September 23, 2001

Luke 16:1-13

Jesus said to his disciples, "There was once a rich man who had a manager. He got reports that the manager had been taking advantage of his position by running up huge personal expenses. So he called him in and said, 'What's this I hear about you? You're fired. And I want a complete audit of your books.'

"The manager said to himself, 'What am I going to do? I've lost my job as manager. I'm not strong enough for a laboring job, and I'm too proud to beg. . . . Ah, I've got a plan. Here's what I'll do . . . then when I'm turned out into the street, people will take me into their houses.'

"Then he went at it. One after another, he called in the people who were in debt to his master. He said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'

"He replied, 'A hundred jugs of olive oil.'

"The manager said, 'Here, take your bill, sit down here -- quick now -- write "fifty."'

"To the next he said, 'And you, what do you owe?'

"He answered, 'A hundred sacks of wheat.'

"He said, 'Take your bill, write in "eighty."'

"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."

Jesus went on to make these comments:

"If you're honest in small things,
you'll be honest in big things;
If you're a crook in small things,
you'll be a crook in big things.
If you're not honest in small jobs,
who will put you in charge of the store?
No worker can serve two bosses:
He'll either hate the first and love the second
Or adore the first and despise the second.
You can't serve both God and the Bank."

<The Message >


1. I was pleased to see the New Interpreter's Bible be as blunt as it was about how to deal with this passage. "Uncertainties abound, cautioning against any confident claims." and "The fact that from the beginning interpreters have struggled to make sense of this parable is evident from the series of interpretations that follows in vv. 8b-13."

As we listen in on our sermons/homilies/meditations/witnesses/etc we may have an opportunity to find a key to how it is we deal with the world around us. My prayer is that this information will be instructive to us as we set out to interact with the apprehension of others about the world around them.

2. Even in the midst of ambiguity regarding the story told at the beginning of this section, there comes a dramatic conclusion regarding a decisive action of living out a Theory of Everything (you may be interested in this new book by Ken Wilbur). Here the small and large parts of our lives come together. Here the various "quadrants" of our lives are brought together. Here all those usual polarities in our lives are seen as related, not eternally separated by a chasm. Here our excuses become irrelevant and "daily" decisions become "important" decision and vice versa.

3. The image of the Jubilee, setting things right again regardless of the cost to the rich, might be a helpful picture here. We are all (w)rapt up in commercial ventures. A key question which cuts across class/race/sex issues is, "What will it take to jar us loose from false securities." In todays' passage it is the threat of the loss of livelihood. This ought to be a wonderful time to wrestle with this story.

In the New York Times of Sunday, September 2, Robert Reich has an op-ed piece which lets us know again how tenuous livelihood is these days. By extension this can make evangelism easier ("death" is closer to the surface) or harder (folks will be denying their vulnerability as long as they can).

In today's world, the uncertainty of "war" against an unknown "enemy" is very 1984 or Animal Farm -like. It will take a careful assessment of this passage to avoid falling into the trap of justifying anything on the basis of expediency. An important word to show up somewhere in sermonizing is that of "waiting upon the Lord."

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