Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 22, 2013

My lymphedema stockings cost $200 a pair. At the beginning of August, I got two new pairs along with the shorts that hold them up, just before I went on vacation. I was at my sister’s and had gone over to her mother-in-law’s street to take a walk because they
live on a highway. On my way by the house for the second time, Jamey’s mom came out to say hello to me. I was walking across the gravel on her driveway, and I was startled. I took a big fall. I scratched my glasses, got a scrape on my nose and most important of all, I tore those stockings. They had three small holes in them. I was devastated. The stockings were brand new. It certainly was not in my budget to pay to replace them, and the compression they need to exert was compromised by the holes.
I went around for a week or so with nail polish on the holes and then decided I had to call the company who gets them for me and get a new pair, so I could be sure they would work. I called, and the woman that answered the phone said she would talk to the supplier. I don’t know what she said, but the supplier agreed to replace the stockings free of charge. I was so relieved I didn’t know what to do. But there was more news in store. When the package came, they had replaced the entire order, and there were two pairs in the box. What a blessing!
Today we have some very relieved farm workers. They have had their bills to their landlord cut by enormous sums by the landlord’s dishonest manager. He is about to lose his job, and he wants to be assured of a welcome at their homes, so he relieves some of their debt. This is the basic story Jesus tells, and the main point is how the steward handles “dishonest money”. Knowing he is going to be fired by his master for either embezzling money or squandering it by being a poor manager, he has to think of something to do to keep himself and his family secure. He’s not strong enough to dig, and he is ashamed to beg on the street corners, so he hits upon this way to ensure his welcome when the ax finally falls. He does just what the Pharisee Jesus had dinner with does: he gives the farmers a benefit so they are indebted to him. They will owe him in the future.
Here we expect the master of the manager to punish him severely for cheating him out of money, then a comment from Jesus about how this behavior is bad, that it is not representative of the kingdom of God. Instead, we are shocked when the master commends the manager for his shrewd or prudent behavior. What is wrong with the man? Here he has fired or will shortly fire this manager – and we have no reason to think he has changed his mind – and he is complimenting him on his action. Not only that, but what is more shocking still, Jesus is complimenting the man on his ability to deal with the children of this age. He says that the children of light – his followers – could learn something from the man. What is going on here anyway?
The landlord and the manager are both people of “this age”. They are self-centered and their worlds are focused on money and security – on getting as much of it as they possibly can. The landlord wants to make sure he gets all that is coming to him from his property, so he fires the manager. In itself that is not wrong; it is the self-centered emphasis on getting the money and keeping it that marks him as a child of this age. As such, he can appreciate what his manager is doing – making arrangements for himself using wealth as the currency.
How can the disciples learn from this story? They need to learn to use dishonest wealth, the currency of the age, to make themselves friends as the manager did, so that the friends will welcome them into their eternal homes. This phrase is the clue that Jesus is not talking about making friends the way the manager did. The manager makes people feel indebted. The disciples are to give their money generously to people in need, who will certainly be part of the eternal kingdom. They are not to depend on money as security, but to rely on God and to love their neighbor. The currency of this age is money; the currency of the kingdom is relationship with God and neighbor.
Jesus goes on to tell the disciples about how faithfulness is measured. They need to be good stewards of the treasures they have on earth. Faithfulness breeds more faithfulness, and honesty, a kingdom value, breeds more honesty. As the manager of this age should have been constantly at work making money for his master, so must the disciples be constantly at work to distribute wealth to make the society fairer and more just. If the disciples are faithful with what belongs to God, they can be trusted with their own treasure in heaven.
Again, we reach a point of difficulty. What exactly are the true riches? Jesus does not say. It could be eternal relationship with God, unending joy, relationship with those we love, something else we don’t know about. What it is not is security. The word for homes when Jesus talks about them to the disciples means “tents”, a clue that the people of God will still be on the move and dependent even more on God to provide them with what they need.
Jesus’ punch line is that people can either serve God or “dishonest wealth”. No one, no matter how hard they try, can have divided loyalties, and the disciples know which side they are to fall on.
We are disciples living in “this age” too. We are confronted every day by powerful advertising that tells us about all the stuff we need to be secure. God wants us to have what we need, but God wants us to seek the kingdom first by using the money we have to give lovingly to those who have less, to make friends through our generosity, not through buying people off as the manager did. Jesus calls all money “dishonest money” because it promises more than it delivers. We are all basically financially insecure, and we cannot rely on it to give us what we really need. As the old Beatles tune says, “Money can’t buy me love.” And love is what we really need more than anything else to live a fulfilled and meaningful life. Love of God and love of neighbor. A priest I knew was talking about addictions once and said the only thing you were allowed to be addicted to was love.
I don’t know if the people at the stocking company are Christians or not; all I know is that they have been generous with me, and I am very grateful to them. God has been generous to all of us and out of gratitude to God, we are called to be God’s people in a broken world, exhibiting kingdom values to promote justice and equality. We are called to be faithful in our lives so we can enter eternal life with God. Use money prudently, not by hoarding it, but by giving it away, and God’s love will enter your lives in powerful and abundant ways.
AMEN

   - Rev. Ann Barker