You’re Kidding, Right?

Scriptures: 1 Timothy 2: 1-7; Luke 16:1-13

Let us pray:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts on this most puzzling of stories find, in the end, your true light illuminating our darkness. O Holy Spirit, nurture us to grow into who you want us to become, not necessarily who we think we are or ought to be. Let all God’s children say, “Amen.”

I would like to begin examination of the Lukan passage with an excerpt from today’s reading in 1 Timothy: “…God our Savior…desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human…”

Using the very real humanity of Jesus as our lens while we read today’s parable will hopefully give us eyes to see a Gospel message that is indeed good news. When a troubling passage like today’s comes along, where it seems like the bad guy wins, biblical exegetes are taught to expand the pericope, to see if the passage makes more sense in connection with what appears just before or after it. If needed, it can be helpful to start even further out, identifying the overall theme or message associated with the book you are reading.

The Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verse 3 begins, “I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.“ (My emphasis)

In most Lukan parables from Jesus, the figure of a master or father is a metaphor explaining or illuminating some characteristic of God. While it is true Luke seems to talk a lot more than other gospels about money and stewardship – we still come to this story of the dishonest and/or shrewd manager and we get stuck. Moving closer in, the story just before today’s pericope is most often titled the Prodigal Son, which most of us may be familiar with. In that story we have a merciful father who welcomes the prodigal home. The younger one we usually know all about, and can easily identify him with ourselves at some point in our lives. He squandered his father’s wealth and came home empty handed. The older one on the other hand we sometimes forget to identify with. He is usually the dutiful one, the slaving one, the one who follows faithfully in his Father’s footsteps.   The interesting thing about him, however, is for once he did not do as his Father did. Instead of following in his father’s footsteps to welcome the younger brother home with open arms, he estranged himself from his brother and wallowed in jealousy, complaining to his Father about the injustice of such a welcome.

Jill Duffield reminds us of the parallels between the story of the Father and Two Sons and today’s lesson on the dishonest and/or shrewd manager.[1] The younger son squanders resources with which he has been entrusted, as does the manager. Both have “A-Ha!” moments of honest self-assessment. The younger son heads home to hang his head and hope to be a servant, which is more than he probably deserves. The dishonest manager makes up a plan as well – he influences folks to like him by slashing debts he is not supposed to have any say over…actions which may be deserving of much more stringent repercussions than simply being fired.

The end product is: neither get what they deserve. And that, perhaps, is the true lesson behind this parable…besides the fact, that maybe, just maybe, a very human Jesus was exasperated with somebody (or somebodies) and decided to exercise a bit of human wit with an ironic-I might even go so far as to say sarcastic-story, of the type that lifts up a negative example as a tool to lead folks into re-examining their personal motives – measuring them up over and against God’s economy. For example, someone within hearing of this teaching might have the following response:

“I mean, really, Jesus, are you kidding? The dishonest manager gets away with everything AND is told “good job, crafty one.” AND we’re supposed to make friends by dishonest wealth?!? You want us to be no better than the worldly ones around us?!?” Do you feel the heat beginning to go up here? At that point, I imagine Jesus gazing implacably with a twinkle in his eye… “Oh, of course not. I see. Then why did you say so in the first place?”

And Jesus responds: ““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 you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No [one] can serve two masters; …. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

“Oh. We are, of course, yours, designed to serve you, Lord. Forgive me, I forgot.”

We are called to be faithful, as Jill says, “in little, to practice a cruciform life daily, so that more and more we are clothed in Christ and our outward actions match our inward convictions.” Help us, Lord, to be more like you; to “surprise people with grace, when we don’t give others what they may very well deserve.” After all, “that’s part of the point of this parable, too.” Help us exercise forgiveness, mercy, and redemption “in our relief and joy of not getting what we deserve when we are called to account….”

Let us pray:

May all glory be to the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is our merciful Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Duffield, Jill. Lectionary Reflection Contributor, The Presbyterian Outlook online magazine, issue dated 9/12/2016. © 2016

Questions for Reflection

Generosity is both a gift and a spiritual discipline. Studies show people who are more generous live more fulfilled lives.[1] For what greater good do you give? In what ways can you be more generous, financial or otherwise? How might you cultivate greater generosity in your life?

Household Prayer: Morning

In this moment of stillness before I dress in the claims of the day, let me stand are before you with questions unanswered. . . .Fill the silence with your nearness, that I may hear you speak your word and live this day for you. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Source of my life, this day I was not promised now is ending. I thank you for the grace it was, noticed and unnoticed. I lay before you all that I saw. [Let your day replay in memory.] I trust to you all that I failed to see. [Let God bring to mind whatever God might.] In the gift of the gathering darkness brood over your creation again, and restore your image in me, that I might bear both your grief and your joy in the world; for I pray in the name of Jesus, whose service was love. Amen.

 

[1] The Lily Family Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, Indiana University.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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