What was your favorite book growing up as a child? I had a few, but one stands out in my mind and I want to share an excerpt from it–see if you can recognize it?
“The whole country, indeed, the whole world, seemed suddenly to be caught up in a mad candy-buying spree, everybody searching frantically for those precious remaining tickets. Fully grown women were seen going into sweetshops and buying ten Wonka candy bars at a time, then tearing off the wrappers on the spot and peering eagerly underneath for a glint of golden paper. Children were taking hammers and smashing their piggy banks and running out to the shops with handfuls of money. In one city, a famous gangster robbed a bank of five thousand dollars and spent the whole lot on candy bars that same afternoon. And when the police entered his house to arrest him, they found him sitting on the floor amidst mountains of candy, ripping off the wrappers with the blade of a long dagger.”
Do you recognize the passage and the book it comes from? Yes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This passage describes the chaotic scene sweeping the world as people desperately search for one of Willy Wonka’s “Golden Tickets”.
I was reminded of this passage Friday morning as I read the news; because, in a similar frenzied scene Friday, Apple launched the new iPhone 5S–supposedly the newest and greatest iPhone ever! People throughout the world had lined-up for a days, even weeks, to be the first to get their hands on the new technology.
In its new redesign, the iPhone will no longer be available in black or white. Instead, Apple is offering three new colors; silver, space gray, and, ironically, the highly coveted gold colored iPhone. Within hours of the launch, gold iPhones could not be found in any stores throughout the world and online orders for gold iPhones had a waiting period of over three weeks until they were shipped.
In our old home of Pasadena, California the news reported someone had actually hired homeless people from Los Angeles’ Skid Row for $20 to wait in line at the Apple Store. 80 to 100 homeless people were bused into the Los Angeles’ suburb to hold others’ places in line overnight. Tensions ran high, fights broke out, and individuals were arrested as people gathered to secure their place in line to buy the new iPhone.
Sharing the news spotlight on Friday morning, The United States House of Representatives voted to cut nearly $4 billion a year from food stamps, a 5 percent reduction to the nation’s main feeding program used by more than 1 in 7 Americans.
Regardless of our political affiliations; but rather as Christians, seeing these news stories side-by-side on Friday morning ought to make us pause and ask ourselves:
Can our society account for our management of God’s resources that God has given to us so abundantly?
On a more personal level, can we account for our management of our abundance?
Managing our abundance, especially through the lens of our faith, can be a difficult endeavor to skillfully navigate. Surely, we do not find great comfort and guidance in the today’s Gospel reading. Instead, we are invited into a complex and confusing parable where, despite his questionable actions, the manager is celebrated by his employer and Jesus apparently encourages his disciples “to make friends by means of dishonest wealth.” We are left with more questions than answers, but some parables douse us in ambiguity and leave us to clean it up on our own–this is one of those parables!
We know that due to some misstep, the manager in Jesus’ parable finds himself days away from being fired. He begins to ask what next; but, he soon realizes that he is ill-prepared to be a skilled laborer and to proud to be a beggar. What follows next in the parable could be classified at best as shady. The manager returns to some of his employer’s most prominent accounts and begins to rework the terms of their loans. We do not know if the manager was simply shaving his personal proceeds from the loans or, more likely, reducing his employer’s potential earnings from the loans’ interest by reducing the debtors’ principals. Strangely, rather than being vilified by his employer for his acts, he is commended for his shrewdness. But why? Why commend the manager’s actions?
We wonder, from the outset, were the loans greedy and deceptive, which ultimately might have led to the business having a bad reputation in the community? If so, the manager’s actions might be worthy of praise. Or is the manager being fired because he has over-managed or mismanaged his employer’s abundance leading to the community’s mistrust and dissatisfaction? Or are we simply witnessing a cunning manager misusing his power and managerial skills in a selfish attempt to setup his next job?
The manager managed abundance that was not his own. Would the manager have been so generous with the debtors if the abundance was his own?
Imagine yourself sitting at a blackjack table and you have $100 of your own money to gamble?
(Yes, your rector just invited you imagine yourself sitting at a blackjack table). What would be your strategy? How would you manage your gameplay?
Now imagine yourself sitting at the same blackjack; and instead, someone else gives you $100 to gamble. Would your decisions on how you gamble the money differ knowing it is not your own money? Would decisions be different pending on who gave you the money; a family member, a friend, or a stranger?
There is actually a study that explores this exact blackjack dilemma and the study found that people are more likely to take risks with others’ $100 than their own. The true value and liquidity of the currency depends on the connection we have, or don’t have with it.
Knowing our abundance comes from God, does that shift how we manage our abundance? Does it shift how we manage the currency of the Kingdom of God?
Managing abundance is not simply a matter of weighing the rewards and risks. Abundance management, in the Kingdom of God, means joyfully and faithfully sharing that abundance with others. Through this lens, we can begin to see why the employer commends the manager’s courage to share abundantly, regardless if the manager shares his own or another’s abundance.
To our modern ears, this might sound to like a jarring economical system; however, it is a consistent representation of the economy in the Kingdom of God emphasized by Luke. Jesus intended to uproot the systems and people who sought to disenfranchise others and those who squandered away God’s investments in humanity.
Even today, the search for “Golden Tickets” captivates our hearts and minds. What are those “Golden Tickets” we long to find in our lives? What moments do we find ourselves caught in mad buying spree where we find ourselves frantically searching for a precious “Golden Ticket”?
Too often, we mistakenly believe the “golden tickets” will offer to us an abundance that will empower us. The abundance becomes a competing God in our lives that demands allegiance and devotion. It is this exact worship of the abundance that led four of the five “Golden Ticket” winners in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to believe their “Golden Ticket” would exclusively fulfill their own desires and needs.
Augustus was the portly young boy who consumed endlessly candy bars. He saw his “Golden Ticket” as an opportunity to drink endlessly from the abundance of the chocolate river–until he was swallowed by the river.
Veruca “would lie for hours on the floor, kicking and yelling in the most disturbing way,” until her father finally discovered a ticket. She believed her “Golden Ticket” set her apart from all others until she was disposed of down the trash chute.
Violet chewed up the competition in her life. Her “Golden Ticket” she thought would quench her endless desires until her greed turned her blue.
Mike was a disconnected young boy charmed by devices that distracted him from the world. His “Golden Ticket” revealed a world that was not his own, which he dismissed, until he is ironically reduced to a character on the small screen, which he worshipped.
In contrast, Charlie was a kind-hearted boy who joyfully embraced his “Golden Ticket” as an opportunity to improve the life of his family. Willa Wonka witnessed Charlie’s genuine compassion and concern for others leading to Mr. Wonka’s joyful invitation to Charlie to share in his abundance as his worthy successor and steward of the Chocolate Factory.
Faithful discipleship demands that we manage our abundance appropriately in our lives. True abundance is not the result of finding the “Golden Ticket”; rather, true abundance comes when we embrace God’s invitation to share the joy of the “Golden Ticket” with our others.
As people of faith, we come to know that our abundance comes from God alone.
We are God’s managers and we are God’s stewards.
We are God’s managers and stewards in a world God loved so much that he gave His one and only Son so anyone could joyfully live in the abundance of everlasting life.
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© The Reverend Ryan D. Newman
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All Saints’ Episcopal Church and Preschool
PO Box 248 | 4-1065 Kuhio Highway
Kapaa, HI 96746-0248