In pm's words
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September 23, 2019, 12:00 AM

the one about that manager...


Sermon from Sunday, September 22, 2019

Text: Luke 16: 1-13

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Risen Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

Alright, so there are a few texts within our Holy Scriptures that make me cock my head to the side like a confused dog. There are stories from the Old Testament like Elisha and the she-bears, the hero Ehud, and pretty much the entire reaction of Jonah. There are those stories in the New Testament that give me the same pause as well. Some of them are funny, like when Jesus pays the tax with coins from a fish’s mouth. Some are strange, but relatable, like when Jesus yelled at a fig tree because he was hangry.

Then there are those stories that make you scratch your head in trying to figure out what in the world Jesus is trying to tell his disciples and in turn what are we to learn from that teaching. I believe that today’s parable from Luke’s Gospel is one of those strange teaching moments. Perhaps it is the oddest story that Jesus tells because it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when compared to the rest of what Jesus teaches, shows, and lives.

It is a confusing and interesting text to say the least. It looks like Jesus is praising this dishonest manager of money and asking others to be like him. Make friends using dishonest wealth? Follow what the world does and copy them? That seems – very much – to be the antithesis of what Jesus has proclaimed thus far.

My friends, colleagues and I have been puzzled by this text throughout our ministry (not to mention the countless preachers, theologians, and readers of scripture have been perplexed throughout history as well). We talked about it at length this week. It’s a weird text. What in the world are we to do with it?

This story occurs right after the Parable of the Loving Father – the culmination of the ‘Parables of the Lost’ that Jesus uses to express God’s love, desire, and faithfulness in ways we wouldn’t expect.

The only thing ‘typical’ in what Jesus has done in this parable, is that it follows the line of being ‘not what you expect.’ So, thinking along those lines, we can assume that what Jesus is about to say to his disciples could be in-line with what he has been talking about recently. Telling stories in such a way that makes the hearer really think about what’s going on.

So, this parable involves a man who is dishonest. And not only dishonest, but dishonest with someone else’s money. We aren’t told what exactly this manger has done to draw his employer’s ire, but it is enough that he’s going to get kicked to the curb.

And, understandably he begins to freak out.

He doesn’t believe he is strong so he can’t do tough manual labor, and he has too much pride to sit on the side of the road with his hand out. He feels he’s in a pickle. So, he searches out those individuals who have the largest debts to his employer and begins slashing what they owe. His reasoning?

If I’m going to get thrown out, I’m at least going to get some folks to be on my good side so that I can be cared for in the very near future.

The strangest thing comes next, where the master praises him for his shrewdness and cleverness. And to top that, Jesus seems to be praising the dishonest man as well!

What in the world are we to do with this story!

Now, first, I don’t think what Jesus is saying is that you’ve got to cheat the people who you are working for. I don’t think Jesus is saying that we’ve got lie and finagle to win people over. Those don’t seem to jive at all with what Jesus continually proclaims.

I think Jesus is interacting with two separate audiences here. He’s speaking to his disciples, but he’s really talking to those ‘Pharisees, tax collectors, and sinners’ who have gathered around him. The one’s who might be able to identify themselves in some way with the dishonest manager.

Perhaps, what Jesus is getting at is not ‘hey you disciples, you’ve gotta be like the worldly folks over there and do whatever it takes to advance the gospel. Even if it means doing some morally questionable stuff.”

That doesn’t seem to be what Jesus says at all – throughout his entire ministry.

But, maybe he’s sharing a story knowing that there are some other people listening in on this conversation. Where the message is – you may be someone who’s messed up big. You might be someone who has taken advantage of others. You might be someone who’s gained a lot through dishonest means. You people? Might as well do some good with what you’ve got. Especially if it means you’ve got to take a loss on this one to get your life more in line with what God desires. And, turn away from that life of the world and follow me.

Listen, we live in a world that a small percentage of people make an immense amount of wealth. Typically, they gain that wealth by taking advantage of those underneath them.

Whenever I think of the dishonest manager, Bill Gates is always someone who comes to mind. Now mind you, I’m a Microsoft fanboy. I love their products – some would call me a glutton of punishment for sticking with them. But, I’ve always loved their collective vision for technology.

I also know that Bill Gates was a shrewd businessman. He built his technological empire on the backs of others. He undercut rivals, he implemented practices that disrupted the system in negative ways that benefited him and Microsoft the most. He amassed an immense amount of wealth by seeking to control the entire PC market.

In more ways than one, Bill Gates was not a well-liked, well respected, or particularly honest person to deal with. He had power and money and wielded it to bury his rivals and get him the most money and wealth.

But, in the last 15 years, Gates has changed in many ways. His vast wealth – which is still one of the largest sums of money in the world – is not being used to prop himself up, but instead to be used to combat and fight disease around the world, providing access to great education, empowering the poorest in our world, and inspiring others to take action against inequality and injustice in the world.

There are a lot of dishonest ways in which Bill Gates accumulated his vast wealth. Ways that took advantage of others, buried rivals unfairly, and morally were pretty questionable.

Yet, like the dishonest manager, there was a choice and change. Valuing people and life instead of money, things, and wealth. As a commentator wrote, the dishonest manager isn’t being praised because he becomes dishonest; he is praised because he finally figures out how to do some good for his boss.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we should do whatever we want – amass wealth, power, and more through unsavory means – because eventually we’ll get to do some good with it.

No, I don’t think that’s Jesus’ point.

But, I think Jesus is still telling those ‘outsiders’ around him, that there is still hope and chance for them. That even in spite of their failings and fallings, they still have the opportunity and choice to live into what God has called the entire world into. If you’ve been dishonest thus far, use what you’ve gained to do some good. And also, turn back from those ways that have separated you from others and from God. Repent of those dishonest ways, follow where God is leading through Jesus Christ.

We are still called to care for those in need, think outside ourselves and our own well-being. That is what God calls us all into, that is what the life of faith lays before us.

Jesus calls us to care for people, always. Even when he shines the light on systems and practices that take advantage of others, his call is still to care for others with what you’ve got.

Repent from the ways that subjugate others. Repent from your ways that have hurt people. Repent and turn towards God. Turn to your neighbor, do some good because God has called us all to see the beauty of those around us, and care for our neighbors in need.

Do some good, even it means you have to take a loss to finally get on the right track. Amen.


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