When I was at theological college, there was a particular lecture room that sat below a grass bank. Through the window, we could see squirrels playing among the trees. We used to say that, whatever the question, the answer was always “Jesus” – and if it wasn’t Jesus, then it was “a squirrel.”
The answer isn’t always Jesus, but tomorrow it is. Tomorrow, in the Lectionary, we are trying to make sense of Luke 16:1-15.
First, let us consider the context. Jesus has been hanging out with “sinners” and the Pharisees have muttered against him. So he has told them a series of parables, in the hearing of his disciples, culminating in the parable where a man had two sons. The younger son asks for his share of the inheritance, goes on a long journey to a far land, squanders everything he has on reckless living, and returns. The father celebrates, for his son who was dead is now alive; but the older son, who has never celebrated anything, refuses to join the party. The man is God; the younger son, Jesus; and the older son, the Pharisees.
Now Jesus turns to address his disciples, in the hearing of the Pharisees. He tells them a parable about a man who was accused of mismanaging his master’s estate. The master is God; the accused manager, Jesus; the accusers, the Pharisees. Like the other parables Jesus is telling, this conjures up a scandalous image; for the master is as corrupt as his manager (the master has charged illegal interest, which the manager – who has been syphoning off his own cut – can write off without fear of dismissal, for to expose him would be self-defeating). Would we be so bold as to depict a good God by a corrupt illustration?
The manager writes off debt: in one case, 50%; in another, 20%. Elsewhere, Jesus depicts God as a ruler who cancels debt in its totality; but his emphasis here chimes with his belief that those who have been forgiven much, love much; while those who have been forgiven little, love little.
But Jesus goes a step further: he wants his disciples to learn from the manager – something he doesn’t ask them to do from the shepherd, the woman, or the father and sons. What is it that he wants them to learn?
I would suggest that he wants them to learn to use whatever resources are available to them to cancel debt, to let people know that they are forgiven. On reconciliation.
Debt is the dominant image, and reality, of our day too. We are in debt to the bank, the mortgage lender, the student loan provider. We are in debt to our parents, our lovers, our government, society. God, alone, says, “You owe me nothing.” And that is why God, alone, deserves our everything.
Is learning the lesson of the unscrupulous manager what we are known for?
Is the main focus of our use of resources – be they financial, physical (people, buildings), intellectual (what we know), relational (who we know), or spiritual (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) – embracing “sinners,” even at risk of being misunderstood and misrepresented?
Or do we spend our resources on building an enviable reputation in a world falling over itself to worship money?