Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, September 18, 2022

YEAR C 2022 pentecots 15

Pentecost 15, 2022
Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

You’re probably tired of me saying, “Oh, now this is a difficult gospel reading.”  My wife says I’m like the boy who cried wolf.  Because now that we have actually come to the hardest reading of the hardest summer of readings, you might not believe me.  On the bright side, when the readings are challenging, I learn a lot.  But then, I feel like I want to tell you a lot.  So I will try to keep myself in check here.

Okay.  First off, there are many different interpretations of what is going on in this parable Jesus tells.  If there were one correct way to view it, we’d all know what that is.  But nobody really knows.  The sort of “moral” of the story at the end does not fit with the parable itself, so most scholars think it just got slipped in there, out of order.  Matthew puts that bit about how you can’t serve both money and God in the Sermon on the Mount.  But Luke puts it here, and, well, it doesn’t fit with the parable Jesus just told.  Who knows?  So, for now,  let’s focus on the parable itself.

It’s probably best to say from the outset that the manager in this parable is what we call a “Christ figure.”  The manager acts in a way that tells us something about Jesus.  Of course, a Christ figure isn’t exactly like Jesus, otherwise that person would be Jesus, and he’s the one telling the story here.  A great example of a Christ figure can be found in “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” by CS Lewis, where the lion Aslan forfeits his life to save Edmund.  A character who tells us something about Jesus, but is not literally Jesus.  And I also want to note upfront that where our translation calls this character a “dishonest manager,” the actual wording in Greek is “The Manager of Injustice,” which helpfully sounds much more like a superhero than a shady businessperson.

Okay.  So, now I just want to point out a bunch of little things that jump out in the text.  First, the word “squandered” shows up here and also in the parable of the Prodigal Son, which happens right before this.  But the Greek word means something more like “scattered,” rather than squandered.  And I think that is important, especially to our 21st century ears.  We tend to hear “squandered” as meaning wasted, whereas the Greek word just means to be spread around.  So in the opening sentence, it should say something like, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was spreading his property around.”  Not wasting—sharing.

For this unauthorized dispersal of the boss’ wealth, the manager is told to give an account of his management, because he cannot be the manager anymore.  In other words, turn in your books; you’re fired.  As we might say:  You are dead to me.  And then the manager wonders to himself what he should do?  He can’t spread around the wealth by digging ditches.  He is too proud to beg.  And since he now can’t raise any money to spread around, he decides to just go out and cancel some debts instead.

He tells the one who owes a hundred jugs of oil to make it 50.  And he tells another who owes a hundred bushels of wheat to make it 80.  Two interesting things here.  It’s not an across the board cut where everything is reduced by half.  For whatever reason, one is reduced by half, and another is reduced by 1/5.  Possibly what we are seeing is equity rather than equality.  Who knows?  But the English major in me can’t help but notice that wheat and oil are two of the ingredients one needs to make bread, which now might make bread more affordable for everyone.  You know, bread ?  Anyway . . .

And then comes the strangest part of all.  After this trickery from the manager, after essentially robbing his boss in order to keep spreading around the wealth, we hear that his master commended the Manager of Injustice because he had acted shrewdly.  He found another way.  He had, in fact, managed the injustice.  And what is the term that we would use for what the manager has done?  Scandalous?  White collar crime?  Embezzling?  We have lots of words for it, but I daresay we would not be inclined to commend him “because he had acted shrewdly.”

And that’s where this story really takes off, I think.  Because we all have our view of morality tied up in knots with our view of Jesus.  We want to think of Jesus as an upstanding example for how to live your life and raise your children.  But that’s only because we’re not really looking at who Jesus is, and how Jesus acts.  He hangs out with the absolute worst people of his day.  He stands up for the oppressed, and breaks all the rules.  He rebels against the religious leaders and politicians to the point that they have him crucified.  He stands before Pontius Pilate and the religious authorities and is told to give an accounting of his management, because he has been distributing love and acceptance with abandon, and can no longer be the manager.  As we might say:  You are dead to me.

Dead manager.  Dead Jesus.  And what does the Manager of Injustice do?  He rises from the dead and forgives the debts of those who cannot pay them on their own.  And, if we’re honest, we are scandalized by this!  People who go into debt are supposed to pay their debts.  Just look at the reactions to a small portion of student debt being forgiven.  Scandalous!  This is not how the world is supposed to work.  In a respectable world, those in debt should stay in debt, those who are fired should stay fired, and those who are dead should remain dead!

But God does not play by the rules of this world.  As St. Augustine once wrote, the cross is the devil’s mousetrap.  What looks like total defeat—Jesus hanging on a cross like a common criminal—turns out to be the pathway to our redemption.  Only after being fired does the Manager of Injustice begin managing that injustice.  Only by going to the grave can Jesus lead us to eternal life.  It is in what looks like defeat that victory over death is won for us.  The mousetrap has been sprung, and the devil has fallen for it!

This parable is hard to understand only because it cuts completely against the grain of how we view the world.  It doesn’t make sense to us because—to be honest—we don’t really understand grace.  Not really.  God is not playing by the rules that we have set up for God.  We want rule breakers to be punished.  We want those in debt to pay those debts.  We want the dead to remain dead.  Because we do not see the world as God sees the world.

There is a bigger plan than what we can imagine.  There is more redemption than we can fathom.  There is more grace than we can stand.  And there is always hope, because we worship this Manager of Injustice, who will break every rule in order to save everyone.  This conniver who wins victory through surrender.  Who brings life out of death.  Who brings redemption to us all.  So come, let us worship him with thanksgiving, because the Manager of Injustice has acted shrewdly on our behalf.


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