When planning a trip, we usually start with the destination in mind and then work backward. I don’t know of anyone that gets in the car, or goes to the airport and says, “Where shall we go today.” Sure, sometimes we go out for a drive, but I am talking about a long trip of several days or weeks. Before any journey begins, we need to have a vision of the destination, so we know what route to take as well as what and how much to bring. Just as an aside, I always bring way more than I am going to need on any trip.
Today, we hear this rather challenging parable from Luke’s Gospel. I say it is challenging because it seems the scoundrel is the hero of the story. The parable begins by saying the manager of the property mismanaged what has been entrusted to him. The implication is the manager has stolen from the owner. The manager is called to account for what he has done, and in fear of losing his job, he devises a scheme to try and get back into his master’s good graces.
So the manager calls all of those together who owe a debt, not to the manager but the owner, and he reduces their bills, thus defrauding the owner even more. But, the owner comes, sees what he has done, and praises the manager for being a shrewd businessman. By reducing the amount owed, the manager made it possible for those in debt to the owner to be able to pay their bills, and the owner got something rather than nothing.
So why would Jesus use the dishonest man as an example for godly living? This parable highlights the life of someone and uses him as the model of our faith, a person whose life is the very opposite of what Jesus calls us to be. The manager is a lazy, conniving, self-centered manager of someone else’s treasure. He is out for personal gain. He is out to save his skin. Like the villain in a movie, we wait for the end to see this man get his come up in’s, but it never happens. Jesus turns the story on its head and leaves us scratching our heads.
The manager does not get what’s coming to him in fact; he is praised for his ability to do business and get those in debt to pay what is owed. And in the end, Jesus says that the manager, the scoundrel, understands what it means to be a follower of Jesus but the “children of God” do not.
Jesus uses this same tactic if you will, in another story. In Luke 15:5-12, we hear the parable of the man who went to the door of his neighbor, late at night, looking for bread for a visitor that has just arrived at his house. He continued to knock at the entrance of his neighbor’s house until the grouchy man came to the door. The neighbor was inconvenienced by this persistent knocking, and the neighbor says, “How much more?” Jesus uses this story of the grouchy man to ask the question, “How much more will the Heavenly Father give to those who ask him?”
In Luke 18:1-8, one of the passages we heard over the summer, Jesus tells the story of the unjust judge and closes this story with another “How much more” question. The bottom line is these people of questionable character understand something the “children of light” have a difficult time understanding. How do we use what has been entrusted to us to serve the larger good?
This is a story that speaks to people and communities who have lost their way, groups that have lost their vision, as it says in Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Who are the people of God? What have the people of God been called to do? Who is our neighbor? What has God called us to do to help them? Sometimes we let what we perceive to be a complex problem get in the way of doing anything. The constant these of the Scripture passages of the last few weeks has been, what are you called to do and how are you going to live that call in such a way that you are faithful to God?
It is my sincere belief that the Christian Church has lost its way. We have become comfortable and complacent, and we have become afraid of upsetting anyone out of fear of what will happen.
I have recently begun to re-watch the mini-series The Tudors. Perhaps you know the story, it is about Henry VIII and all that he did. Of course, there is the understanding that Henry led the great reformation of the Church in England because of theological differences with the Church in Rome but, we know the real reason, it was over a woman. But that is secondary to the story for our purposes.
As King Henry is leading the English Church away from Rome, two characters stand up to the King. There are many more of course, but the show highlights these 2. Sir Thomas Moore, a close friend, and confidant of the King and the second is Bishop John Fisher, the leader of the second-largest and influential diocese of Rochester.
After the semi break with Rome and King Henry’s divorce from his wife Catherine of Aragon, Moore and Fisher refused to sign the oath that recognized both that King Henry was the Supreme Head of the Church in England, and that Anne Boleyn what Henry’s wife and Queen of England. Fast forward to the end of the story; they are both executed for standing up to the King. They stood up to the King, knowing full well what the outcome was going to be. The treasure we have been given is our voice; how are we using it?
So here is a slightly different way to read this story;
Among those in the crowd that Jesus was addressing were the Pharisees, whom the narrator of the Gospel of Luke characterizes as “Lovers of Money” (v14). Leaders of the Chosen people, keepers of the treasures of God, they were like the dishonest steward. They had lost their vision of who God had called them to be. They had traded their call to be God’s people to become a servant of the treasures of the present day. Controlled by wealth, even complacency, they had blended into society and lost their vision. To these, Jesus says, to paraphrase verse 13, “You can either serve this present age and love its treasure, or you can love God and serve him in this current age. But you cannot do both. One leads to death, spiritually and the other leads to life. If you take the King’s money, you have to dance to his tune.
We serve God by living up to what God has called us to do. We each have a call from God on our lives, but we also have a collective call from God and obeying that call is what gives us the right to call ourselves Christians, Love God, and Love Neighbor. Jesus tells us this himself, and it needs no interpretation. We cannot have divided loyalties in this.