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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 18, 2016

My mother and father taught me the value of integrity from the time I was a child. I was to be faithful to God’s way of doing things. So when I didn’t get charged for something at the grocery store, I went back and paid the bill. When I found money that had been dropped on the street I tried to find the owner or left it with someone in the area in case the person came back looking for it. Once I had a doctor charge me a different amount for my appointments. I didn’t know why, but I later found out she thought I didn’t have insurance to cover them. When I found out I tried to rectify the situation by paying the money back, but the staff told me it was more trouble than it was worth to deal with the insurance company. There was nothing more I could do. I had cleaned up my side of the street by offering and that was all that was required. I was taught to be faithful in the little things to God’s way of wanting things done with money.

God’s way of dealing with money doesn’t even cross the mind of the dishonest manager, nor of the rich man for that matter. Jesus is telling a parable about how the world at large deals with money. The world is broken and so people look after their own self-interest instead of remembering the values God has set before them. The rich man fired the manager based only on a rumor that the manager had squandered the rich man’s money; he never checked it out. The rich man was a slave to money. He made his wealth by oppressing his tenant farmers with exorbitant rents, so that they could never get out of debt between the rents and the huge taxes Rome insisted they pay (G. Penny Nixon). They were constantly in the red and hopeless. The rich man didn’t care. He got his money in whatever way he could.

When the dishonest manager is fired, he does not know what to do. He doesn’t want to do manual labor or beg for a living. So he devises a clever plan that will put people in his debt so they will owe him a favor. Exchanging favors was the culture of the day. You invited someone to dinner; they had to invite you back. You gave someone money you were expected to return the gift in some way. You went to someone who had a judgment against him to speak for him and have the judgment overturned and they owed you big time. In this case, the manager went to his master’s debtors and again took advantage of his master’s money. He cut people’s bills. It seemed to be an act of generosity. Anyway, he was certainly hailed as a hero by the people he delivered from some of their debt. They didn’t know the rich man had fired the manager, so he became a hero too. The rich man couldn’t very well say it had all been a terrible mistake and still be a hero. Being a hero might earn him something from his tenants later. So instead he commends the manager for the shrewdness with which he dealt with his problem of survival (J. William Harkins).

You won’t find God or Jesus in this parable. Instead you will find two people who deal in the way people handle money on earth. They get it in any way they can, including oppressing the least of these and they use it to put people in their debt. There is great inequality between all the people in the parable – the rich man, the manager and the tenants. Serving money as your master leads to richness for some and poverty for the most of the rest of the world.

Jesus has some things to say about the parable that guide us somewhat in our understanding of it. He comments that the children of this age who live in service to money are much more successful in dealing with other people like them than the children of the light, the children of the kingdom. At least we hope this is true because kingdom values are not at all like earthly values.

Then he makes a very confusing remark. He wants the disciples to make friends for themselves with dishonest wealth so that the friends will welcome them into the eternal homes. How can using dishonest wealth be of benefit? And what eternal homes do the friends have. None of this makes sense if you read it literally. Perhaps Jesus was being ironic. Or perhaps he was creating a distinction. The kingdom value for money is to give it away, not to amass it, and making friends with it by spending it on others, especially the poor and oppressed, is not at all the same as creating a debt (Charles Cousar). We should give without expecting anything in return because all that we have belongs to God and it is our job to help create the kingdom using whatever resources we are given. Even though worldly wealth is dishonest wealth because it offers security and can’t give it, it can be used rightly in God’s service and the friends they made will secure the disciples welcome into heaven.

Jesus is most concerned about faithfulness to God, to the values of the kingdom. He says those who are faithful in a little are faithful in much. Those who have integrity in little things will be faithful when it comes to those big risky things, like persecution or turning down a job that would pay more but would go against kingdom values or making choices about friends based on their kingdom values and not on what they can provide for you in the way of money or favors. Faithfulness must run through a person’s entire life to be pointed toward the service of God.

Then there is faithfulness with that ever-present money. Money in itself is not evil. Jesus calls it dishonest because that’s the way the world deals with it. But you can be faithful with dishonest wealth by using your resources wisely to help others through the church and in other ways. And there is a direct correlation between the way we use money and whether we are entrusted with the true riches of the kingdom of heaven.

Third there is faithfulness with what belongs to another. Jesus’ remark directly refers to the dishonest manager, but it also refers to God. Since God is the maker of everything, all that we own belongs to God, and being faithful using our resources is what we are required to do.

Jesus ends his discussion with the vital point. You can’t serve both God and wealth.

Where are we in this passage? Are we in this parable? Are we rich and miserly? Do we manipulate people and put them in our debt? Do we expect favors given to yield favors returned? Do we idolize the wealthy? Do we want a lot of things and work endlessly to get them, forgetting our homes and families and keeping all that we have for ourselves? Or could we be the tenant farmers, oppressed with debts we will never get rid of? Most of all are we concentrating on the things of this world instead of our real goal, which is to be stewards of this world’s gifts so we can obtain the true riches of the kingdom.

Jesus is talking to his disciples and that includes us. Luke’s Jesus says a lot about money and how dangerous it is and how true discipleship is giving it away and not using it for our own benefit. He is not talking about using what we need to take care of ourselves. He is talking about giving from our hearts in gratitude for all God has given us. He is talking about one of the most important ways we can be faithful to God and keep our eyes on the prize – the kingdom of heaven.

Watch how you use money – how you get it and what you do with it. Faithfulness in its use keeps us focused not on the world but on the kingdom of heaven, which we all hope and pray to someday inhabit eternally.

Amen

     -- Rev. Ann Barker

Works Cited:
G. Penny Nixon, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 4, Homiletical Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p. 93
J. William Harkins, Feasting on the Gospels, Luke, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), p. 94
Charles Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), p. 525