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So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he [the administrator] said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’           Luke 16: 5-7


Take a good look at the words in bold. The actions of the administrator in the two sentences were highly philanthropic – he was being very generous indeed. He reduced one debt by 50% and another by 20%. But notice that he asked the debtors to alter the records. There was nothing in his own handwriting.


Yes, these were fraudulent transactions. Strange then that these words in bold are part of a story that came from the lips of Jesus of Nazareth around AD 30. Even stranger is the fact that, in the story, the “master” who was a rich man and the person to whom the debts were owed (whose assets were being administered) actually praised the administrator in question about one particular aspect (only) of what he had done.


The “master” praised the fact that he had put his wisdom, his insight, into action. He had seen, he had understood and then he had acted on it with all diligence.


The full story, in brief, was that the administrator was about to lose his job and, more particularly, the dwelling that went with it.  He knew that and he knew that he would not get another job or another dwelling. So he applied his mind to the problem and worked out that, if he could benefit other house owners (albeit using the master’s assets) those other house owners would, in appreciation, allow him to live in one or other of their dwellings. (He loved Jersey, as it were, and did not want to lose his “(j) cat.” Housing Permit....)


Was he a philanthropist? When he gave away what did not belong to him? You will probably say “No, that can’t be so.” But Jesus said that this story was a “parallel” (Greek – parabole) to be applied in his day and later. Think, now, about a Jersey philanthropist of old.


On 24 August 1741 Mrs Marie Bartlet née Mauger died in Jersey aged 64. A St Brelade girl, she had married an English merchant who came to live in St Aubin and who predeceased her. It was very profitable to “farm” taxes then – to collect taxation revenues on goods (like spirits) coming into St Aubin’s Harbour as well as anchorage fees, taking a “cut” for the work. It was also profitable to import those self-same spirits. Disputes about whether the Bartlet spirit imports were taxed arose and there were law suits still unresolved on her death as a widow.


Marie Bartlet was a philanthropist. In her will she left most of her fortune (91,567 livres tournois with a 2010 value of around £7 million) to build a hospice for the poor of Jersey. That bequest financed the old granite building in Gloucester Street now named the Jersey General Hospital.  


This may well fit in with Jesus’ parallel.


Having told the story Jesus added his own very strong and challenging comment about the actions of the administrator. He said this to those listening to him, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into eternal dwellings.”


I wonder whether Mrs Bartlett was “making friends” so as to be received into “eternal dwellings” by the “Poore of the Ilande”, the “Poore widows” and “Fatherlaise Childrane” to whom she referred in her manuscript will.


When, then is philanthropy really, truly good – in the view of Jesus of Nazareth? What does he say really counts with regard to my philanthropy?


Well, on this particular occasion and on many others, Jesus made it clear that what counted was the whole inner attitude of a person. Here’s what he said on this very occasion,”No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”


If the inner attitude is to serve God and his son from heaven we will enjoy the “eternal dwellings” that belong to the one whom we serve. If to serve money, even my philanthropy will only buy me friends who at best will share their eternal dwellings with me – according to Jesus.

‘Charity is money put to interest in another world.’ (Robert Southey, English poet, 1774-1843)
 ‘Any philosophy that deals only with the here and now is not adequate for man.’ (Billy Graham, preacher and writer)
Richard Syvret

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