The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Luke 16:1-13

THE PARABLE OF THE DISHONEST STEWARD IS ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT OF THE PARABLES OF JESUS. IT GIVES SOME PEOPLE A HEADACHE BECAUSE IT APPEARS AS IF JESUS IS PRAISING DECEIT AND DISHONEST BEHAVIOR, WHICH IS WHY WE HAVE TO LOOK AT NOT ONLY THE PARABLE BUT THE CONTEXT IN WHICH IT WAS GIVEN. JESUS HAD BEEN DINING WITH THE PHARISEES, WHO INVITED HIM TO DINNER SO THAT THEY MIGHT FIND A WAY TO TRIP HIM UP. AFTER SPEAKING A NUMBER OF PARABLES WHICH ALL CONDEMNED THE MONEY GRUBBING TENDENCIES OF THE PHARISEES, JESUS TURNED TO HIS DISCIPLES AND TOLD THEM THIS PARABLE OF THE DISHONEST STEWARD, OR MANAGER. THE FIRST THING WE HAVE TO RECOGNIZE IS THAT THIS PARABLE IS FOR THE DISCIPLES OF THE LORD, AND NOT FOR THE CROWDS OR THE RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES; IT IS DELIVERED AS AN INSIDER TEACHING. CONSEQUENTLY, IT’S MEANING IS REVEALED ONLY IN THE CONTEXT OF ONE’S HAVING COME TO BE A FOLLOWER OF THE LORD; OTHERWISE IT MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL.

WHEN THE DISHONEST MANAGER IS TOLD HE HAS TO SURRENDER THE BOOKS BECAUSE HE IS GOING TO BE FIRED, HIS FIRST THOUGHT IS FOR HIS FUTURE; “WHAT WILL I DO, NOW THAT MY MASTER IS TAKING THE POSITION AWAY FROM ME?” SINCE HE IS TOO WEAK FOR MANUAL LABOR, AND TOO PROUD TO BE A BEGGAR, HE DECIDES TO CHEAT HIS MASTER ONE LAST TIME. HE CALLS IN ALL HIS MASTER’S DEBTORS, ONE AT A TIME, AND GIVES THEM EACH A SPECIAL DEAL BY DISCOUNTING THEIR DEBT. THIS PUTS EACH OF HIS MASTER’S DEBTORS IN DEBT TO HIM, SO THAT NOW, ACCORDING TO THE CUSTOM OF THE TIMES, THEY MUST WELCOME HIM AND FEED HIM UNTIL THAT DEBT IS DISCHARGED. SINCE THE TWO EXAMPLES GIVEN OF THE DISCOUNTED DEBT ARE SIGNIFICANT, WE CAN ASSUME AS JESUS INTENDED THAT THE MANAGER’S FUTURE IS SECURED. THIS IS WHY THE MASTER, WHO IS AS CORRUPT AS HIS MANAGER, COMMENDS HIS DISHONEST MANAGER; “BECAUSE HE HAD ACTED SHREWDLY.”

OF COURSE THIS IS ALL OVER EXAGGERATED TO MAKE A POINT, BECAUSE NO ONE IS CALLING THE COPS OR THE SEC. IT IS A HYPERBOLIC CONSTRUCT OF JESUS TO MAKE HIS POINT ABOUT PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE. THE DISHONEST MANAGER’S FIRST THOUGHT IS FOR HIS FUTURE, AND THE FUTURE HE ENVISIONS IS MORE OF THE SAME KIND OF WHEELING AND DEALING HE HAS DONE IN THE PAST; SO HE USES THE ECONOMIC SYSTEM TO HIS ADVANTAGE TO SET HIMSELF UP FOR HIS FUTURE. THIS IS WHY JESUS SAYS, “THE CHILDREN OF THIS AGE ARE MORE SHREWD IN DEALING WITH THEIR OWN GENERATION THAN ARE THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT.” THE CHILDREN OF THIS AGE ARE THOSE WHOSE FUTURE IS LIMITED TO THIS AGE. ALL THEY KNOW IS WHAT THEY SEE AND TOUCH, THE THINGS OF THIS AGE, AND THEY ARE WELL VERSED IN USING THE THINGS OF THIS AGE, AND USING OTHER PEOPLE OF THEIR GENERATION, TO GET WHAT THEY WANT OR WHAT THEY THINK THEY NEED.

JESUS IS NEITHER PRAISING THE DISHONEST MANAGER NOR HIS SHREWDNESS IN SECURING HIS FUTURE; WHAT HE IS POINTING OUT TO HIS DISCIPLES, THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT, IS HOW EVEN THE CORRUPT AND SINFUL CHILDREN OF THIS AGE FOCUS ON THEIR FUTURE, AND WILL GO TO ENORMOUS LENGTHS TO SECURE IT. THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT, HOWEVER, ARE NOT AS SHREWD OR AS SINGLE-MINDED IN THE PURSUIT OF THEIR FUTURE. BY NO MEANS IS JESUS TALKING ABOUT SALVATION; HE IS ADDRESSING HIS REMARKS TO THOSE WHO ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE LIGHT. THE CONTRAST HE IS DRAWING IS BETWEEN THE CHILDREN OF THIS AGE, WHO SEEK AN EARTHLY MATERIAL FUTURE, AND THE CHILDREN OF THE LIGHT, WHO SEEK A HEAVENLY ETERNAL FUTURE. BOTH HAVE THE SAME STUFF AVAILABLE TO THEM, UNRIGHTEOUS MAMMON OR DISHONEST WEALTH, TO PREPARE FOR THEIR FUTURE, AND THOSE WHO FOCUS ON A MATERIAL FUTURE ARE DOING A BETTER JOB OF IT.

