Sermon: Barbara Marshall
Sermon: The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 20September 18, 2022Barbara Marshall Luke 16:1-13 Focus: The abundance of God is a better economy than the wealth of the earth. In today’s Gospel lesson from Luke, we encounter a parable about a dishonest estate manager. First, he intentionally messes up the accounts, then he gets in trouble for it. His response is to turn around and forgive half of what one debtor owes his master and 20 percent of what another debtor owes. And then, oddly enough, his master praises him.
It seems to be a confusing parable on the surface. Ultimately, though, we can view this parable as an insight into setting priorities. For a while, the manager had his priorities in the wrong order. He put his own wealth above the needs or justice of others. The moment he changes his priorities and grants forgiveness, even partially, of debts, he is praised by his master. Instead of trying to gain wealth at the expense of others, he instead focuses on personal relationships regardless of wealth.His hope was that if he was dismissed as manager, the people for whom he lowered the debt would welcome him into their home.
The employer commends the dishonest manager for being shrewd. Some commentators suggest that the manager has reduced his own commission in the debts owed and that this is what is being commended. Others have suggested more generally that the employer is simply commending the manager for responding shrewdly to a difficult circumstance. In a way he was helping people who could not be expected to return the favor. The word shrewd can also be translated as “prudent” or “wise.”
So why is our dishonest manager shrewd? Even though he is still a sinner who is looking out for his own interests, he models behavior that disciples can emulate. Instead of simply being a victim of circumstance, he transforms a bad situation into one that benefits him and others. By reducing other people’s debts, he creates a new set of relations between lenders and debtors.
Let’s see if a humorous story helps us to understand the parable better.
Two accountants are in a bank when it falls victim to a group of armed robbers. The patrons of the bank are immediately gathered up into a small group so that they cannot alert the authorities. As some robbers go about robbing the bank, others ask everyone to empty out their pockets and take off all their jewelry and watches. Knowing he’s about to lose everything, one of the accountants jams something into the hand of the other accountant. The man looks down and says, “What is this?” The accountant replies, “It’s the $300 I owe you.”
Hmmm! It’s funny to imagine an accountant, someone responsible for the correct tracking of others’ finances, essentially duping someone out of the repayment of a loan. It helps put the biblical text into a modern context. The ultimate message, though, is about focusing not on earthly wealth but on heavenly abundance. If our priority is always that we give to others in order to also receive, then we have lost sight of the values of Jesus. The offering of grace, forgiveness of debts, and love come to us from heaven and brings us to heavenly abundance. They are not the wealth of the earth, they are the wealth of God.
I wonder! What about us? Is there a crafty manager among us?
We may all know this guy or gal. In order to simplify the following scenario, I will refer to the individual as “he” but “he” could also be a “she.”
He always knows the right thing to say. He can talk himself out of any problem. He knows how far he can go. He has an uncanny ability to know when the deal is going south and how to save it.
He doesn’t care about the quality of the product he’s selling or the conscientiousness of the service he’s marketing. He could be selling a house or hardware store, it doesn’t matter. He’s all about the sale – and his commission. His real product is himself.
We all know this guy.
You’re his best friend as long as your check clears. You’re a terrific human being because of what you can do for him. You can count on him, as long as you’re active on his client list. You can trust him, until you can’t.
We know this guy.
He’s mastered the ability to turn on sincerity and humility like a light switch. His life is a treadmill from one deal to the next.
Yeah, we know this guy.
We know his act – and still, we buy into it.
Because more times than we realize or care to admit, we are this guy.
Ouch! Am I really this guy? As I read this scenario, I wasn’t thinking about myself. But someone else sure came to my mind.Did that happen to you? Where’s that mirror? I need to look into it. I just happen to have another mirror should anyone care to look into it.
The parable of the dishonest steward is one of the most problematic stories in all of the Gospel. At first reading, it seems that Jesus is commending the larceny of the steward. Is he prudent, dishonest, clever, incompetent, or all the above? Perhaps most disturbing is that deep inside we admire his ability to land on his feet. Part of us might like to possess his nerve.
So why does Jesus hold this guy up as a model of anything positive or commendable? Because of his ability and ingenuity to get things done. Jesus challenges us to be as ingenious for the sake of God’s reign as we are in our careers and professions. We are to be as ready and willing to use our time, talent and treasure to accomplish great things in terms of the Gospel just as we are to secure our own security and happiness. We are to open our hearts to the possibilities we have to build God’s Kingdom of compassion, mercy and peace in our time and place. Profit and security are important, to be sure. But for disciples of Jesus, the good we are able to bring about, the work we are able to do in order to bring God’s reign of justice and compassion to reality should be the motivating force in our lives. Our faith should challenge us to be as eager and as ingenious for the sake of God’s reign.
So, friends, are we willing to use our time, talent, and “wealth” to create God’s Kingdom of justice and peace as we work to secure our own security and happiness? Certainly is something to think about.
Let us Pray!Heavenly Father, help us to remember we came into this world with nothing and will be leaving this world with nothing we have secured and accumulated. Help us act as “children of light,” to take on life’s challenges with honesty, to place people before profit, to “serve” others who are in need. We need to focus not on the wealth of the earth, but on the wealth of God. We pray for Your guidance as we exit St. Patrick’s this morning to love and serve in your Holy Name. Amen!
Resources for this sermon:• Connections for September 18, 2022• Lectionary Levity by Markam and Gottich, page 247 and 248• Commentary by Lois Malcolm• The Access Bible• The New Interpreters Study Bible-NRSV