Self-Service

‘Take your bill and make it eighty’ (Luke 16:5b-7)

It’s been said, “Take care of yourself, because nobody else will.” Many people follow that advice to the letter. No matter what we like to think, our own self-interest is usually our strongest motivating factor. Many of us pick careers on the basis of what they pay. Friendships are made and sustained on the basis of what others can do for us. Marriages are ended when a partner no longer meets “my” needs. Pursuing our own self-interest dictates much in our personal relations.

We justify to ourselves our serving our personal good in all kinds of pious sounding ways. None of us is personally greedy. We’re trying to take care of our families. Few among us are selfish. We want only what we think we deserve. And folks of a religious inclination are never “interested in property and money” when they sue each other for property and money. Instead, they seek to “preserve a sacred trust.” Or something to that effect.

The unbridled chasing of what we want personally is soundly condemned in today’s reading from the book of the prophet Amos. Sure, God’s people tend to “make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances” (8:5b) in their dealings with others. Yet, however we try to justify that, “[t]he Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds” (8:7).

Pursuing self-interest is a given for human beings. It’s simply the way we’ve been “wired.” But it doesn’t have to lead us to the sins of selfishness and greed. To avoid that, we need to temper the pursuit of our own personal good with deference to the self-interest of others. “How much do you owe my master?” asks the steward in this Sunday’s gospel. “He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.”‘ “Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty”‘ (Luke 16:5b-7).

The manager, following shrewd self-interest, readily accommodates to the good of others — and everyone wins. We, as Christians — both individually and collectively as the Church —pursue self-interest rightly only to the extent that, in the process, we honor and respect the desires and aspirations of others. If we can’t compromise in seeking what we want in this life, how will we ever adjust to the selflessness of the age to come?

Look It Up

How did early Christians, Jew and gentile alike, temper their personal interests to honor the needs of their opponents?

Think About It

Compromise, it has been said, is the genius of Anglicanism. How might the Holy Spirit be calling us to live out our Anglican identity today?

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