And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mamon of unrighteousness; so that when it fails, they may receive you into eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:9)
This saying comes at the end of the parable of the unjust, or dishonest, steward. It is a strange story. The steward's job was to run the estate for the owner, but he mismanaged it. When his master discovered this he asked the steward to show him the books and give an account of his doings. The steward knew this was the end for him, so he took some steps to safeguard his future. He summoned his master's debtors and in collusion with them, falsified the accounts, reducing their debts. In this way he would make friends of these people and they would give him shelter when he was turned away.
The steward's master got to know of his action and called him a clever rascal. In the words of Jesus, "His master praised the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly."
Was Jesus condoning his dishonest behaviour? He certainly seems to be praising him for his ingenious plan.
What is clear is that the steward was displaying great shrewdness in safeguarding his future. But Jesus is not saying that dishonesty pays. He is urging the disciples and the Pharisees to cultivate the same kind of singlemindedness in their desire to know God, a far more worthy use of common sense than concern for material welfare.
We now have to think of people who have got enormously rich, if we know any. It is a common, everyday sight to see people working hard, doing extra courses to improve their skills, putting in extra hours to get on in their career. If they have their own business they will certainly give up many days off and holidays in order to develop it. We think this is quite normal and sensible. Some people sacrifice everything most of us value - home life, leisure, friends - in order to build up a fortune. Surely, all Jesus is saying is that Christians need as much zeal and enthusiasm as anybody who has the energy and self-denial to get on in this world. Many Christians are more ready to sacrifice their spiritual development than their financial one. It is the story again of "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also". Jesus calls us from the pursuit of self-interest, from being "lovers of money" like the Pharisees (verse 14) to follow him along the way which he tells us leads to life in all its fullness.
There is still the question of how material wealth can be used to obtain "eternal dwellings". This parable of the Unjust Steward is followed by a number of sayings about wealth. Then comes another story, the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man had plenty of everything and never gave a thought to Lazarus sitting at his gate, destitute and covered with sores. If the rich man had used a little of his wealth to help Lazarus, would not Lazarus have pleaded for him when they both died? But Lazarus had no reason to do any such thing. The rich man found himself without a friend when he needed one most. It is a thought that should stay with us.