The following is a reflection on Luke 16:1-13, the Gospel lesson appointed for Proper 20 C, of the Revised Common Lectionary.
What’s the fastest way to make God laugh? Tell Him your long-range plans.
Almost every year I plan this Sunday as a ‘welcome back’ Sunday where we have all the kids in church, and we have them come up and get involved in the sermon… I always envision a tear in every mother’s eye, and the fall program year being be kicked off successfully.
And every Year C I check the Gospel lesson.
Nothing like telling a bunch of kids to make friends by dishonest wealth this year.
Tears of rage in every mother’s eye…
But, this particular passage from Luke is not just vexing, it’s also set within a unit of Luke where Jesus is talking a lot about money.
Just prior to today’s text is the story of the Prodigal Son who asks for his inheritance early and then squanders it on loose living. Immediately after our text is the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, where the Rich Man fails to share what he had with poor destitute Lazarus and therefore ended up in eternal torment.
This story, known universally as the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, sits sandwiched right in the middle. That’s not coincidence.
He too was squandering someone else’s wealth that he was entrusted with—just like the Prodigal a few verses prior. We aren’t told for sure whether he was failing to share what he had with others, as the Rich Man was a few verses later, but it wouldn’t be surprising.
What happens next is the difficult part. He tells the people whose accounts he’s managing to slash what they owe to his master. The master… commends him. (!)
I wish this guy worked for the bank which holds my student loans…
He’s made friends with this money (that wasn’t his money to begin with) so that he could be invited into their homes when he was no longer employed—a situation that was immanent.
Commentators and preachers have been trying to figure out this one for millennia, and I am not going to proclaim here that I’ve got it all figured out.
But, this much I’m sure of: whatever funny transactions he was making with his master’s clients he was certainly NOT squandering opportunities. He wasn’t losing money for laziness or ineptitude. He was losing money for a purpose: to find himself a home.
I’m not sure how this would help his master—unless this was his master’s wish all along. Was this steward meant to be making friends with his master’s money from the beginning? Goosed by the realization that he was about to be sacked, did he finally start to use his master’s money in the way that he wanted him to?
Funnily enough, it appears so.
God, our Master, blesses us with uncountable riches. But, do we squander the opportunities to make friends for ourselves, and our Master, by not using what is given us?
If we look at the man’s master as a brute who was only out for a few bucks, his commendation is mystifying. But, if we understand the Master as God who always has our interests in mind, then I think this parable becomes a little more intelligible.
God gives us what we have so that we’ll share what we have. And by doing so we earn friends and a home with the sons of light. Failure to do so means an eternal pink slip.
We’ll see what the severance package looks like next week when we delve into Lazarus and the Rich Man.
Spoiler alert: it’s not favorable.