Updated: Jan 31
For anyone who is familiar with the Steve Martin movie The Jerk, you know it is a rags-to-riches, then riches-to-rags, and then finally a rags-to-riches again story. In the riches-to-rags part, when Navin R. Johnson (the main character) has lost everything, finding himself poor once again, he says while sobbing, “I don’t care. I don’t need anything … except this … and this here … and this too … and this.”
The scene is a classic because it is very funny … and it is very true, because we can all identify with that scene. We just might choose different things to keep with us, if we were being sent on the our way to the poor house.
In order to live in a material world, we must have material things. It is more than a desire for things. There is a need for certain things.
An American psychologist, named Abraham Maslow, is known for creating what he termed a “hierarchy of needs.” It is a theory of human motivation.
An updated version
Maslow theorized that one’s mental health was predicated on the fulfillment of certain innate human needs, necessarily being met in an order of priority. Some are more important for a psychological stabilized, with others naturally being sought once stable. One’s base needs are those most urgent for sustained life; and once those have been met a quest for higher needs begins. As each new level is met, more needs motivate one to be happier about one’s life. The ultimate realization is the need he called “self-actualization.”
Happiness can be found on the base level … and on all levels … but, in order to be happy, one needs to have some level of stability … some sense that things are not so bad … as long as I have this … and this here … and this too … and this.
In a way, Navin R. Johnson realized he did need some things … especially since he was going to be poor again, because he had been poor before. He had learned about needs he never knew before, when he was a happy poor boy.
I only need a few things
Maslow built a five-tiered pyramid, with the base needs, those on the lowest level, called the Physiological needs. Basically, those included: air to breathe, food, water, sleep, and some sense of social equilibrium [not being the only one of your kind].
From these base needs being met, one then seeks safety, through clothing for dangerous elements, support from family, a sense of morality, decent health, property [things needed], and for those rightfully obtaining things – employment.
With that physical needs level met, one then seeks love and a sense of belonging, through friendships, family of one’s own, and the intimacy with one that makes that family possible.
Once one gets to that third level, esteem is sought. This is self-esteem, confidence, achievement, a respect of others, and the respect by others.
The highest level – Self-actualization – comes with a sense of personal morality, creativity, spontaneity, a lack of prejudice, and acceptance of facts.
In the story of Navin R. Johnson, you can see how he went from a “poor boy” to being self-actualized. He reached all of the five levels, in one way or another, and he did so without even knowing who Abraham Maslow was.
In many ways, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” would be something way over the head of a simpleton like Navin. That theory can be seen as some common sense being mixed with some complexity to make it seem difficult. Simple people don’t think that deeply about things, and part of the beauty of a simpleton-hero story is that good things happen to good people, simply because they don’t dwell for long on the bad things.
When one looks at the climb to reach self-actualization, we all are naturally drawn to the needs Maslow named, regardless of our intellectual acumen. However, there is not a fixed path to take.
In a way, one can see there are two movable ladders that assist us in finding our personal way to the top. In reference to the Gospel reading today, you could say Jesus was telling us that one ladder to self-actualization serves God, while the other ladder serves wealth.
Self-actualization does not depend on being on a higher-class level, such that the pinnacle comes with being recognized by Fortune magazine as a member of the billionaire club. You can be poor and reach self-actualization. Still, self-actualization can be attained through the development of a self-serving morality, shrewdness, quick thinking, a willingness to do business with whoever helps you most, and an ability to use facts to one’s advantage. In that case, self-actualization could be associated closely with a plethora of worldly comforts.
The question becomes, which ladder to self-actualization did one climb?
What master does one serve?
One can imagine that the temples of Israel and Judah, in Samaria and Jerusalem, during the times of both Jeremiah and Jesus, struggled to use the ladder that served God. When one reads the words of Psalm 79, we see how David (probably young David, before he was king) was well aware that there were those around who always waited to knock the ladder serving God down and hide it. There were always the enemies of good surrounding them, always knowing that to climb the ladder serving wealth meant God would suspend His protection for the Israelites, leaving Jerusalem open for ruin. In that sense, the heathen are often the business partners of dishonest managers.
We have all heard that it is the LOVE of money that is the root of all evil …
One often gets corrected with that scripture lesson, after one has made the mistake of saying, “Money is the root of all evil.”
LOVE of money is clearly serving a master of wealth. Money, by itself, it just another necessity in today’s world. People secretly loving money often deny a fondness for things of the material realm, and it makes them feel safer to quote the Holy Bible as a support of their hidden desires.
