We have another week of a strange assortment of readings this week. Jeremiah is looking at a society on the brink of disaster and expresses his distress. Paul warns Timothy that society and its leaders are constantly in need of prayer. And the Gospel of Luke seems to commend dishonest behavior. To quote my former Jewish neighbor “OUI VEY! WHAT A MESS!”
The Gospel is especially off-putting, seeing Jesus commending dishonesty. In a bible study a few years ago I was talking about several ways to interpret this parable. After explaining a second alternative interpretation one member of the group interrupted saying “That’s all bull! That manager should get his butt put in jail!”
I can’t disagree with her. It all seems so dishonest – after being fired for dishonesty the manager wipes out up to half the debt these people owe to someone else, in order to curry favor in the future os the manager can land on his feet in a new position.
But when we stop to think about it this is not the first time that in his teachings Jesus has highlighted a positive feature about questionable behavior. Recall that a few weeks ago in Luke Chapter 11 Jesus tells of a neighbor who late at night wakes up a neighbor asking for bread to feed unexpected visitors. Persistent knocking woke up a grouchy neighbor and the asker does not take the initial “no” for an answer. Jesus ends the parable with the phrase “How much more will the heavenly father give to those who ask him”
In Luke 18 Jesus speaks of an unjust judge who neither feared God nor had respect for the people and closes again with the phrase “How much more…” So we have the phrase again in this reading from Luke. This questionable manager, according to Jesus, understood something the children of light (presumably you and I) have difficulty grasping. Dishonest or not this man understood how to use what was entrusted to him to serve a larger goal in the future.
How much more should the children of God understand how to use what has been entrusted to our care?
This manager becomes an example to learn from only in the sense that he understood that in order to be where he wanted to be in the future, how he handled today mattered greatly. He was intentional in his actions and used the resources at his disposal to move in the direction he wanted for the future.
In the book of proverbs it says “without a vision the people perish.” The problem we Christians seem to be having in the 21st century is a lack of a positive vision for the future. Too many are either focusing on what they are against; others seem to be driving into the future looking squarely into the rear view mirror trying to get back to the remembered glory days of the past.
Many of us forget that we will spend the rest of our life in the future. Yet the future does not come to us fully formed – we must pursue it and create it. We must be in touch with the larger picture of who we are as the people of God, what it is that we have been given, and what we are called to do.
When we have no vision of where and what is our desired future, the treasures we have been given hardly seem treasures at all They become simply things; things that have value only as they address my needs, my wants. They become objects to be used, manipulated and distorted.
One can paraphrase Jesus in verse 13 to be saying – “You can either serve this present age and it’s love of riches, or you can love God and serve him in this present age. But you cannot do both.” The first leads to death the second leads to new and abundant life.
This is the crisis that Jesus addresses here in this parable. He is not commending dishonesty – he is commending those of the world that understand the need to use present opportunities to create the future. The children of light he indicates, do not understand that. It is easy to grow complacent, confused, or self absorbed when we don’t have a compelling vision of a future. A vision that is larger than we are, a vision that inspires us. A vision which has value for us and into which we are willing to invest ourselves, our energy and our resources.
We need to renew a vision for ourselves as followers of Jesus and a vision for our congregation as children of light, children of God.
The question we need to ask is not how do we get back to the good old days when…” But rather we need to ask “What gifts, abilities and resources have I/we been given (is it time, abilities, a specific talent that can be used to help others?) What are the specific needs of the larger community in which we find ourselves. And finally ask how can we use gifts, passions and abilities entrusted to us by God to meet the deep needs of the world tand through that build a future that is life-giving.
Most of us believe that our life is a gift from God. So how do we use that gift – how do we intentionally choose to live in order to do good, rather than focus on doing well?
For if our life is a gift FROM God what we do with our life day to day is our gift TO God.
This parable in Luke is a wake-up call to intentionally reclaim who we are; to renew our vision of what it means to be followers of Jesus in very practical ways,
We must craft a vision for the future which includes what we value from the past, but which brings those values forward in response to the world, and our community as it exists, so we can help it become it and us become as God would have us live.