Text – Luke 16: 1-13
I want you to imagine you are sitting at a desk and are about to write an exam. The first question you have is a case study based on Luke 16: 1-9. You’ll note we read to verse 13 this morning. So you sit down and you read Luke 16: 1-9. Jesus is telling a parable to the disciples about a rich man who employed a manager. The rich man decided, for reasons not stated, to terminate the manager’s employment. The manager didn’t know what other work he could do.
So he decided to contact a few customers who owed money. He essentially cuts their bills in half, cheating the owner. His rationale was that his generosity would be remembered and he would be welcomed into their homes when he had lost his job.
The owner gets wind of this and rather than chastising the manager, instead praises him for his shrewd thinking. Jesus then says that the children of this age are shrewder in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. Finally, he ends by saying “I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”
Based on this case study you are presented with the following multiple choice question:
Which is it more important to serve:
Now we know that Jesus goes on and tells us that we can’t serve both God and Money. We need to choose. However, if we just read the beginning of this chapter we might get confused. In fact, even when we read to the end of verse 13 we are probably still confused. I could spend the next month or two on this passage and tell prepare a different sermon each week that’s who vast the range of interpretation about this passage is.
Consider that the sub heading that the Good News gives this passage is ‘The Shrewd Manager’ and that the NRSV calls it ‘The Parable of the Dishonest Manager’. Is the manager shrewd or dishonest? Is he both, how do we approach this parable?
I am sorry if last week you looked ahead and thought to yourself “Yes! The Prodigal Son is next week, it’s one of my favourites!” Then today you are disappointed, because today we need to deal with the parable of the Shrewd Manager, or the story of the guy who got ahead, or the story about the crook who is somehow a hero or role model.
In the business world this type of a story isn’t uncommon. We hear it and we shake our heads wondering when good ethics and morals left the business world or perhaps we wonder if they were ever there. But when Jesus is the one telling the story we really don’t know what to do with it.
In order to understand our parable today we need to look at what comes before and what comes after. This is the danger of the lectionary and daily devotional reading. We read sections of scripture in isolation and do not always consider them within the larger context that they belong. We need to remember that Luke, and none of the other biblical writers, wrote in chapter and verse. This didn’t happen until the 15th Century when Robert Estienne came along and decided this would make it easier for people to read. Remember that up until this point only the clergy could read scripture.
The first English language Bible to use chapter and verse was a translation by William Whittingham and it is used in the Geneva Bible. A piece of trivia for you if you are reading Shakespeare and you see scripture quoted, Shakespeare quotes from the Geneva Bible not the King James as many people assume. The KJB was published in 1611 and most of Shakespeare’s work was published between 1590 and 1611.
We need to consider our parable today within the wider scope of what Luke has been telling us about Jesus and for us this goes back over the past few weeks. It concerns who Jesus has been eating with and his teaching. First he has spent time with the Pharisees and has chastised them. Then he moved to eating with sinners and tax collectors. He reminded them that there was a cost to being a follower. Told parables about what is lost and then found and then the story of the prodigal son.
Leading up to our passage today Jesus has been speaking about the joy that comes with the coming of God’s kingdom. Jesus wants us to seek out the lost because they are a valuable part of God’s kingdom. We are encouraged to invite them and welcome them into the church. This radical desire to welcome people is where we find ourselves this morning with our strange parable about the Shrewd Manager.
What is it that Jesus finds helpful for us as the children of light? Scott Hoezee writes, “[The Manager] gave thought to the future and it shaped his actions in the present. Further, he knew that for now monetary resources are one way to secure the kind of future vision you have drawn for yourself. So even though in his case it meant being devious, his desperate desire to see his future materialize helped him to conclude that it would be worth it to take the risks he did in currying favor with his boss’s clients.” (reference)
What we as children of light are called to do is not be devious and underhanded. Jesus makes it clear that we are not to act in such away when he reminds us that we can’t serve both wealth and God. Instead, Jesus is asking us to see our way forward. Encouraging us to have a strong vision of the future, which is the kingdom of God.
The problem is that we often do not have such vision. We lack focus and are more concerned with the hear and now that we forget about the future and the promise it brings. We have been guilty of that at St. Andrew’s, the Presbyterian Church in Canada and other denominations, churches throughout the world have been guilty of loosing sight of the vision of God’s kingdom. Or if we haven’t lost sight of it we have been too busy bickering with one another about what it should look like that we get sidetracked, we stall and then we wonder where we went wrong.
So we need a vision and we need to be willing to see it through. That vision has been outlined by Jesus in the preceding chapters of Luke. Find the lost, recognize the cost, celebrate when the lost are found and don’t be afraid to associate with sinners and the like. Because at the end of the day that’s what we are all anyway. Sinners.
And there’s the rub. The problem we have with this passage is that we don’t like the Manager because we see how dishonest he is. We don’t want anything to do with him and we think it’s a scandal that Jesus would hold him up as some sort of an example. The only example we are to take from him is his vision, not his dishonest ways. It is vision that we hold up and then we remember just who Jesus has been eating with recently.
Sinners, tax collectors, shrewd dishonest property managers. The manager isn’t a good guy, don’t try to rationalize this parable, don’t force him to be a good guy. One commentator I read this week made the comment that the manager is the first whistle blower. By reducing the amount that was owed he was really reducing the cost to what it should have been, indicating that the owner was overcharging. Maybe, but based on what Jesus shares after the parable I don’t think we need to view the manager’s actions in a positive light. That isn’t necessary to understand the heart of Jesus’ message. The manager isn’t a good guy. He isn’t. He’s dishonest at this moment in order to get ahead and avoid doing honest work. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t break bread with him. It means he’s lost and we need to find him and bring him home so that we can celebrate and expand the kingdom.
It isn’t our job to act like the Pharisees and criticize who Jesus eats with. It’s our job to eat with the people Jesus was eating with and we’ll note that the spectrum covers all aspects of society. Following Jesus Christ has a cost, but it is something that is open and available to all people.
Finally, in holding up this parable and considering it within all of scripture we look at what comes next. A story about a rich man and Lazarus. A story we’ll examine in more detail next week, but the detail that is important for us today is the reminder that we have the witness of scripture to guide us. We need to pay attention to it. We need to ensure we are listening to what the Bible is saying to us, even strange parables like what we have today.
We serve God, not wealth. But we look to the manager’s vision and we say, that I can understand. What is your vision of the church? What is your vision of how the church should operate in the world? What is central to your understanding about God and Jesus Christ?
We need to get laser focused and we need to do God’s work. Each of us in our daily walk, we are the church both here on Sunday morning and when we walk out those doors. We represent Jesus Christ in everything that we do. We cannot be afraid to associate with sinners because our actions, our words, our love will have an impact on them. We cannot be afraid to associate with sinners because then we’d be pretty lonely, because we recognize that we are not perfect and we have our own faults.
So long as we share God’s vision for the kingdom, well we can focus on that. God’s kingdom is something I can get behind and work for. Amen.