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: “…For there is one God … Christ Jesus, himself human…”
Using the very real humanity of Jesus as our lens will hopefully give us eyes to reexamine what is normally a troubling teaching when we contemplate today’s parable from Luke. This passage returns to us in the revised common lectionary every three years. I looked back on my notes and sermonizing from 2016, and I rediscovered some excellent advice. When struggling with a difficult teaching, look outside the specific pericope of the day to find either a related theme or some sort of other insight to why the passage might be the way it is.
The Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verse 3 begins with the author writing, “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).
Now wait just a minute. Didn’t Jesus just instruct his listeners to, “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes?” Actually that teaching is a part of the parable of the dishonest, or “crafty” manager. So then do we follow the parable’s teaching? Where 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 mean to tell me Jesus wants us to be somewhat morally suspect?!?”
If I dared to think that was truly the case, I imagine Jesus might turn and gaze implacably upon me with one of those twinkles in his eye…one of those nonverbal, “think again” looks. Are you familiar with those looks? I am; I know my children are. But then why did he say such outlandish things in the first place?
Is it possible 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 story, of the type that lifts up a negative example as a tool to lead folks into re-examining their personal motives and measuring them up over and against God’s economy? The end product is: the crafty manager doesn’t get what he deserves. I wonder, are there times we receive something other than what we deserve, too?
In which case, this story isn’t about the crafty manager or making friends by dishonest wealth at all. It’s about God’s grace in giving second chances.
Jesus follows his parable with an additional related teaching that makes a bit more sense: “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.”
That puts a different spin on it, doesn’t it? We are God’s, of course, designed to serve the Lord. “Forgive us, when we forget, O Lord.”
We are called to be faithful, as Jill Duffield wrote three years ago, “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…in our relief and joy of not getting what we deserve when we are called to account,”help us exercise forgiveness, mercy, and redemption toward others.
I have a question I’d like you to discuss with your neighbor or child, after which I would like to hear your thoughts and close with another quote from Jill Duffield and a short homework assignment. Please discuss:
- When have you recognized that you truly needed God’s grace and mercy? What did you discover as a result?
This year Jill wrote, “When we recognize the real mess we have made through our own exploitive and self-indulgent actions, and come to ourselves and make a change, God is merciful. … One of the bottom lines of this tale is the fact that the ultimate authority figure reverses course and extends grace.”
For discussion at home among your family, read the parable from Luke 16 using lectio divina and consider where you see yourself. If you have never read scripture that way before, the lectio divina process can be found on my blog under the Christian Education Toolbox tab; you can find the web address at the end of the bulletin.
Let us pray:
Additional Questions for Reflection
Generosity is both a gift and a spiritual discipline. Studies show people who are more generous live more fulfilled lives. 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.
Jill Duffield, “Looking into the Lectionary, September 18, 2016, Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time”, The Presbyterian Outlook online magazine, accessed 9/20/2019. https://pres-outlook.org/2016/09/september-18-2016-25th-sunday-ordinary-time/.
 Jill Duffield, “Looking into the Lectionary, September 22, 2019, Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time”, The Presbyterian Outlook online magazine, Accessed 9/21/2019. https://pres-outlook.org/2019/09/15th-sunday-after-pentecost-september-22-2019/
 The Lily Family Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, Indiana University.