A native American village has a tradition of sending young adults, at about twenty years old, out to the world to fulfill their vocation and then return to the village to retire when they are old, maybe around sixty. Every spring, a new batch of energetic young villagers gather at the chief’s tent and receive his blessing to enter the world to make their dreams come true.
The chief gives them a piece of paper and asks them to hang it on the wall wherever they go. The young people will go to the towns and cities based on their interests and ambitions. They unfold the paper and hang it on the wall. It has only two words, “Fear Not!”
The young people take their chief’s advice and bravely pursue their dreams. They have successes and failures and learn their lessons. Some make a lot of money, and some don’t. However, as instructed, they all return to their home village to retire when they are old.
Soon after they arrive at their village, they visit the chief to receive his instruction for their next phase of life. The chief gives them another piece of paper to hang on their wall. It also has two words, “Regret Not!” (End of Story.)
The moral of the story is that, when we are young, our biggest obstacle is fear. That’s why the chief reminds the young people to “Fear Not!”
However, life is complicated! When we get old, many people regret the mistakes they have made and the risk they failed to take. Consciously or unconsciously, they spend the rest of their life guilt-ridden. Since we can’t change the past, the chief charges them with two words of wisdom, “Regret Not!”
The problem is, how do you regret not? It’s easier said than done. You cannot just sweep your guilts under the rug as if they had never happened. According to psychology, “suppressed memories” can harm your mental and emotional health. We cannot just brush off the past.
As I am approaching sixty, sometimes I review my life and ask myself to see if I have any regrets about my life. Of course, like everyone, I have done many regretful things. “To err is human!” The good news is, as Christians, we are forgiven people, and we can live a genuine “Regret Not” life without having to sweep our guilts under the rug because Jesus has paid the price for us on the cross.
I also enjoy seeing many people among Christians who have “peace like a river, love like an ocean, and joy like a fountain.” They live a “Regret Not” life without getting haunted by their past.
In fact, if I were the chief, I would not give two pieces of paper to them but just one piece. I would give them all “Regret Not!” from the beginning because it will stimulate more profound wisdom and lift them to a higher level of consciousness. They will make better decisions to reduce regrets.
Jesus reveals to us that our “Regret Not” life is enriched by the friends we make, particularly eternal friends—literally best friends forever. In today’s scripture lesson, Jesus shows us two ways to deal with regrets—the way of “the children of this age” and the way of “the children of light.”
The children of this age make transactional friends, but the children of light make transformational friends. Jesus wants us to make transformational friends that will last for eternity. They will be your true BFFs—Best Friends Forever. How? Let’s check out what he has to say.
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson today is from the Gospel according to Luke 16:1-13. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 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.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:1-13).
[This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!]
Scholars claim this parable to be the most difficult to interpret because it’s about a dishonest manager, and Jesus sets him up as an example. I agree! Each time I come across this parable, I have a long talk with the Head Office to make sure I unpack it the way Jesus intended.
The beauty of Jesus’ parables is that he tries to shock us to the senses through exaggerations, contradictions, and paradoxes. That the rabbinic tradition. His purpose is to raise our consciousness and spiritual maturity. Jesus’ parables are much profound than the Zen koans because they have eternal values.
This parable uniquely throws us off balance to the extreme. Jesus began by saying,
“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’” (Luke 16:1-2).
The rich man represents our own conscience—our inner boss. The manager is ourselves. Since we were young, we have been taught to be honest, conscientious, and ethical, but as we grow older, we find ourselves breaking the rules here and there, sometimes inevitably and sometimes intentionally.
Life is messy, and it’s not easy to make a living without breaking some rules. How many of you always drive within the speed limit? If you use the latest GPS device or Google Maps, it will tell you if there is a police vehicle waiting ahead of you. It will warn you, “There is a speed trap ahead!”
The existence of such technology assumes most people go over the speed limit. With better-made cars today, it’s hard not to exceed the speed limit. The new cars are quite safe for a higher speed, but it’s still illegal.
We find it not harmful to break the laws here and there or tell some white lies, but we all have an inner boss—our conscience—debiting our moral bank account each time we tell a lie or break a rule. Sooner or later, all the wrong things we have done and the right things we failed to do become heavier and heavier in our conscience, and at some point, it becomes unbearable.
The Bible says, “No one is righteous, not even one.” (Rom 3:10). The dishonest manager has reached the breaking point, facing an existential crisis. His inner boss is about to fire him. Jesus continues,
Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.” (Luke 16:3).
This verse reveals he is too old to start over and might have to life the rest of his life with guilts and regrets. Advising him to “Regret Not!” doesn’t cut it. Except for a few psychopaths and sociopaths, no one can live in denial of the guilts for long. We all need redemption.
