Make Friends

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

Francis of Assisi would, every mealtime, go out to beg for his bread.  Even when a wealthy cardinal or bishop invited him to dine at his table, Francis would go out and beg for food, and then bring the scraps and leftovers back, and set it next to the fine delicacies that the table already had.  The host would be embarrassed, but Francis would say, share in the fellowship of Lady Poverty, for this is the kingdom of God. One day, he went about the table and asked for alms from all of those at the wealthy man’s table. “Be the friend of the poor,” said Francis, “and so they will welcome you into the rich dwellings of the kingdom.”

If the kingdom of God is for the poor, as Jesus told us a couple weeks ago, then how is it that others may enter?  Who may enter the kingdom of the poor, who may obtain the kingdom of Jesus, which he offers for the poor?

Let us read the other set of beatitudes that are so misunderstood, the more familiar set that is found in Matthew

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Bob Dylan wrote some of the most amazing lyrics ever penned.  But when he did, he didn’t invent them one hundred percent, but borrowed the meter, the melody and some of the lyrics from classic blues and folks songs of the American past.   Even so, Jesus, when he wrote this set of beatitudes, he did not create all the words himself. Sometimes it seems so, because the English translations are translating some from Hebrew and some from Greek and the similarities aren’t always obvious. 

Let’s look at the third beatitude: “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”  Most of this language is actually taken from Psalm 37:11: “But the meek shall inherit the land, and enjoy peace and prosperity.”  The word translated “meek” is the Hebrew word anawim, which means the poor of God. So we have the poor shall inherit the land. And the word earth and land are the same words.  However, in Psalm 37, it is specifically talking about the family land that the poor had to sell in order to pay debts. So the promise in Psalm 37 is that the poor will receive back the land which was sold and they would have peace and an abundant life.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if Jesus was saying something like this?  

Let’s look at the fourth one, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.”  Some of the language here is borrowed from Proverbs 21:21, which says, “Whoever pursues justice and love will find life, justice and honor.”  The word “righteousness” in English, which has a spiritual or pious bent is often translated “justice” in other languages which has a moral and social bent. In Hebrew, there isn’t another word for that.  So the one who pursues justice for those in need-- like perhaps those who have their land taken from them?-- will have justice in their lives. That’s an interesting way of looking at it.

And now we come to the first one, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”  It has always been difficult to interpret this passage because the phrase “poor in spirit” is interpreted in so many different ways.  However, it so happens that the phrase “poor in Spirit” is found in Hebrew, also in the book of Proverbs. Chapter 16, verse 19. “It is better to be lowly in spirit among the humble than to divide the spoil with the proud.”  The word “lowly” there is impoverished and the word “humble” is that same word “anawim” that we mentioned before in Psalm 37, which means the poor of God.  It is better to be poor with the poor than to divide booty with those who take.

To be “poor in spirit”, then, is not to feel something about our sin, but is rather a stand with the poor, especially when injustice is being done with them.  To think of it, that makes the whole set of beatitudes makes sense:
Blessed are  those who stand with the poor, for theirs is the kingdom.
Blessed are those who mourn with the poor, for God will comfort them.
Blessed are those who sold their land, for they will obtain that land back.
Blessed are those who strive after justice, for they will obtain justice. 

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

This interpretation makes a stronger connection to the version in Luke, so we can see that they are actually the same, not something completely separate. 

Those who obtain the kingdom are not just those who are poor, as it is described in Luke, but also those who are friends of the poor, who remain with the poor.

Like Abraham, who would sit in front of his tent every day in order to offer a poor person some bread and water, but in reality give him a lavish feast.
Like Job who said, “Whoever heard me spoke well of me,

    and those who saw me commended me,

because I rescued the poor who cried for help,

    and the fatherless who had none to assist them.

The one who was dying blessed me;

    I made the widow’s heart sing.

I put on righteousness as my clothing;

    justice was my robe and my turban.

I was eyes to the blind

    and feet to the lame.

I was a father to the needy;

    I took up the case of the stranger.

I broke the fangs of the wicked

    and snatched the victims from their teeth.

Like Elisha who heard the cry of the widow whose dead husband left her with so many debts she couldn’t pay them all. So Elisha told her to borrow as many empty containers from her neighbors as she could. And once she had gotten them all, take her oil jar and pour oil into all the containers, every single one of them. And then sell that oil to pay off her debts.

Like Jesus who went around healing and feeding and delivering the poor from their horrible states.

Like Peter and John who saw a begger asking for alms and they said, “We don’t have money, but what we do have, we will give you: In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, get up and walk!”

Like Barnabas who sold his family land so that he would have money to give to the poor.

All of these were friends of the poor and many, many more throughout the Bible. They have their place in the kingdom, because they made friends with the poor, the heirs of the kingdom, with whatever it was that they had.

Now, let’s look at this strange parable that Jesus spoke.

You have an accountant who has been cheating. His boss knew he was cheating, but he was such a good accountant, he didn’t care. Until he did. He told the accountant, “Finish your work, you’re fired. So, in order to clean up his books, he called people in. “How much do you owe?” Ten thousand dollars. “Well, now you owe five thousand.” “And you, how much do you owe?” Five thousand dollars. “Well, now you owe two thousand.” And on and on until he had made so many friends by offering them forgiveness of their debt. In this way, he hoped to gain their favor and they would help him out after he was fired.

His boss, of course, heard about this and he threw him in prison… (looks at the text), oh, no he didn’t. He praised the cheating accountant. Then Jesus looks at us and says, “You should be like this dishonest accountant. He knew that he had to find a place to live, so he made friends with what resources he had.

Jesus now tells us, use the possessions and money we have-- which are actually all God’s-- and use them to make friends with the poor. The poor are the ones who will have rooms to spare, because the kingdom is theirs. Be friends with them now, with whatever you have and their kingdom-- which is the kingdom of Jesus-- will be open to you as well.

Be merciful and you will receive mercy. That’s what Jesus said. “Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.” Blessed are those who forgive, for they will be pardoned. And in the end, the poor and the merciful will live together in joy. And Jesus, who is to be found in all the merciful poor who ever lived, will rule us all in harmony.

About a month ago, we talked about God’s grace. That God established a system that those who give grace will continue to receive God’s grace. People who have God’s blessings will continue to receive them if they pass them on to those in need. Recognizing that what we have is not our own, but God’s, and God wants us to pass on what we have received to those who are in need.

Let’s use what we have to make friends with the poor.

Steve Kimes