Money is no different than coats. Both are material things. We can like a coat, even say we love the look and feel of a coat, but that love isn’t true LOVE.
We pay money to buy coats. We can only wear one coat at a time, so to have many coats is like having a savings account at the bank. If we see someone without a coat … and it is coat weather … we can AFFORD to GIVE someone one of our extra coats … Or, we could take that person to the outlet mall and spend money on a coat just for him or her. Same thing … if you serve God, then you share. If you serve wealth, then you let people go without coats … remembering that a coat would be classified as one of Maslow’s security needs.
In the movie The Jerk, Navin R. Johnson was honest. In his business, he made the perfect product … something many people could use … a want … a need. Navin made little rubber rings that went on glasses frames, so the frames wouldn’t slide down one’s nose. A packet cost $1.43 (or something like that) and Navin guaranteed them for life. Navin became rich meeting the needs of others … but he went bankrupt because people wanted their money back, once his product was found in some way to be dangerous. That news stopped all future sales, causing refund requests to pour in. The people said, “Live up to the guarantee, wealthy Navin!”
Navin individually wrote checks to everyone who asked for their money back … $1.43 at a time … until all his money was gone.
He was a man of his word.
Had Navin been a dishonest manager, he would have ignored all those requests and hid all the money he made, in offshore shelters, planning for such things as recalls and refunds. Or, he could have only dealt with the Wal-Marts, ignoring the individual purchasers; dealing only with those fat cats who bought the biggest blocks of his product. He could call them in to review their outstanding debt, then make a compromise deal on how much he would give the buyers back … something in return for bad merchandise. That way, both sides profit, so a dishonest manager could keep something for himself.
That was what Jesus was saying the dishonest manager was doing, before he got fired by the rich man. He was giving the buyers credits for their debts, the profits from which he had already embezzled a portion. With the buyers happy to get anything for nothing, the dishonest manager would be able to do business with the same buyers again, once he found another rich man to work for. His rich employer even said that was shrewd dealing, and commended his dishonesty for having handled adversity in that way. That is a sign that his rich employer got rich from taking advantage of the poor … something more easily done by purposefully hiring a dishonest manager.
In the movie The Jerk, Navin R. Johnson was rewarded for his honesty and for having a mind too simple to be shrewd, unable to purposefully cheat people. His family, who he had sent money to while he was wealthy, they had invested that money wisely. When they saw their windfall, after Navin was no longer wealthy, the family saw it was time to share their wealth with Navin. Goodness prevailed and those who supported one another all benefited. It wasn’t heaven … and it was only a movie … but it was a “feel-good” ending.
In reality, there are few Navin R. Johnsons in the business world. There are many, many, many more successful entrepreneurs who serve wealth, than there are those who serve God and who are rich men and women. In fact, to accommodate those who serve wealth, there has been a rise in a branch of morality that helps ease the pains of guilt from lusting for self-actualization through wealth. It preaches Jesus wants people to be materially rich, so the rich can use their wealth to get into Heaven.
That is a slippery ladder to climb.
I went to one of the churches that preach that message EVERY Sunday. It falls in line with the false shepherd warnings of Jesus. Thus, the parable today is focused at the Pharisees, who were bad shepherds to poor people. It was to their over-listening ears that Jesus told his disciples, “You cannot serve two masters, God and wealth.”
Verses 14 and 15 of Luke 16 say, “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. [Jesus] said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.”
Jesus was saying, “You cannot preach wealth to the poor (by demonstrating wealth and implying an association with righteous reward), then sit back as rich men while the poor people cry, “Is the LORD not in the shepherds of Zion?”
Paul wrote to those early Christians, many of who were Gentiles. It was they who were of heathen origin, but who had been shown the light through apostles like Paul and Timothy. Paul said, have those seeking salvation “come to the knowledge of the truth.”
The truth is that there is only one God … not two, or three, or many. There is the mediator who gave himself in ransom for us all – Christ Jesus. Christ was truth in human form … the model for all other human forms to match. Jesus died a rich man, through his wealth was not counted in coins bearing the likeness of Caesar. Jesus was self-actualized. He was happy because he sacrificed all that was excessive in the material realm … for a much higher reward.
All of the apostles taught the Gentiles they welcomed how to find “faith in truth.” Truth is honesty. Had the apostles been dishonest managers of the master’s property way back when, then we would not be here talking about this today.
Thank God they told the truth, which can be attested.