By The Rev. Sherry Deets
18 Pentecost, Proper 20 – September 22, 2013
This is a difficult gospel passage today. Any commentator will tell you it is a difficult text. A dishonest manager is about to lose his job because he has misspent his employer’s assets. Because he doesn’t want to do manual labor or receive charity, he goes around to all the people who owe his employer money and reduces their debts. He does this so that they will be hospitable to him after he loses his job. To our surprise, the employer commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. Why is he commended? And, why does Luke include this story in his Gospel? What is Jesus telling us?
While I can’t claim to know exactly why the owner commends his dishonest manager, my colleague, David Lose points out that one of the prominent themes in Luke is the proper use of wealth. Except that it’s not just the use of wealth; it’s more like Luke is concerned with our relationship to wealth and how that affects our relationships with others. With this in mind, we sense a profound change in the rather interesting character of the dishonest manager. While he once acted in a dishonest way to enrich himself, he now acts to enrich others and thereby establish a relationship of mutual benefit.
Granted, he does this out of a sense of desperation. Granted, he’s still acting in a rather fishy way, given that he’s cutting the debts that people owe his master, not him. But he has caught on to the fact that money can be used to engender relationship, even if it’s relationships of mutual obligation. And so perhaps the manager commends him for just this shrewdness, that in a moment of desperation he is able to use his financial savvy to make friends rather than enemies (for it is his co-workers who initially turn him in).
Whatever we may think of the manager, might we recognize that there are better and worse ways to use money, and using money to establish relationships is better than hoarding it?
Robert Cueni, President of Lexington Theological Seminary, suggests that Jesus is simply saying, “It’s only money. Don’t make money a bigger deal than it is.” The dishonest wealth mentioned in verse 9 does not refer to money gained by dishonest means. Rather it means the wealth of this world, all of which is tainted and temporary, which is to be distinguished from the treasure in heaven.
Money is not an end in itself; it is a resource. And if we believe the message of stewardship in the Bible, all that we have belongs to God. We are indeed merely stewards, like the man in our story. And we should not squander the Master’s resources. We need to be trustworthy with little so that we can be trusted with much. God does want us to be shrewd with the wealth that God has entrusted to us so that we serve God and people in need.
There is a current example of a young man who is trustworthy with little. Did you hear the story of Joey Prusak, a Minnesota 19 year old, Dairy Queen Manager? He noticed a man with impaired vision drop $20 and he was unaware of it. An older woman in the line picked up the bill and put it in her purse instead of returning it to the man. Prusak asked the woman to give the man his money back, but she said it was her money that she had dropped. He asked her again to return the money, but she refused. He then asked her to leave the store, as he would not serve someone so disrespectful. The woman became extremely angry and left the store. What Prusak did next was surprising. He went over to sit next to the man with impaired vision and told him what had happened. He then took $20 out of his own wallet and gave it to the blind man.
A customer in the Dairy Queen witnessed all of this and wrote an email to Dairy Queen management. The story has spread like wild fire. Here was a young man who simply believed that he was doing the right thing.
And so…how are we managing our lives and resources? I think that is what our parable asks of us. Luke is talking about a different way of using wealth. Our wealth belongs to God and is to be used for the purposes of God’s reign among us and not simply for our own interests.
All that we have belongs to God. When the reign of God emerges among us, old hierarchies are overturned and new friendships are established. May God be pleased with the management of our lives. Amen.
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