St Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church Proper 20-C
The parable Jesus told his disciples in this morning’s gospel lesson
has been mystifying readers for centuries.
Is Jesus really lifting up a dishonest steward as an example for his followers?
And how do the words of Jesus following the story relate to the story itself?
A friend of mine said this parable is like when you get a knot in your shoelace
and it’s pulled really tight.
Getting it loose is very tedious and it takes lots of patience.
Usually it takes carefully pulling out one strand at a time.
So that’s what we’ll do this morning –
pull out a couple of strands and see what they might mean for us today.
The story is about a man who manages the property of a wealthy land owner.
The master may well be an absentee landlord,
who has hired someone to manage his property for him.
The manager is in charge of negotiating with the laborers who work the land,
and with the merchants who move the produce to market.
It’s a position which requires a highly responsible and trustworthy man.
But the rich man has concluded that his manager is not managing wisely,
and tells him he’s going to fire him.
The manager’s response is very interesting.
He does not claim to have managed well at all.
He doesn’t say, “Hey, I don’t deserve to be treated like this!”
He simply acknowledges that he is in BIG trouble –
“I’m not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.
What am I going to do now?”
In that time, a member of a rich man’s household – such as his manager –
could speak on his behalf, and it would be the same as if the man himself had spoken.
While the manager still had that power,
he went to his master’s debtors and reduced their debt.
And we are talking about substantial amounts.
A hundred jugs of olive oil is like thousands of dollars.
Now, it would be very difficult for the wealthy man to recover the original amounts of the debts, so the debtors all owe favors to the former manager.
When he is fired, he will have a whole list of people who owe him,
and they can help him get back on his feet.
Well, now comes the part of the story that is hard to understand.
The wealthy man must have been furious,
but he must also have known how unpopular he would be
if he reneged on his manager’s promises.
Maybe he even realized how he might benefit from his new popularity.
Whatever his reasons, he actually commends his former manager for acting shrewdly.
Not for being dishonest, but for acting shrewdly.
Even though he was dishonest,
the manager was very smart in setting himself up for the future.
As Jesus finished telling this parable, his disciples must have been thinking,
“Okay, Jesus, what does all this have to do with us?”
Jesus probably surprised them as much as he does us when he explained:
“for I tell you, the children of the world are more shrewd in dealing with their affairs
than are the children of the light.”
The children of the world are more shrewd in dealing with their affairs
than are the children of the light
What is that about?
Most of the time Jesus says his followers should be less like everyone else –
doing crazy things like giving everything away and taking up a cross and all that.
Now Jesus is pointing out one way we can strive to keep up with
the “children of this world”
Jesus says to be shrewd.
It reminds me of the story in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus is sending his disciples out
to proclaim the good news.
“I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves,” Jesus says,
“so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
We are used to hearing the innocent part –
we are supposed to follow the law, and treat other people with love and caring.
But wise as serpents?
Is that Jesus talking?
The important thing here is what we are to be shrewd and serpent-like about.
We are to be wise as serpents in the way we spread the good news in the world.
We are to be shrewd in our role as “children of the light” –
that is, when we are shining God’s light into the dark places in the world.
Is this, in some strange way, about stewardship?
God asks us to be shrewd managers of the vast resources God has placed in our care.
What will we do with the resources we have?
It is a question each of us asks in our own homes as we decide how to use our income and time to reflect our values and our faith.
And it is a question the Vestry and staff of St Michael’s take very seriously.
How do we use the gifts we have been given to best serve our mission
and show our faithfulness to God in this place?
We are called to be proactive in sharing love and doing justice,
to get our own hands busy in the tasks of caring for one another and our church home, feeding the hungry, and giving shelter to the homeless.
I recently had the chance to tour the Albuquerque Opportunity Center,
a program of Albuquerque Heading Home.
I read the Heading Home website, and along with the sheer scope of programs they offer to help people out of homelessness, I was struck by the way they describe their mission and their work.
They envision an Albuquerque where homelessness is rare, short-lived and non recurring.
A phrase that is repeated on the site and printed material is:
the smart way to do the right thing.
The web site emphasizes that housing people is actually less expensive to the community than the costs - such as increased emergency room care and jail costs - of people remaining homeless.
We all agree that we want to end homelessness – many people are willing to help –
but bringing programs and corporate donors and churches and individuals together to provide effective, lasting assistance to people experiencing homelessness is a challenge
That is the challenge Heading Home has taken on – working together with many others in Albuquerque to manage our resources wisely and end chronic homelessness.
Christians, as a community and as individuals,
have a unique light to shine in the darkness.
The light of God’s loving care for all people.
The light of peace and justice in Jesus’ name.
Jesus invites us to work together, to share our resources and bring all of our wisdom and intelligence to bear, in how we spread that light to make a difference in the world.
I will close with the collect for the right use of God’s gifts:
Let us pray,
Almighty God, whose loving hand has given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor you with all we are and all we have, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your bounty through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.