Digging in Deeper: Luke 16:13

“No servant can serve two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Have you ever been a slave? Probably not. That being said, there are more people living as slaves around the world right now than at any other point in human history. Human trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar industry. How about this one: Do you have a master? Once again, your gut reaction to that question may be to say, “No,” but give this one just a little bit more thought. Just because you don’t have a human master (and, no, neither parents nor bosses at work count) doesn’t mean you don’t have any master at all. The truth is that we all have a master. What kind of master we have and how much freedom that master grants us is the real question. Let’s talk about it.

What Jesus says here in Luke is a repeat of something He also said in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. This was probably an idea Jesus conveyed over and over again in His ministry. All teachers do that. We all have certain things we consider to be more important than most of the rest of what we are teaching, and we come back to those ideas again and again because we want to be sure everyone understands them as far as it depends on us. One of those ideas for me is the biblical definition of love as an intentional decision to see someone else become more fully who God designed them to be. For Jesus, one of those ideas was that money is all too common a master of people, and that we can’t serve both God and money.

While Matthew’s placement of this particular idea was in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, Luke includes it at the end of one of Jesus’ more confusing parables (which is saying something). This story is about a dishonest manager. There was this wealthy man who had hired a man to manage his estate. The trouble was the manager was crooked. He was embezzling funds and squandering them on all kinds of things other than what the rich man wanted them used for. When the rich man called him out on it, rather than going meekly to accept his fate, he quickly cheated his master out of even more money, but in such a way that gained him some favors from folks who could then help him when he was thrown out on his ear to make his landing a little bit softer. Then, rather than being even more furious at the manager, the rich man is humorously impressed with his shrewdness (shrewdness being a kind of worldly wisdom) and praises him for his actions. It’s a weird story.

Jesus’ point is that this manager, although he was not managing his master’s money honestly, was using money as it was designed to be used: as a tool. Money should be considered a tool and nothing more. The trouble is: money can easily slide over and become our master without our even realizing it has happened. Debt can be a route to this end. When we have spent more than we have, we can easily find ourselves working only to get the money we need to get out from under the weight of the debt. On the other end of the spectrum, though, acquiring a great deal of money can indenture us to that very money too. We enjoy having it, which is fine, but we start to fear not having it. Without recognizing its happening, we begin making decisions through the lens of what will allow us to keep our money and make more of it. All other concerns become secondary to that. This doesn’t mean nothing else matters to us any longer. It simply means all of these other concerns are relegated to a place of importance behind this more pressing concern. Or, to put that a bit more uncomfortably, we are worshiping money. It has become our master. We are free to do anything else we please as long as we put the concerns of our master first and foremost.

We were recently treated to a rather pathetic example of what this looks like in practice. It certainly wasn’t an intentional example, but someone made the mistake of saying the quiet part out loud. Chamath Palihapitiya, a billionaire venture capitalist and minority owner of the Golden State Warriors hosts a podcast with a couple of his buddies. On the show they tend to talk about whatever is on their minds at the moment. In a recent episode, the trio ventured over into politics. As they did, the Chinese government’s ongoing genocidal efforts against the Uyghur Muslim people came up. Palihapitiya expressed his views on the matter rather clearly.

“Nobody cares about it. Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs, okay?” And then, “I’m telling you a very hard, ugly truth, okay? Of all the things I care about, yes, it is below my line, okay? Of all the things I care about, it is below my line.” And then one more time: “And I think a lot of people believe that, and I’m sorry if that’s a hard truth to hear, but every time I say that I care about the Uyghurs, I’m really just lying if I don’t really care. And so, I’d rather not lie to you and tell you the truth — it’s not a priority for me.” He went on to call concern about the Uyghur people a “luxury belief” held by those who are criticizing other nations before getting their own house in order.

Needless to say, Palihapitiya’s comments sparked a rather intense firestorm of criticism and moral condemnation. Interestingly, while the rest of the Warriors’ organization distanced themselves from his political beliefs, they did not express a counter view. The NBA as an organization is attracting a growing chorus of criticism over their steadfast refusal to pronounce judgment on any of China’s many and grotesque human rights abuses.

But while we could go on for a long time on the moral bankruptcy and cowardice of the political stances of organizations like the NBA and individuals like Palihapitiya, I bring this up here to make a simple observation. These folks worship money as their god. Whatever else to which he might profess allegiance, money is Palihapitiya’s real master. He is a billionaire investor with no doubt many business interests in China. He would likely stand to lose a great deal of money – probably a great deal more than you and I will ever see in our entire lives – if he decries the Chinese government’s moral villainy for what it is. China has shown itself perfectly willing to cut off any business or individuals who offer even the slightest criticism of any of their policies from their incredibly lucrative markets. Those who are mastered by money have revealed their allegiance by dutifully holding their tongues. Money’s most devoted servants have even gone on, like Palihapitiya did, to criticize the criticism of China’s ongoing genocidal efforts. These folks are bending themselves over backwards to make sure they are pleasing their real master so it doesn’t become angry with them. It’s not a pretty picture.

We can only have one master at a time. Trying to serve more than one simply won’t work. While there may be times when their respective aims fall into alignment, eventually they won’t, and we will be forced to choose. Which one we choose is up to us, but it will come with consequences. Not all masters are the same. They have different concerns and goals. Some may seem beneficial, but unless they are God, none of them are ultimately interested in anything but their own advancement. They don’t care about us. They only want what they want. Nothing more, nothing less. They may promise the world to us if we will give them our allegiance, but they won’t deliver. Ever. They’ll hold us down until we give them their due, and then they’ll continue to suck us dry until there’s nothing left. There’s no freedom to be found there. There is only the mirage of freedom intended to entice us in and trap us there.

The choice you have today and every day, then, is which master you will serve. Will you serve the one that promises you the world, but will only deliver its meager load as long as you are doing what it wants, or the one who gave His very Son to die on a cross so that you can have eternal life? Seems like a pretty easy choice to make to me.

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