Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The household manager, part 2

Further thoughts on Luke 16:

[1] The parable at the start of the chapter is not primarily about money, but about ‘true riches.’ However, our attitude towards money, how we use or are used by money, reveals our attitude towards true riches. So, it is about money.

[2] I propose that we might see the rich man as the nation of Israel (and perhaps, in a secondary sense, as the Pharisees). That he is rich is significant. As Jesus points out, you cannot serve both God and money (the wealth of injustice). This parable sits within the tradition of the Old Testament prophets sent by the LORD to confront the wealthy over their injustice. So, for example, Amos—whom the Lectionary pairs with this Gospel reading—accuses the rich of buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals (Amos 8:4-7).

[3] This parable also sits within Jesus’ continued polemic against a group of Pharisees who are objecting to his behaviour, his failing—refusing—to separate himself from sinners. Jesus has turned from addressing the Pharisees, to speaking to his disciples in front of the Pharisees. The Pharisees see themselves as the godly—to use a phrase that had currency at the time, as ‘sons of light’—and as the wise interpreters, par excellence, of Torah; but they are not as wise as they think they are. And for all their considering themselves set apart, they absolutely share the love of money at the heart of the corruption of the nation.

[4] Jesus casts himself as the manager of the household of Israel. If the charges brought against the manager are correct, he has already been giving away the rich man’s wealth, redistributing, subverting injustice from within. And, indeed, Jesus repeatedly has charges levelled against him, including of misrepresenting his opponents and of inappropriately blessing those on the margins by the way he has been conducting himself.

[5] As matters come to a head, the manager subverts the system—the exploitation of the poor by the rich—even more flagrantly. This, too, is an analogy for Jesus’ mission, as he moves towards Jerusalem.

[6] In the parable, the master of the house, who was set to dismiss the manager, repents, and, instead, praises the manager, who, according to the terms of an unjust system, has acted unjustly. The rich man, who has served wealth rather than God, repents, and accepts a redistribution of resources. This, too, is part of Jesus’ polemic: he is not only challenging the nation (including the Pharisees) over their love of money (the wealth of injustice), but extending the invitation to be like the rich man and repent. However, the Pharisees reject this invitation, and, instead, ridicule Jesus. The rulers of the nation, including also the Sadducees, will likewise reject Jesus as the manager over the household of Israel.

[7] Jesus tells his disciples not to be like the Pharisees, who see themselves as godly and wise but are in fact complicit in godless foolishness; but to be like the manager who takes what the rich have built up for themselves and give it back to the people. This should be read at both the material and the spiritual level, as our attitude towards money and our attitude towards true riches.

Yet further thoughts on Luke 16:

[8] The sin of the elite of ancient Israel was to hold the poor in material poverty through injustice, while at the same time patronising the common people both intellectually and morally. In contrast, Jesus came to set the captives free.

[9] This couldn’t possibly have anything relevant to say to contemporary British society, where we live in a utopia in which multi-millionaires are the champions of the honest hard worker...


There is an interesting intertextuality at play between the Old Testament prophet Haggai, whom we are reading this week at Morning Prayer (Common Lectionary), and the Gospel for this coming Sunday.

Speaking through Haggai, the LORD opposes those who live in their paneled houses while the house of the LORD, the temple, lies in ruins. Those who look to their own wealth, while ignoring God.

The LORD challenges them by confounding their expectations. When they take stock of their resources, they expect to find twenty measures, but find only ten; they expect to find fifty measures, but find only twenty.

And, after that, the LORD speaks through Haggai a second time, saying that he is about to shake the heavens and the earth, to judge thrones and nations, and to make Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, the Lord’s signet ring.

All this resonates with my reading of the parable commonly known as that of the dishonest manager, in which I contend that the rich man stands for the household of Israel, and in particular the elite; and the manager of the household, who depletes the rich man’s hoarded resources, stands for Jesus.

It resonates also with the setting of the parable, as Jesus heads towards the cross, and the significance of his death, resurrection, and ascension, as judgement over the nation, the surrounding nations, and powers of heaven.

And it makes Zerubbabel a ‘type’ for Jesus, the governor a type for the manager of the household; a type, also, for Jesus as (in the previous parable) the younger son who was dead and is alive, on whom the Father confers a signet ring.

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