Alternatives to FearPentecost
In his teaching in Luke 16, Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees whom he had characterized as “lovers of money.” The Pharisees considered themselves “keepers of the treasure of God” but, unfortunately, they had lost their vision of who God had called them to be. Instead, they had become servants of bottom line economics. The last verse in this section might be paraphrased, you can either serve this present age and love its treasures, or you can love God and serve him in this present age. But, you cannot do both.
Jesus tells a parable of a wealthy farm owner that employed a manager who is mismanaging the owner’s resources. The owner calls the manager in and fires him. The manager says nothing to defend himself, but thinks to himself, “What will I do now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that when I am dismissed as manager people may welcome me into their homes.”
In order to survive, the manager decides to call the people who are in debt to the owner and have the same conversation with each one. “How much do you owe?” When they tell him, he reduces their debt. A hundred jugs of oil; make it fifty. A hundred containers of wheat; make it eighty. The manager’s strategy is to look ahead; when he has no income, he will need some friends who will be grateful for his generosity and help him.
Beyond the gratitude of the debtors, the manager’s dishonest action leads to two responses in the story. We might expect the owner, who had fired him, to be angry over receiving less than was due him, but he isn’t. In fact, he commends the manager for acting shrewdly.
By reducing the debt that perhaps wouldn’t be paid anyway, the manager made the owner look good and generous in the eyes of his debtors. They did not suspect that the manager was acting dishonestly; they might have thought that reducing their debt was the owner’s idea.
What does Jesus mean when he says, “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light?”
Walter Brueggeman explains that the “children of light” are the good folks who play by the rules, show up every day, pay their taxes, and love their families—they are good Presbyterians. They hold the bottom line without compromises. They believe the rules must be kept and the system sustained. There is no free lunch, and nothing of slack or grace.
By contrast, the “children of this age” are cunning and calculating and imaginative, willing to think outside the box, make a deal, and help move things along. They know the world doesn’t work by rules or bottom lines. The world operates rather by connections and relationships and human realities that do not fit into clear boxes.
This parable is hard because an unlikely person is affirmed for shrewd business dealings. On closer examination, the manager’s purpose was to develop relationships that would provide for him beyond this job. The owner commended the manager for what the owner got out of this transaction, he benefited because his debtors had a higher opinion of him.
The manager is seeing the people in front of him, and creating possibilities for the future. Even the owner sees that this is a better deal, that there is another world beyond the bottom line. That is our challenge, to see what that means for us.
Is this a story about relationships or about a greater purpose and questioning what we treasure in that purpose? Can it be both?
Jesus makes another response to the action of the manager: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”
Strong relationships is a core value that always rises to the top at St. Andrews. three sets of core values identified had to do with relationships with one another and hospitality. What we determined was that those relationships had been threatened by trust issues and by conflict but those relationships had held together, we had come together not once but repeatedly. St. Andrews does have strong relationships with one another. However, those have been significantly challenged again over the last few years. Repairing, restoring, and reclaiming those relationships and forming new ones is the greatest opportunity ahead of us. The question that needs to be asked is: Where is God in the midst of this?
The poetry of Jeremiah is familiar and asks, “Is there a balm in Gilead?” Is there medicine there? Is there healing available? Three times in our reading, God speaks of “my poor people” who have lost their city, their temple, and their king.
Jeremiah’s questions are pertinent to today’s church. How do the rites and rituals of the church strengthen relationships with God and one another? How do we form relationships based on generosity and fidelity?
Jesus seems to be saying that without a doubt, we will come to a time when much of what we have trusted will be gone. We will want to have resources that we can fall back on. Jesus contends that those resources are in the form of relationships that are marked by gratitude and generosity.