Luke 16_1-13 Nothing counts in the end
Who has heard of the term poker face? What is it? A poker face is used when a card player looks at his cards and sees that none of them are good enough to win. Once faced with this reality, a poker player has to weigh up all options, try and find a way out of the crisis they are in; do I give in and loose everything; do I cheat; do I upturn the table? No, he would think to himself, they are really impossibilities because he would still end up having to pay back the huge dept. There is however one and only one slim and final chance at survival. He thinks to himself, ‘I must keep a straight face that neither smiles nor frowns; a face that only shows confidence.’ Why? Yes, a poker face is used to trick others into handing over their fortune to the losing player because they think he has a winning hand.
A poker face is a last ditched, shrewd effort, to extract oneself out of a mess. Jesus tells us of one such instance of a manager using a poker face. He was caught out by his boss for deliberately wasting money and has to give an account of his actions. He knows he is going to lose his job, he knows he has wronged the boss, so he analyses his options ‘I could dig dirt or beg for a living.’ But that’s not an option because he still has to pay back his debt, and will still lose his job. So what does he do…he has no other option but to pull a poker face. He shrewdly uses his honourable position, while he still had it, to develop friendships with the boss’ renters. He uses his best poker face, his years of expertise at fiddling the books, in a way that now benefits himself once again, because he swindles the boss’ money to lower the debts of the renters, and thus make friends! The boss commends his worker for his shrewd behaviour!
Well have all used a poker face of some sort to get out of a personal crisis. We are all very skilled and shrewd experts at using our worst to get the best for ourselves when under pressure. Right from a very young age we have discovered how successful it can be for us to manipulate and control people and situations to make what was a crisis for ourselves, into one that benefits us. For some of us, our poker face becomes a learnt behavioural pattern; our success at manipulating people and situations to benefit ourselves has been so great, that we become evermore craftier and confident. When caught in a losing situation, what poker face do you use? What manipulative behaviour are you an expert at and what gets results for you?
Jesus told in his story, that the rich boss commended his manager for his shrewdness, so perhaps Jesus is trying teach us something about God and of ourselves; that God knows we revert to unrighteousness when confronted with a crisis, and that we all, like the dishonest manager, will have to give an account of our lives, as he says in Matthew 12:36 “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”
Yet even more pointed, is that Jesus, while not approving, is highlighting and even commending, just how good we are at swindling and manipulating the people around us, to save our own skin in this world. We will contrive just about plan, trust in any dishonest gain, act on learned behaviour, and try any poker face, just to get ahead in this life. Jesus questions, yet why is it then, you who are so shrewd in this world, when it comes to saving your own life from eternal destruction, at most you are a little ho hum? Why is it, when spiritually, you are doomed and have no hope of saving yourself, as Jesus said “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born again”, we don’t even attempt to make friends of God, or shrewdly use any means possible to us, to ensure we are born again.
Just consider our lives, and just how successful we have been at achieving what we want. Just think about how hard we have worked to get where we are; the trials we have put ourselves through, the planning and the strategies we have put in place, to gain material wealth and achieve personal goals. Think about the people we have used to get where we are. All of us can say we have given this life our very best shot.
However, our backs are up against the wall spiritually, we are dead in our sin, and are separated from God, as St Paul says “He one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.” So Jesus, by commending the shrewd manager is asking, why don’t we use the same earthly passion and shrewdness, which only gains for us worldliness and destruction, to gain heavenly things and eternal life? He queries why we, who are people of the light, those who know the truth, should not also seek after the truth with all our effort.
God has given us everything, and provides for every physical need, for our use and enjoyment in this life, and he has given this to all people, whether they believe in him or not, as Jesus said in Matthew 5: 45 “My Father causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” He has also provided everything we need for gaining eternal life. He sent his Son Jesus, who has won for us life eternal and is the only means through which we are saved. God has provided Jesus as the way the way, truth and life, so that everyone, that is, all people have the opportunity to call on him and be saved, as John writes “For God so loved the world [all people] that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
There is no reason in heaven or earth for you not to enter heaven when you die. This is the good news, the gospel, the proclamation of the church, as St Paul reminds us, “Now, friends, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day.”
It is by faith alone, in Christ alone, we are saved. And we attain, or take hold of this faith in Christ, this saving faith, through hearing and believing the good news, the announcement that Christ died for our sins and so we have a way out of our crisis. We also receive saving faith in our baptism, and God nurtures and grows our faith through Jesus’ body and blood, given to us in and through the bread and wine of Holy Communion, the medicine of eternal life. Jesus, in commending the manager for his shrewd success, says for us to do the same in gaining eternal life, for “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”
In the same way, we are encouraged to be bold, to do everything in our power and use every means we have to ensure for ourselves the free gift of eternal life. God is generous with his grace, like the rich man in the story, and is encouraging us to use his means of salvation extravagantly; to gladly hear the gospel and receive the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion. St Paul urges us saying, “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. ”
Get as much of this gift of grace as you can, Paul also encourages us saying “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. Find new ways of being available to receive the means of salvation. Be shrewd in the way you use your earthly skills to weight up all options and see that, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Play your best poker face, so that you can create for yourself opportunities to be in the presence of God, to be friends with Jesus, for he promises ‘”Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”