Order of Worship for this Reflection: Bulletin-TL 09-18-2022 YC P20
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 be, not necessarily who we think we ought to be. Amen.
I would like to begin examination of today’s Lukan passage in the revised common lectionary with an excerpt from today’s reading in First Timothy: “…For there is one God … Christ Jesus, himself human…”
I hope using the very real humanity of Jesus as our lens will give us eyes to reexamine what is normally a troubling teaching when we read today’s parable from Luke. As we examine it today, I would like to offer a suggestion which you can use with any of our scriptural passages that you find challenging: 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 as to why the passage might be the way it is.
With that advice, for today’s passage in Luke chapter 16, I would like us to frame it using the third verse from Luke Chapter 1:
“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 today’s passage, 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?” Upon closer inspection of today’s passage, we find that this instruction is a part of the parable of the dishonest, or “crafty” manager. That is to say it is inside the book-ends of the parable. So, do we follow the example of the parable where the dishonest manager gets away with everything and is told “good job, crafty one?” Are we we 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 we might be asked to follow that advice, I imagine Jesus might turn and gaze implacably upon us 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; so why did Jesus say such an outlandish thing in the first place?
Let’s take a step back from the moment. Remember I quoted First Timothy at the beginning of this reflection? First Timothy reminds us Jesus is fully human, even if he is also fully divine. 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? Perhaps it would be helpful to remember parables are not meant to be taken literally; they are teaching stories. This one very well may be the type that lifts up a negative example as a tool to lead folks into re-examining personal motives and measuring them up, over and against God’s ethic of loving kindness. The end product of the parable is the crafty manager doesn’t get what he deserves. I wonder, are there times we receive something other than what we deserve, too? I suspect Old Turtle might have something to say about that.
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 to any and all of us who are less than perfect. I know I am less than perfect; thank God for such grace!
Jesus follows this parable with an additional related teaching which 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 this parable, doesn’t it? We are God’s, of course, designed to serve in whatever way God leads us into. Sometimes we forget we are ambassadors, Christ’s hands and feet in the world. “Forgive us in our soul-forgetfulness, O Lord, and lead us into soul-remembrance!”
Presbyterian Pastor Jill Duffield once wrote we are called to be faithful, “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 “surprise people with grace, when we don’t give others what they may very well deserve.” Help us, O Lord, to exercise forgiveness, mercy, and redemption toward ourselves and others. Pastor Jill went on to write a few years later, “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….”
O Lord our God, let it be so with us; and let us, be the shining example others may need to change their ways, too. May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 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/