|Artwork: Marinus van Reymerswaele, Parable of the Unfaithful Steward, 1540.|
The Parable of the Shrewd (Crooked) Manager
16 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
6 “‘Nine hundred gallons[a] of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’
7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
“‘A thousand bushels[b] of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
First, it’s important to put this story in context. For this, you'll need to go to Luke 15, the chapter just before this morning's Gospel passage.
It is there we learn that Jesus is preaching and his audience includes not only his disciples but, as Eugene Peterson says in his translation of this passage, “a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religious scholars were . . . not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends. Their grumbling triggered this story. ”
And, if the preacher doesn't tell the truth, the congregation can sniff it out in half a heartbeat. They may disagree, but if they sense it's coming from a place of integrity and truth, it will at least be more palatable. Telling the truth in public also helps the preacher to develop a thick skin – a very important asset, I’ve learned over the years. I suspect the same is true with comedians or any public speaker.
Jesus is delivering his famous Sermon on the Mount and says, “Blessed are the peacemakers”.
Someone in the crowd doesn’t hear clearly and asks, “What was that?”
A man - clearly visiting from England, responds, “I think it was 'Blessed are the cheesemakers.’”
A woman - also apparently from England - asks, “Ahh, what's so special about the cheesemakers?”
Her husband answers with great authority, “Well, obviously, this is not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.”
I don’t know a seasoned preacher who can’t relate to that scene. Which is why a seasoned preacher figures out that in this passage, Jesus is preaching to multiple audiences and has something for each one – his disciples, the tax collectors and sinners and the Pharisees and other religious leaders – to hear. Especially the Pharisees who are "not at all pleased" either at what Jesus is saying or the fact that he is saying it in front of tax collectors and sinners.
I suspect he wants his disciples to hear all of the different perspectives, which may be why Luke obliges and includes everything Jesus says, even though it may leave us scratching our heads in confusion.
8-9 “Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”
|St. Barnabas, Newark, NJ|
We were exhausted but thrilled, feeling we could go home to our families and truly give thanks for God’s bounty.
I tried to pay him with the $20 bill I had in my wallet and promised the balance on the Monday after Thanksgiving, but he just waved me away. Bless him.
“Jesus’s parables (step outside the social codes of the day to do the unexpected) all the time. A Samaritan acts in a caring way. A father acknowledges his failures and humbles himself before his sons. A wealthy man throwing a party by which he will ensure the indebtedness of his guests ends up inviting a whole host of people who could never repay him.”“The Gospel consistently refuses to match our expectations of social and cultural norms. In fact Jesus keeps breaking the social taboos of his day, making space for those who are on the outside and unseating those in power.”
And, I hasten to add, that works both ways – our good intentions, our shrewdness as well as our indifference to those who have less and those who are different, those who those are poor and those who are listening intently for even the possibility of hope.
After hearing The Worst Parable Ever, may this prayer remind us, in the often confusing enterprise of being human, that in the midst of it all, Jesus is there, ready to inspire and lead us into the way of Truth and Life and Love.
Lord Jesus,You are the great storytellerOf unexpected twists
And surprising endings.
Forgive me when I seek
To control the narrative,
To order the characters
And keep the drama from their lives.
Open my life to more unpredictable storylinesTo more bewildering turns
To more exciting encounters
And more unforeseen outcomes.
And teach me to look there for you,Popping up in unpredictable placesIn dazzling dress
And with confounding figures.