Church of the Holy Nativity, Bronx, NY September 22, 2013
If you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?
Today’s gospel has one of Jesus parables that can be hard to understand. One thing about Jesus parables, we are barking up the wrong tree if we think that they are nice stories with examples of good behavior. Sometimes they look like that, but with parables like the Unjust Steward, or Dishonest Manager which we have today that leads to confusion.
So the story is that this rich guy has a manager in charge of his property. Somebody reports that the manager has been losing the owner’s money and he’s called to account.
The crucial part of the story is the manager’s response. He knows he’s in trouble and he has to do something before the auditors get there. Truth is, it was too late to fix the problem, the owner’s money had already been wasted and the manager was smart enough to know that he wasn’t going to hit the lottery to make up the difference. So what was he to do? The only influence and power he had left, and this wouldn’t last long, was his relationships with the people who owed the master money. So in this crisis, he calls them up and does a favor for each of them—in for a penny, in for a pound, he’s already in trouble for wasting his boss’s money, so why not give away more. Those people would be much more inclined to give him a place to land when he inevitably gets fired.
Jesus is telling this story to his disciples, and he says: “this is a pretty sharp guy—he’s resourceful and he knows how to use his resources in a difficult time.” Jesus is not saying, ‘do the things that this guy did.’ But what He is saying is: ‘look at this world and what happens in it.’ A crisis comes, and the smart ones, the ones who are motivated enough, do something that achieves a solution. Now the solution will be a solution according to that person’s values—and the manager in the story was basically an embezzler. But shouldn’t the followers of Jesus be just as awake as those who are creative in finding ways to get money?
When things become difficult, that is when it makes sense to be the church. Each person is called upon to respond with the energy and resourcefulness of this Dishonest Manager, not with the manager’s values, but with the values of Christ. The manager looked for people to help him out. Jesus found those who were hurting and in need and healed them. The manager showed a kind of mercy on all the debtors: “take your bill for a hundred jugs of olive oil and make it fifty,” for his own good. But Christ gives mercy to sinners for their good, their salvation. Remember that Jesus told this story to his disciples—those who had already chosen to follow him. Thus he’s speaking to us in the church.
How resourceful are we in following him? Is the world so lacking in people who are hurting or are in need that we cannot find any of them? The Church is in crisis, at least the Episcopal Church in our country—what with declining attendance, less power and influence, etc. But the challenge is not to hold on to what little is left, like a miser, the challenge is to be resourceful in following Jesus. When he gave, it was not because he was wealthy. Jesus was a poor man. When he healed, it was not because he was a doctor or that he had special medicine, he touched peoples’ hearts with his own self, his generosity of his very being. It’s now becoming urgent, and, as the church we cannot be complacent—the auditors are coming, when have we given a cup of cold water to the thirsty person? When have we been pre-occupied with our own worries and missed the hurt and need of those around us? When have we not loved one another, or dismissed our neighbor? It takes resourcefulness to be a Christian, it takes attention.
Now, of course, this could be a big project—once you think of all the hurt and need in the world, it becomes too big to handle. But that’s an excuse, a way to weasel out of following Jesus. What he says is: “whoever is faithful in very little is faithful also in much and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” When this manager was called to account, he realized that he couldn’t undo all the damage that he had caused through dishonesty or laziness, but he saw some relatively small things that he could do to mend a relationship and avert disaster for him: “you owe a hundred? Write down eighty.” We cannot undo all the unfaithfulness and complacency of hundreds of years in the church. Neither can we make up for our own past thoughtlessness or fear, lack of generosity or hospitality. But we can be awake, and serve Jesus, rather than Mammon—which is really just our own fear and lack of confidence that God will provide. The manager dispensed a little mercy, to those debtors who owed wheat or oil to his master, but we are agents of a much greater mercy, God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ. Be as resourceful at least as that manager who was losing his job.
Let us then remember the beginning of today’s Epistle reading:
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone…This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”