This verse is a metaphor for the human struggle with guilt. “What should I do? Is there such a thing as karma? Is there judgment for my sins? I must do something to reduce or remove my penalties.”
Realizing he is morally in debt, he begins to sympathize with those who are in debt to his boss. So, he came up with the idea to make friends by canceling other people’s debts. The terms debt and sin are synonymous in the Hebrew scriptures. So, canceling debt is equivalent to forgiving sin. He says,
‘I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ (Luke 16:4).
He then reviews the account of the debtors and cancels a percentage of their debts within his authority. According to the Levitical law, a manager, or a broker, can legally cancel a partial debt, mostly from his own commission. As a result, he makes some friends who would take care of him on his rainy days. Notice that he has no authority to cancel the entire debt.
And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; (Luke 16:8a).
Here, you see why the master is his own conscience—his inner boss. It’s his inner boss that is proud of his smart solution. In other words, his charitable deeds have bandaged his bleeding conscience. Then Jesus said,
“for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” (Luke 16:8b).
Here Jesus distinguishes two types of people “the children of this age” and “the children of light.” Jesus describes his disciples or the believers as “the children of light.” We are “the children of light.” “The children of this age” are everyone else out there or the non-believers.
Jesus is saying the non-believers are, in this case, smarter than the believers in dealing with their own kind. What does he mean?
The non-believers don’t have a solution for their guilt because they don’t have anyone to forgive them. They don’t have a Redeemer who would pay the price for their sins. So they try to redeem themselves by karma exchange, “I scratch your back, and you scratch mine!”
The charitable deeds done by the non-believers are mostly transactional because they expect “what goes around, comes around.” Or, at least, pay it forward. That’s what most religions teach: do good deeds to accumulate good karma so that it will come around to repay you later in life.
It’s not a permanent solution, but at least it reduces the itch and eases the pain. It puts a bandage on their bleeding conscience. It’s like treating the symptoms without uprooting the sickness. Even though they cannot achieve the “Regret Not” state, they can at least attain the “Regret Lesser” state.
Jesus says they are smarter than us because we are complacent and indifferent. As forgiven people, we are not as motivated as this dishonest manager who sympathizes with the debtors. Since we are no longer in debt, we don’t know how the debtors feel and become desensitized.
Putting into the context, we are like the elder brother, who doesn’t sympathize with the tears of the Prodigal Son. Or, we are like the Pharisees and scribes who don’t sympathize with the tax collectors and sinners, but the Father does and Jesus does.
We have forgotten that not only are we forgiven, but we have also been given the authority to forgive sin. Unlike the manager, who could only cancel a partial debt, we are authorized to forgive the entire debt. Jesus said,
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:23).
Jesus wants us to sympathize with the debtors or sinners, and he has given us a God-like authority to set them free with the good news of grace so that they, too, can live a “Regret Not” life. So Jesus urges us,
“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” (Luke 16:9).
Based on what we have discussed, all worldly wealth is dishonest wealth. I know it’s a hard pill to swallow—who wants to admit that their wealth comes from dishonest means? But hold that thought for a moment because Jesus explains later.
Here, Jesus wants you to make eternal friends by canceling their entire debts at Jesus’ cost. But, we also need to invest our time, telents, and treasure. By so doing, not only will they share a life of “Regret Not,” they will become our friends for eternity. So, when you go to heaven, these friends will welcome you to their eternal home. They are your BFFs—best friends forever.
Even though we have no regret on earth, we might still regret in heave seeing some of our friends and family not there. Life in heaven could be much richer if you bring some friends with you.
So, Jesus also wants us to have a sense of urgency, like the manager trying to redeem himself from his crisis. The manager canceled people’s debt to save his rear end because his pants were on fire. In the same way, Jesus wants you to feel the same level of urgency and forgive their sins—as if your life depends on it.
Then Jesus explains why our worldly wealth is dishonest wealth.
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” (Luke 16:10-11).
At a glance, it seems Jesus is telling us to be faithful in very little so that we can be in charge of more, but, based on the context, he is saying that breaking a small rule equals breaking big rules. If we have broken a rule during our path to wealth, all our wealth becomes dishonest. I know Jesus is pushing it.
We might argue that your wealth is clean, but are you sure? Have you checked with your investment agent to ensure you have no stake in any company that may have done business unethically? If we check carefully, we are all directly or indirectly involved with the money from questionable sources. In any case, we can take it with use to the other side of eternity.
Jesus concludes the passage by saying,
“No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:13).
As children of light, we have chosen to serve God. His instruction is to serve God using our worldly wealth to make eternal friends sharing the good news of grace. Even though we cannot take our wealth to heaven with us, we can surely take these friends with us because they become our best friends, “literally,” forever, and they will welcome us anytime to visit their eternal home and we can have a party every day. Then we have no regret on earth and no regret in heaven either.
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom.