manager. I'm not strong enough for a laboring job, and I'm too proud to beg. . . . Ah, I've got a plan. Here's what I'll do . . . then when I'm turned out into the street, people will take me into their houses.'
"Then he went at it. One after another, he called in the people who were in debt to his master. He said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'
"He replied, 'A hundred jugs of olive oil.'
"The manager said, 'Here, take your bill, sit down here—quick now—write fifty.'
"To the next he said, 'And you, what do you owe?'
"He answered, 'A hundred sacks of wheat.'
"He said, 'Take your bill, write in eighty.'
"Now here's a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you'll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior."
Sometimes I think that we overlook the genius of Jesus. The guy was a master storyteller and made his point with a story so effectively.
An ongoing conversation that my father-in-law and I have is how so many Christians are, for lack of a better way of putting it, gullible. So many of us want certainty in our faith or we want our faith to be “cool” so that we buy anything that seems to provide those two things. How else do we explain dropping celebrities into pulpits at the moment of their confession of faith or the dogged belief that the most miniscule of physical evidence proves the Bible?
It turns out that Jesus counseled and taught his followers to be wise in the world. He wanted them to be aware of how to live in the world. How do you take the parts of this world and transform and redeem them for the good?
I love the way that Peterson puts this, “I want you to be smart in the same way — but for what is right — using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”
Jesus was calling his disciples into a life of active transformational engagement. He could foresee a time when his disciples simply put their heads down and quietly sought to live a moral life. Jesus’ argument here is that living in his path is different. Yes, it’s doing good, but it’s also being actively engaged in the transforming of the world. In more literal translations like the NRSV it is rendered this way, “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.” Peterson gets to the heart of this. You take the wealth of this world and redeem it.
To live this way demands a creativity of mind, heart, and life. There is a creative tension that exists when you are fully engaged in the transformational work that Jesus calls us into. This is why as Christians we need to be engaged in our society and culture. As we do so, we need to be shrewd, wise, and aware. In other words, not gullible.
We do this by holding on to perspective. We need not get bogged down in silly debates, posturing, or certitudes. No, we look for ways to be agents of grace, mercy, truth, justice, and compassion.
That is, our goal is to practice transformative redemption.
In other words, the world within which we find ourselves looks like flour, eggs, milk, and sugar. How do we take those elements to bake a cake?