Thursday, September 19, 2013

Jesus said what?!? Dishonest Steward

If you are unsure if you are going to make it to church on Sunday, I hope this re-telling of the Gospel lesson for Sunday helps nudge you in the right direction...Luke 16:1-13

Word gets out that the manager is “squandering” the rich man’s money.  The rich man calls his manager into his office and makes him sit on the “you’re about to get canned” couch.  As suspected, the manger gets fired, panics, and tries to find another way to get by in this world.  He doesn’t want to stand on the side of the road carrying a cardboard sign.  He doesn’t want to wake up at 5 a.m. and work on a construction site.  So he does what he does best.  He devises a plan to manipulate people into trusting him so that he will have somewhere to go after he is fired. 
The manager follows up by telling his master’s clients that they owe less than what is on the invoice.  He does all this without the master’s direction.  Eventually, the master discovers what the manager has been doing.  Instead of banishing his manger to the outer darkness, the master says to his manager, “well done, you have acted shrewdly.”  In other words, the master congratulates the manager for taking a disastrous situation and making good on it. 
The story might make a little more sense if we were reading a case study on a multi-billion dollar company.  But the fact that this story appears in the Bible and the fact that Jesus affirms the manager’s use of dishonest wealth makes this parable very difficult to interpret.

This is the challenge for preachers everywhere Sunday.  I don't know what I am going to end up saying but below are some initial thoughts based on my own prayers and conversations with others... 

  • Two wrongs make a right?
  • Paul, Ringo, John, and George were wrong-money can buy you love? (pretty sure this is idolatry though)
  • The Bible isn't merely a code of ethics.  We aren't called to imitate the Dishonest Steward.  The Bible is the story of how God is bringing us into His new world as created through Jesus.
  • Jesus actually told this story after his first miracle in Cana when he changed water into copious amounts of wine (courtesy of a clergy colleague of mine)
    • along similar lines-Luke does seem to be merging Jesus' sayings here so it is more like a cocktail of sorts
  •  We don't live in a world where the right decisions are always clear.  We don't make decisions in a vacuum.  Most of our decisions are made in imperfect situations.  So even our best choices can be tainted and selfish.  Sin is a choice but sin is also a condition because the world is infected with sin (the story of Jesus tells the story of how God is purifying the earth).
  • The manager forgives debts.  The master forgives manager.  Jesus says, "forgive as we are forgiven."  Forgiveness is the way out of the messy situation we all find ourselves in.
  • What is the purpose of money?  How does it affect our relationships?  Does money possess us?  How does using our money make us more generous?
  • How much more wonderful would this story be if the steward was genuine in his actions?

Have a great weekend and if you have any insights I am open to hear them!

Thursday, September 5, 2013


The capacity to show humility has been working on me for the past several weeks.  I hesitate to share this post because a part me knows that I am no expert on humility.  I don't mean to say I haven't studied the topic.  Rather, I don't think I have lived a life that exudes humility (I am not trying to be humble here...). However, I do feel equipped to share with you my struggle to become more humble.

The other week I was trying really hard to be humble.  I thought of a perfect way to practice this virtue.  I promised myself that the next time someone said something nice to me I would simply downplay it and dismiss the compliment as nothing.

A perfect opportunity arose.  My father-in-law mentioned that his priest said I was the best golfer he had ever played with.  I quickly replied, "then he hasn't played with very many good golfers..."  While this statement is certainly true, why did I feel the need to depreciate myself in the face of a compliment?  I also put down the person who gave the compliment in the process!  Why couldn't I just accept it as someone trying to life me up and encourage me?

Another problem with my response to a compliment was that I was proud of my answer.  I congratulated myself on being more "humble."  The path toward humility is a slippery slope.

So how can we move toward humility without feeding our pride at the same time?

With the help of Frederick Buechner, I realize that my response to the above mentioned compliment was no more than gamesmanship.  Even though I was trying to be more humble, I was still thinking about myself.  I was so focused on my response that I didn't even take time to love the person who gave me the gift.

Ultimately, I have realized that the capacity to show humility is not about trying to be more humble.  The Pharisees are a perfect example of how trying really hard to be good and holy only leads to bigger problems.  Rather, the capacity to show humility is more about a change of perspective.

In last week's Gospel lesson from Luke, Jesus says, "Go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher.'"  Jesus is telling us to look at the world differently.  He is literally telling us to sit in a different chair.  He isn't telling us to think less of ourselves.  Rather, he is telling us to be ever-mindful of the needs of others.

We are called to sit in a different seat not because of some personal reward but because when we look at the world from this new perspective everyone wins, everyone is noticed, everyone is remembered.  The end result should mean that we can stop making sure we are noticed.

Ultimately, we are called to look at the world through the perspective of the cross.  Through the cross of Christ, we don't have to try to be more than we are.  We can admit that we aren't perfect.  We can admit that we fall short and that we need a savior.  And we can stop trying to save ourselves with our pride.  

The way of the cross is the path to humility.  It isn't about trying harder.  Instead, the way of the cross is about looking at the world in a different way.  It is about moving to a different chair and seeing the world from the perspective of the other.  After all, this is how Jesus accomplished salvation for the world when endured the cross that was meant for us.  The way of the cross leads us to Jesus who says, "Friend, move up higher."