Luke 16: 1-13
18 September 2016
Take my lips, oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Oh my, we are faced with a challenging reading from the Gospel According to Luke this week. Again. This week it’s the story of a steward’s, a business manager’s, crooked attempts to feather his own nest after being fired for dishonesty. What are we to do with the fact that Jesus ends the parable by saying that the master praised the dishonest manager for acting shrewdly? Often enough this passage has been used to talk about stewardship, in particular our stewardship of the money we are given by God. And, of course, how we handle our money says a lot about how we respond to the Gospel, how we follow in Jesus’ way. And for sure, in our culture, money, most assuredly, has the power to take God’s place in our lives. Having enough or more than enough money is, however subtly, equated with having God on our side. Maybe you’ve noticed though that money can’t transform our lives in any real way. Most certainly money cannot buy us a place in God’s kingdom. One blessing of my life is the privilege of meeting and talking with so many different people about their faith journey and their relationship with God. I remember a conversation I had several years ago now. I met a woman, Marge and her father, Harry, at the hospital. As we talked it became clear that Harry was dying. Being people of faith Harry and Marge asked me to pray with them and that’s when the unexpected happened. We spent probably 15 minutes in prayer and praise, thanking God for all the many blessings we had each been given. Marge was thankful for the good care her dad was receiving from the nurses and doctors, for God’s gift of knowledge and for the wisdom that informed his care. She was thankful for the gift of love her dad had given to her. Most of her life he had been a single dad working hard to make a home for her. Harry, for his part, was thankful for another day of life in order to praise God. He was full of life even while dying. To my way of thinking they were living in the Kingdom of God even while facing death in that hospital. Here’s the thing. I thought I was there to minister to them but they ministered to me as well and I thank God for them. But, back to the parable. Remember parables, often enough, tell us something important about the Kingdom of God. But the Kingdom of God is much more than just someplace we go after we die if we have been saved. That is an important point in light of the difficult parable we read today. To set the context if we read ahead in this Gospel just a bit we will hear Jesus say: “the Kingdom of God is among you” But what does that mean? What Jesus tells us invites reflection, invites out questions. If the Kingdom is indeed among us, what are we to do about it? How are we to live? It is helpful to think about the Kingdom of God in terms of a particular perspective on this life. A grace-full and grace-filled view of THIS world, imperfect and full of sin as we know it to be. The Kingdom is, you see, is a time and place where we are transformed and given new life despite being full of sin. In a way to say that the Kingdom of God is among us means that Jesus brings us a new view of ourselves and our world. Now, one thing that is difficult for many people about this parable is that the business manager is so clearly dishonest. We could call him a sinner and his activities sinful in light of other passages of scripture. “Thou shalt not steal” springs readily to mind. Probably many people faced with him and with his behavior would condemn him. And yet, as I am sure you noticed, he is NOT condemned,neither is his behavior condemned. In fact He is actually PRAISED for his imaginative response to his situation, praised for his shrewdness. I wonder, have you ever thought of yourself as flawed or sinful? Have you ever worried that God saw you primarily in that light? God doesn’t. One important point that this parable makes is that salvation, which is entirely a gift from God, means much more than Jesus dying to erase our sins as though God were shocked and could not accept us as we are. Please note, Jesus knew a lot about that sinful nature of humanity. In fact, lots of people saw Jesus as pretty disreputable during his earthly life. In fact, most of the respectable people of Jesus’ time experienced his teaching as shocking. The religious establishment made sure he was executed! We don’t have to stretch very far to see the dishonest steward, as the Christ-figure in this parable. Think again about Jesus’ life. By human standards he began in scandal and died prematurely, an embarrassment to family and friends. And yet we have come to see his ministry as crucial for the salvation of the world. For us his cross is a symbol of life rather than death, of glory rather than scandal. In both his life and in his death Jesus is a sign of hope rather than of failure. The Kingdom of God turns this world up on its head.
Oh yes, Jesus did die for us, and that is important, but Jesus also lived for us. And it is how he lived that shows us how to live knowing that the Kingdom is among us right now.
Jesus lived joyfully, sharing himself, sharing the power and the love of God with all he met. Jesus transformed people, and their lives, by offering God’s power and love to anyone who would accept it. Our experience of this “disreputable” Jesus has the power to transform how we experience ourselves. We begin to see ourselves as God sees us. It is not so much that anything about us changes but knowing Jesus as the Christ gives us a new perspective, a kingdom perspective. There is such a difference between our human view of things and God’s way of seeing. Through Jesus we begin to see ourselves as “heirs” with him and beloved children of God. Remember. Where we see failings God sees gifts. God looks at what we call our failures and renames them as new beginnings.
God does not so much wipe away our mistakes as use them to give us wisdom. God does not take away our weaknesses but rather calls them strengths to be shared with others. Maybe the biggest gift of this parable is the way it give us permission to re-name our lives because the Kingdom has already come in Christ Jesus our Lord. The parable gives us permission to find ourselves always being transformed. We do not need to be ashamed of who we are. We do not need to live as though we are under a sentence of death. We can find ourselves transformed to live joyfully because we already possess the gift of new and abundant life right now in the midst of all that is wrong in this world. And we can, by the grace of God, share that joy with those around us. We can respond with love as Christ first loved us. We can share the many, many, gifts that God has given us, not out of duty, but out of a grateful heart because we know ourselves to be loved just as we are. Thanks be to God. Amen