#Shrewd is the Podcast for September 18, 2016. How Henry Ford changed wages, the Scribes/Pharisees/Elders, and the Dishonest Servant all have something in common. It has to do with Jesus. Here it is. Listen to this podcast to find out.: Download it into your phone. #MSAWordfortheDay # MySpiritualAdvisor #Sermon #Church #HenryFord #FordMotorCompany #Wages #Luke #Luke16 #Shrewd
Shrewd: Luke 16:1-32
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For Listener Supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 9/18/2016 The 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Luke 16:1-13.
On January 4, 1914, the American factory worker made $2.50 per day. It was a wage that was not even close to livable. Workers were known to show up drunk, get tired of taking orders for such a low amount and then quit, and companies were always faced with conditions that hurt the bottom line with their workers. If workers walked off the job, or showed up drunk, in a manufacturing job it meant that production stopped. It made supplying the product to the consumer unreliable and slowed down sales. Bad sales hurt the bottom line.
Even though this was true, it was seen as a “cost of doing business.” Workers at that time were understood as a replaceable part on a conveyor belt, just like Henry Ford’s cars. Yet, it was Henry Ford who changed that on January 5, 1914. On that day in that January, Ford raised the pay of his workers by 100%. He did it with one caveat: the workers were to ascribe to his “American Way.” That would mean that they should stay away from gambling. They were to no longer show up to work drunk or late. They were to stay on the job all day. (I have a link to the article for this on the website at My Spiritual Advisor.com from Business Insider http://www.businessinsider.com/the-greatest-business-decisions-of-all-time-2012-10 ). Some went on to say that he raised their pay so that the worker could afford Ford’s cars, but statistics show that his workers could not afford his cars even after the raise.
What Henry Ford did was shrewd. It flew in the face of conventional wisdom of the time. He was not loved by his competitors because he basically took over the reliable, most productive members of the workforce by paying them wages that made a difference in their lives. Thus Ford out foxed his competition, increased sales, and increased the bottom line. Ford shrewdly used his resources to reach the goal.
The passage from the Gospel of Luke today calls into question the goals of the people who were mocking Jesus because he ate with sinners and tax collectors (Luke 15:2). As I talked about previously, the goal of the Pharisees, Scribes and elders of the Synagogues in this section of Luke, was to stay in power by not going against the Roman authorities too much. Thus, they kept their positions of prestige. We saw with the lost and found narratives in this long section of Luke that the goals of God for clergy and his church are much different. The leaders in Jerusalem were all about keeping the institution of “Church” running. Their actions toward Jesus, even having Jesus crucified were shrewd in keeping their position and their people from being killed by Rome. There is something to be said for that.
Yet, that is what Jesus is pointing to in this really crazy passage about a dishonest steward who serves as an example for us. The steward is shrewd, like Ford, the Scribes, the Pharisees, and the Elders who all acted in their own interests.
The dishonest servant is mismanaging this owner’s resources. So, he goes out before anyone knows he is going to be fired and makes a lot of friends. He reduces the amounts that people owe his “lord.” This in effect makes the “lord” look better amongst his clients. The clients might ask, “Why would the “lord” fire such a good person? He helped me out and I will continue to business with the guy who helped me wherever he lands.” I even did this with my mechanic and the service writer who left my old dishonest mechanic and went to my new honest mechanic. I will follow my service write at the auto shop wherever he works because he always gives me an honest deal.
The dishonest steward was shrewd because he put his “lord” in a lose-lose proposition. If the servant is fired then he will take the client base with him. Others will want to hire him because he has a client base to bring with him. The “lord” would not only lose him, but also the client base if he stays on the path to firing the dishonest servant. Keeping his own goals in mind, then, the servant plays thing shrewdly.
Now, in Jesus’ enterprise, that is, being a true servant of God, what does it mean to be shrewd? Well, we see a little of it today in the readings from Amos 8:4-7. Amos basically says, “because of your systemic social injustice toward the poor and your religious arrogance in thinking God needs you in any particular circumstance, Israel will face complete disaster.” As the kids say, “God ain’t playin’.”
To be shrewd servants of God means that we will be watchful in how we use our physical blessings. Do we tithe? Do we give to the poor? Do we go through our house and give what we no longer use that is still in good condition to the poor? Do we treat the poor with dignity instead of acting like they “did something wrong” and are now poor? Do we act like it is only the “poor” who work the system? Don’t we know that it is the rich who have more opportunity to “work the system”? Yet we ALL work the system. So, rich or poor, why do we cast shadows? Instead, we should look at everything with generosity toward all.
How do we expect to handle the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven when we are dishonest with the material wealth that God gives us, if we are dishonest with it?
Simply put, we can tell where someone’s values lie in where they spend their time and their money. If they are using their time to looking for the lost and rejoicing when they are found, then we know God is using that person. If they are giving the tithe and being generous with their wealth, no matter what that looks like, rich, middle, or poor, then we know God is using them.
So, once again, Jesus is contrasting what it means to be Church with the existing leaders of the Church. To be Church means to have leaders who are selfless and use the wealth and riches of the local community to search for the lost and celebrate the found. To be the Church means to have leaders who are more interested in being fathers than being kings. To be Church, if we go back to Chapter 15 which begins this long discourse, is to seek out and welcome the lost, the lonely, and the least. To be Church is to use the Lord’s resources he has given us for his goals, not Henry’s Ford’s goals, not the dishonest steward’s goals, nor the goals of those Church leaders who will criticize and then crucify Jesus.
What are the goals of God for humanity? It is in the scriptures: that they might love Him and one another. If we are using our resources in our own lives and in the community for any other purposes, then we are being foolish and not shrewd with our Lord. Remember, it is our Lord who served us on the Cross. To be baptized into the Lord, is to accept the crucifixion of our own unnecessary self-serving ways. It is to change our goals from just earthly preservation to heavenly living here and now. We ought to be shrewd about that always with what little we have here so that in the end we can enjoy the heavenly things.
That leaves us with some questions. How are we living to reach God’s goals for us and others? What kind of church do we belong to? What kind of society do we live in? How must we fundamentally change the way we spend our time and our money to be considered shrewd for the Kingdom? Amen.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian