By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
September 19, 2010
Read: Luke 16:1-13
Picture yourself as the owner of a small-town hardware store. One day it strikes you that you have been working too hard. So you hire a store manager and you go off on a well-deserved and long-overdue fishing trip. And then, a number of filled creels later, you come home. It has been a great trip. You’ve had your fill of fishing. You have not been so rested in a very long time. Yet on your first morning back, the benefits of the entire vacation come tumbling down.
You go into the store and you find that while you were away, your manager neglected to stock the shelves. He cut in half the hours that he kept the store open. The profits have dwindled considerably. He failed to pay the insurance premiums, so your policy has lapsed.
Would you keep him on? Of course you wouldn’t. However, being the generous soul that you are, you give him two weeks’ notice. So what does your about-to-be ex manager do with that time? He makes sure that his bread will be buttered somewhere else. Given that he has met your customers and has access to their phone numbers, he starts calling each one who has a charge account and tells them that if they pay what is comfortable for them, he will mark them paid in full.
How many of us would not take him to court? This story, of course, is an updated version of Jesus’ parable of the dishonest manager. And it can be a confusing parable in that it appears that Jesus wants to give this scoundrel a medal. The troubling saying is “For the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” But parables are not always what they seem at first sight. This parable is, by no means, a parable to encourage cheating.
What exactly is it that Jesus is approving here? Deceit? Surely not. Stealing? Never. Dishonesty? I think not. Not really.
Dr. Mickey Anders tells of the time he was invited to speak to a group of valedictorians from the local high school. He decided on a novel approach and shocked them when he announced that his advice was for them to cheat, lie and steal. Of course, they didn’t expect to hear that kind of message from a pastor at a Rotary Club meeting. But then he went on to explain that the odds were that they would not be as successful in college as they were in high school and that the odds were they would not really change the world as they dreamed. He suggested that they cheat those odds and succeed anyway. He told them that college would be very busy with lots of demands on their time. They would have to steal time for their studies. And he advised that they not forget time for meditation and prayer. They should remember to lie in the grace of God. Cheat, lie and steal!
Perhaps Jesus was doing something like that. Trying an approach that would indeed capture attention.
One of the messages in this parable is that of stewardship. And I mean stewardship in its authentic definition that says: Everything from the earth itself to the bodies in which we live, is on loan to us from God. We are not the owners of such things, but the managers. As such we are responsible both as individuals and as a society to care for whatever we have been given. We are children of the light, but sometimes we need to apply that light with more prudence.
Steward comes from the Greek word, “oikos”, which means house. Stewardship is taking care of household matters. A related word is “oikonomics” from which we get the word, “economics:” Stewardship is taking care of money matters that God has entrusted to us. Still another related word is “oicology” from which we get the word “ecology”. Stewardship is taking care of the earth that God has entrusted to us.
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.
This parable stands among several Lukan parables of crisis. To be more specific, Luke features several parables in which characters of relatively high status encounter a crisis. In every instance their help lies below them on the social ladder. The anonymous Jew on the road to Jericho would seem to be superior to a Samaritan, but lying half-dead in the ditch he will accept any neighbor who passes by (10:25-37). The prodigal son finds himself desperate enough to join the hired hands; his superior older brother cannot join the party until he reconciles himself to his scoundrel sibling (15:11-32). In this age the rich man ignores lowly Lazarus, but in the next world he would beg for Lazarus’ help (16:19-31). These parables suggest a world in which status is fleeting, even dangerous. The manager, who once controlled the accounts of his master’s debtors, must now hope for their hospitality.
Perhaps this is why Jesus praises the corrupt manager. The manager’s wisdom, or shrewdness, lies in his ability to discern his own situation. He may be “ashamed to beg” (16:3), but he is prudent enough to recognize when his status has evaporated and to reach down the social ladder for help. We inhabit a cultural moment at which some people, Christians just as much as anyone else, regard themselves as more deserving of society’s benefits than some of their less worthy neighbors. How does the gospel speak to such superiority and status? We also inhabit a church that desperately clings to a status long gone, but cannot acknowledge the crisis that will require us to change. What would the “children of this age” do, were they in our place?
The dishonest manager knows how the system works, he knows how money works, he knows how power works, he knows how privilege works. The children of this age are smarter than the children of light. Jesus is saying, beware of your naiveté. See how powerful this stuff is? We can’t serve both. So let’s be wise in how we play the game. How do we be savvy and wise about how we use resources to further the kingdom of God? Recall the scripture from Matthew, chapter 10: “I send you out like sheep amongst the wolves. Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves”.
Today, we pray for that grace to manage our resources in a way that furthers the kingdom of God. Amen.
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