Being shrewd

Today the Archdeacon and the General Secretary of the diocese are coming to see me and Sam our churchwarden. These are two of the most senior magnates at the diocese. The general Secretary is effectively CEO of the multi-million pound business that the diocese inevitably runs by virtue of its extensive ministries. The Archdeacon is the chief fixer for the Edmonton Area within the diocese, in whose patch we are located. You know you are in trouble when two such heavyweights ask to come and see you.

I of course know why they are coming, or at least I think I know. The Go and Grow project is one of the largest church development schemes the diocese has ever undertaken, and in terms of diocesan financial investment probably the biggest ever. John Paul Getty allegedly once said "If you owe the bank $100 that's your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that's the bank's problem." And so it is with us and the diocese and not surprisingly they have become very interested in us. But rather than become cynical and start pontificating about worldly motives, I welcome the attention. Never before have I known such a level of shared ambition and partnership with our Church of England overseers, or felt so supported both personally and as a church. One great benefit of working together with the diocese is that they inevitably come to the project from a very different perspective to us. This brings the wisdom of seeing things from a new angle and can be extremely creative. However, as is so often the case, the greatest advantage can at times also be the biggest frustration. We have a vision that we believe is from God and want to pursue it with faith, but the money-men constantly argue about the numbers.

Jesus' most troublesome parable is the parable of the unrighteous steward in Luke 16. In the story, an unscrupulous manager defrauds his master when he hears that he is about to be sacked, and shockingly the master in the parable commends him for his shrewdness. What is Jesus saying? We know from the rest of Jesus' teaching that he would never countenance either dishonesty or selfishness. Jesus concludes the parable saying: "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." (Luke 16:8-9) If I had only read the second of these two sentences I might have thought that Jesus was being sarcastic. I'm still not sure I fully understand what Jesus means. But perhaps he is using this story, of the most corrupt person imaginable, as a polemic to try and get us to be less naive when it comes to our worldly dealings.

When it comes to massive projects and shed-loads of money we need to be as wise as serpents, and as innocent as doves.

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