Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Rough Parable

         A man is accused of squandering his boss’ property and he finds out he’s going to be fired.
         So he goes and squanders his boss’ property—forgiving a large portion of those indebted to his master—in order that those people will be kind to him after he’s unemployed.
         And instead of being fired, he is commended.

         Last week I told you all that, when we take the time to chew on a parable, the parable begins to chew on us.
            Well… let me tell you something, this parable has chewed on me—if I was bubble gum, I’d be long out of flavor.

         It’s a strange story, and each time you try to grasp its point, the point seems to snake & slip out of your hand.
         In fact, the point of this parable seems so opaque, so hard to see—that Luke himself—the only gospel writer to keep it in his account of Jesus’ life—gives 4 different explanations of this parable.
·      He tells us that “the children of light” aren’t shrewd enough, but should be.
·      He tells us mammon’s use—the proper use of improper wealthis to make friends, so that when it is gone they’ll welcome you into your eternal home.
·      He tells us faithfulness in small things leads to faithfulness in large things.
·      And finally, he tells us that we cannot serve God and wealth.

         Let us pray

         The children of light ought to be shrewd like the dishonest manager, like the children of this age.
         This is similar to where Jesus commands his disciples, “be as innocent as doves and as shrewd as serpents.”
         Yet sometimes the church is accused of being like an ostrich—with its head buried in the sand. It can be known as an institution that ignores the world as it is, with its sins and sorrows, joys and challenges. It no longer knows the age its in.
         And in that ignorance, we loses our ability to witness to the world, we gets laryngitis; the church loses its relevance, and starts to look like a museum of saints instead of a hospital for sinners.
         Not so this shrewd, dishonest,
Look, the world changes around him, he lost his job,
and he sprung into action, he looked at everything differently and did what he needed to do
he was willing to shift when the ground underneath him shifted,
when the rich man abandoned him, he went to the debtors.

         Money’s proper use—is to create relationships.
         This dishonest steward’s shift is from wealth as an end unto itself, managing and mismanaging that which the rich man entrusted to him, to wealth as a way to make friends.
         It’s a rather self-serving shift. Essentially the man is hoping to make friends so he can couch surf at their place, and be thought well of by these friends, and be taken care of by these friends, once he’s out of a job.
         Still it is a shift, from consumership to relationship.
         But it’s more than that, in doing this, he will be welcomed into an eternal home.
         Just as we read in the Prophet Amos today, there are cosmic implications to using our money to be a friend to those who are in debt, who are in need.
         Small faithfulness leads to big faithfulness and small dishonesty leads to large dishonesty.
         As way of example, I have a friend who believes how you live on New Years Day will reflect how you’ll live your entire year.
         That is of course going a little over board, but it is worth remembering, as we live each day, that they stack up, and the weight of them create a life.

         Finally, we are told that you can’t serve both God and Wealth.
         That at the end of the day, what is of ultimate value must be weighed and found heavier than that which is of lesser value.
         That, as the Apostle Paul says in Romans, we humans have to be slave to something and we can only hope it’s to God.

         Yet, this whole parable, these 4 explanations of it by Luke, don’t quite balance out—or perhaps more accurately, they balance one another out so well that we’re left with a null weight, with an empty balance.
         Be enslaved to God not Mammon/yet be shrewd and slippery about Mammon.
         Act dishonestly for the sake of relationship/ but know you’ll be judged for this dishonesty.
         Luke’s explanations are all true as far as they go, and worth sitting with and contemplating, but none lift up the parable fully.

         Luckily Christ, and his actions for us, does.
It lifts this parable to its highest of heights.
         This parable is one of 4 parables Jesus tells in response to the Pharisees seeing him eating with tax collectors and sinners.
He responds by telling of the lost sheep and lost coin, which we read about last week.
He responds with the famous parable of the prodigal son.
And then, he responds with this parable.
         This parable about the good news that there was a man who represented his Master.
         And was accused of squandering the master’s possessions.
         And so he casts forgiveness of debtors to and fro, so that he might number himself among them.
         The focus on counting of debts is destroyed, and the Master says to this man, “well done good and faithful servant.”
         Do you hear me?

         Christ Jesus is the very face of God, God incarnate, God’s representative on earth—God’s manager.
         Christ is accused of kindness toward the accursed, giving to them the things of God—forgiving their debts.
         And Christ increases this accusation to a fever pitch all the way to the cross, where he is found crucified with sinners—truly welcomed into their home, our home.
         And God sees this sacrifice and assures us God is not in the counting sins business, by raising Christ from the dead. God assures us that, when we hear words of forgiveness from Christ’s lips, they are from God’s lips.

The fullest explanation of this parable is found in our receiving the wealth of God’s storehouse of mercy given out by Jesus Christ.