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(Part 11)


November 7, 2009

Today’s reading from the gospel of Luke gives us some points about servant leadership, which is so different from leadership in the world. Worldly leaders often think in secular and humanistic terms, and seek to be pleasing to human beings. But God warns us: “You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Lk 16:15).

God’s ways and thoughts are indeed so far away from our own (Is 55:8-9). What we esteem could be an abomination to God. Worldly leaders seek power, position, perks and pay, which could all lead us away from God, even as we endeavor to serve Him. Worldly leaders, even as they serve God, could actually be serving mammon.

What is “mammon”? Mammon here is the Greek transliteration of a Hebrew or Aramaic word that is usually explained as meaning “that in which one trusts.” When we trust in our human wisdom rather than God’s wisdom, when we look to human esteem rather than God’s approval, when we serve as lord over others rather than as a slave of Christ, when we have our own personal agenda and priorities, then we are serving mammon.

Such a posture could creep into our hearts without our knowing it, or perhaps without our being fully aware of it. Thus we need to always look to God for guidance and wisdom, humbly seeking these as we serve. It is God who knows our hearts, since He created us and is all-knowing.

God warns us right off. “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Lk 16:13). Those who are worldly leaders, even as they strive to serve God, will ultimately have to make the choice.

But here is the interesting thing. While we do not serve mammon, we can make mammon serve us. This is the point of Jesus’ parable of the dishonest steward.

In this parable, Jesus is not approving of dishonesty, but rather is commending the steward for his prudence, given that he was about to lose his job. As steward, he followed the Palestinian custom of adding a usurious commission for himself on business transactions made on behalf of his master. Now he was foregoing such commission. In letting go of his monetary interest, while still protecting the interests of his master, he assured his own future well-being.

Then Jesus says, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth” (Lk 16:9a). As servant leaders, we do make use of power, authority and position. We do enjoy acclaim. We utilize money and modern means of communications, such as the Internet. All these things of the world could easily lead people astray. And so we need to guard our hearts, and ensure that we are truly serving God rather than mammon.

If we pass the test, then God can truly use us for His purposes. If we remain faithful to God in our exercise of leadership, then He can use us for greater things. “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones” (Lk 16:10a).

What are the great matters God can entrust us with? It is the salvation of souls. This has to do with our mission and our work of evangelization. It is the very work of God. It has to do with the very salvation won by Jesus on the cross. This after all is the true work of the servant leader.

God can entrust such work to us if we are found trustworthy with small matters, that is, with money, worldly possessions, positions of authority, power, and the like. If however we are found untrustworthy with the worldly blessings that God provides for us, then we will miss out on the privilege of bringing Christ to others. “If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?” (Lk 16:11).

Further, if found untrustworthy and thus unable to bring Christ to others, we will miss out on what God wants ultimately to give us, which is eternal life. If by our infidelities we fail to become the instruments that God intends to use to bring to others what God wants them to have, we endanger our own salvation. “If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?” (Lk 16:12).

And so Jesus tells us, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (Lk 16:9). We can be sure that dishonest wealth, the world’s goods and what is esteemed by the world, will fail us. But this ought not be any cause for concern. What we simply do is to utilize all worldly resources at our command to pursue the Lord’s mission.

Thus will we be placed in right relationship with God, and make many friends, the new brothers and sisters in Christ whom we would have helped evangelize and pastor.

And when we finally leave this world, we are assured of welcome into our eternal home.

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