17th Sunday after Pentecost
September 19, 2010
10Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If 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? 13No 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.”
This is really a strange story. What’s going on with Jesus? A few weeks ago he was telling us that if we didn’t hate our mothers and fathers we weren’t worthy of the kingdom. Now he’s telling us a story about a crook who is stealing from his master, and lifting him as an example of how we should be smart.
No doubt about it, this is a difficult story to understand. One of the commentators I read offered at least seven different possibilities for interpreting it. So we need to step back and look at the context in which this story is being told and then move forward into what its meaning might be for us.
Remember that Luke’s Gospel is the one most concerned with rich and poor, insiders and outsiders. Who Jesus eats with is so scandalous in Luke that it’s possible to say that he is crucified because he eats with the wrong people. His consorting with ‘sinners’ is a constant affront to the religious leaders, whose company he also seems to reject at every turn. Luke describes the Pharisees as lovers of money, so they would be particularly offended at Jesus’ regular stories about the self-satisfied foolishness of the rich.
Jesus has been speaking of discipleship in his dialogues about the costs involved in following him. There will be division in families and offense in communities if you choose to follow Jesus’ radical call to God’s kingdom. Then came the stories of being found. We heard the story of the ‘lost sheep’ and the ‘lost coin.’ The story which we didn’t hear is commonly called “The Prodigal Son.”
Those stories would have given much hope to people who felt that they were not good enough to be part of God’s family. But they would have seemed silly to someone who didn’t think of himself as lost. They might have offended someone who thought that they deserved to be included because they followed all the rules. The story we have today also would have been pretty offensive to those religious leaders who thought that Jesus was dismantling their religion while claiming to be the Messiah. Imagine lifting up a faithless steward as an example.
These stories continue to get more and more offensive of the leadership the closer Jesus gets to his ultimate destination in Jerusalem. He has been teaching and preaching that God’s kingdom is here, that it is open to everyone. He has been teaching that keeping the rules and keeping ‘sinners’ out is not what makes you right with God. God wants to be the center of life for God’s people, and the following the rules is what demonstrates that you ARE God’s people. God is merciful to those who love God, and God’s people are merciful as God is merciful. God’s people love justice for those who are oppressed and denied full membership in society. God expects people to care for the widow and orphan, to welcome the stranger, as God has welcomed them and cared for them, simply because God loves them. God wants people to spread this good news.
The shady or incompetent manager in this story is lifted as an example because he knows that time has run out for him. It is time to act. He is quick to know that he must act now if he has any chance to save himself. And in the process, by cutting the debts owed to the owner, he makes the owner look generous. So, Jesus says, be smart about how you use the resources of the world, as they can help accomplish heavenly means.
It’s time to be smart about how we live even the smallest things. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and you must love your neighbor as yourself. This is the deal. It is what God requires of us. God has every right to cut us off because we are so quick to hang on to every material blessing we have ever received, squirreling away our resources rather than seeing them as opportunities to serve. It seems to be just how we are made. But we are not punished or judged for it. Jesus came to teach us, and in his death and resurrection, to free us from our bondage to our need to grasp and our greed. We are forgiven for our unwillingness to be generous with our gifts. And we hear the voice of Jesus telling us that the time to make a decision about discipleship is today. This is a hard story to hear, because if we take it seriously, we stand stripped of our attempt to be good enough, and must turn to God for mercy and new direction. It’s called repentance, and only God has the power to turn our hearts to the love that sets us free from guilt, free from worry, and free from our self-sufficiency. May we surrender our hearts and our resources even though they seem small. They may be destined for great things. Thanks be to God.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.