The 18th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 20C (9/22/2013)
Lessons:Amos 8:4-7 Psalm 113 (7) 1 Timothy 2:1-7 St. Luke 16:1-13
Semicontinuous Series: Jeremiah 8:18–9:1 Psalm 79:1-9 (9)
Prayer of the Day: God among us, we gather in the name of your Son to learn love for one another. Keep our feet from evil paths. Turn our minds to your wisdom and our hearts to the grace revealed in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
16.1 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 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.
10 “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. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
[14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. 15 So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.]
St. Luke 16:1-13. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
Commending a Dishonest Manager
The parables of Jesus are often unsettling tales. They surprise and shock and startle those who hear them. This doesn’t always happen to us any more. We’ve heard a number of them so many times that they seem to have lost their ability to shock us or disturb us. “Good Samaritan” doesn’t sound like an oxymoron to us (although it certainly did to Jesus’ first listeners). It seems perfectly natural to us that the sower in Jesus’ story would plant just as much seed on the path as in the rocks or in the thorns or in the rich soil (although a first century subsistence farmer would consider that scandalous). We’re not the least bit surprised when the vineyard owner pays everyone the same, whether they worked all day or just the last couple of hours (although small business owners among us might understand how shocking this is). But this parable — The Parable of the Dishonest Manager — this is one of the few parables that has retained its element of scandal through the years.
It is shocking: why would the wealthy householder commend this manager, who had taken advantage of his position, and misused his master’s wealth to ingratiate himself to the master’s debtors? In verse two, the master is angry enough to fire him, and we expect him to come back at the end (once he discovers how he has been swindled) even angrier. But that is not what happens. The manager smiles, and commends him. “Well done. You got me that time.”
Jesus lifts up the shrewd behavior — the ingenuity — the resourcefulness — with this cryptic line: the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. We recoil at the thought of Jesus commending this not-so-common thief, but we get the point: in pursuit of selfish gain or dishonorable pursuits, there are many in this world who use every means available to them to get what they desire. Similarly, Jesus calls those who follow him to show the same willingness to pursue every possible angle; the same desire to evaluate every possible opportunity; the same capacity to do whatever we can to see that the work of God’s Kingdom happens through us.
Yet he doesn’t call us to an “anything goes” attitude. Jesus may have commended the shrewd behavior of this unfaithful manager, but as the text continues, we hear him teach us that faithfulness is commanded over dishonesty. We hear him teach us that a believer has to make a choice between serving God and serving wealth. There is not room in a person’s heart for both. The small details do matter. In evaluating our actions, their character means as much as the result. Our lives serve as a witness to others of the difference Christ has made. We are relentless in sharing the Gospel, meeting the needs of our brothers and sisters, caring for creation, and pursuing justice and righteousness. At the same time we are careful and prayerful as to how we go about it, remembering that the nature of our faithfulness often tells others more about whose we are than the results.
Our God has entrusted to us a great mission: that of sharing Christ with the whole world. It is a mission that calls for ingenuity, persistence and sacrificial commitment. Let us do so with faith and integrity, so that others might come to know the faith that shaped our lives.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- What was the manager’s dilemma?
- How did he resolve it?
- Why did the rich man commend him for his actions?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- What has Christ called me to do?
- How might I be shrewd and resourceful in carrying out that calling?
- What specific gifts and passions and talents do I have that I could put to use for God’s purposes?