THE BEST DEFINITION OF UNRIGHTEOUS MAMMON, OR DISHONEST WEALTH, IS THAT WEALTH WHICH IS ABOVE AND BEYOND WHAT WE TRULY NEED. JESUS HAS NOTHING AGAINST MONEY; THE CONCERN HERE IS WHAT WE DO WITH IT. HE TELLS HIS DISCIPLES, AND US, TO USE IT TO MAKE FRIENDS FOR OURSELVES, AS DID THE DISHONEST MANAGER, BUT NOT IN THE MATERIAL WORLD; RATHER USE IT TO MAKE FRIENDS WHO, WHEN THE MATERIAL WORLD FAILS, OR WHEN WE PASS THROUGH THE GATES OF DEATH, WILL WELCOME US INTO THE ETERNAL HOMES PROMISED FOR US AS CHILDREN OF THE LIGHT. THIS IS NOT SOME KIND OF WORKS RIGHTEOUSNESS; REMEMBER JESUS IS TALKING TO THOSE WHO ARE HIS OWN. WHAT HE IS SAYING IS TO USE YOUR EXCESS WEALTH WHERE YOUR FUTURE IS GOING TO BE. IF THE ONLY FUTURE YOU HAVE IS IN THIS WORLD, YOU MIGHT AS WELL BUY THAT FERRARI; BUT IF YOUR FUTURE IS IN THE HEAVENLY KINGDOM, IT MIGHT BE SHREWDER TO USE YOUR EXCESS WEALTH TO STORE UP TREASURE IN HEAVEN.

I HAVE BEEN FOLLOWING THE STORY OF A HOMELESS MAN IN BOSTON THIS PAST WEEK. HE FOUND A BACKPACK WITH $2,950 IN CASH, ALMOST $40,000 IN TRAVELER’S CHECKS, AND A PASSPORT. THAT IS QUITE A TEMPTATION FOR ANYONE, BUT HOW MUCH MORE FOR A HOMELESS MAN WHO IS LIVING FROM DAY TO DAY? HE IMMEDIATELY TOOK THE BACKPACK TO THE POLICE, AND, WHEN ASKED WHY HE DIDN’T KEEP AT LEAST A PORTION OF THE MONEY, REPLIED, “THE LORD LOOKS AFTER ME WELL ENOUGH, AND IT WASN’T MINE TO KEEP.” THE OWNER WAS FOUND, THE MONEY RETURNED, AND HOMELESS MAN RETURNED TO THE STREETS. A FEW DAYS PASSED, THEN SOME BOSTONIANS IMPRESSED BY HIS HONESTY, TOOK UP A COLLECTION FOR HIM – IT IS NOW WELL OVER $50,000. HE IS BEING HONORED BY THE POLICE, AND HAS OFFERS FOR JOBS AND AN APARTMENT. HE IS A MAN WHO, IN TERMS OF THE MATERIAL THINGS OF THIS WORLD HAD VERY LITTLE, WAS FAITHFUL IN THE LITTLE HE HAD, AND, AS JESUS TELLS US, “WHOEVER IS FAITHFUL IN VERY LITTLE IS FAITHFUL ALSO IN MUCH; AND WHOEVER IS DISHONEST IN VERY LITTLE IS DISHONEST ALSO IN MUCH.” I WISH I COULD GET TO KNOW THIS MAN; I THINK HE HAS A LOT TO TELL US ABOUT STORING UP TREASURE IN HEAVEN.

WHAT THIS PARABLE IS ALL ABOUT CAN BE BEST DESCRIBED AS ESCHATOLOGICAL ECONOMICS, THE ECONOMICS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD BREAKING INTO THE WORLD THROUGH THE LIVES AND ACTIONS OF THE CHILDREN OF THE LIGHT. FOR THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT, THE FUTURE IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD, AND THAT FUTURE IS NOT ONLY THAT FOR WHICH WE STRIVE, BUT ALSO THAT FOR WHICH WE LIVE IN THE PRESENT AMONG THE CHILDREN OF THIS AGE. WE LIVE AS IF EVERY DAY IS OUR LAST DAY, AND THE FUTURE FOR WHICH WE PREPARE IS ALREADY UPON US – AND THAT IS WHERE OUR TREASURE SHOULD BE.

SO A MAN DIES AND GOES TO HEAVEN. HE IS WELCOMED BY SAINT PETER, AND AN ANGEL IS CALLED TO SHOW THE MAN TO HIS HEAVENLY MANSION. THE ANGEL LEADS HIM PAST MANY WONDROUSLY GLORIOUS MANSIONS, THEN PAST SOME SMALLER BUT STILL BEAUTIFUL MANSIONS. THEN HE LEADS HIM THROUGH WHAT LOOKS LIKE THE SUBURBS; NICE BUT MODEST HOMES. THEN, FINALLY THEY COME TO THE VERY END OF THE HOUSES TO A SINGLE – WIDE TRAILER UP ON CONCRETE BLOCKS, WITH SOME WHITE WASHED CUT OUT TIRES FOR PLANTERS IN FRONT. “HERE YOU GO,” SAYS THE ANGEL. “WAIT,” THE MAN SAYS, “YOU MEAN THIS ALL THAT I GET?” THE ANGEL SHAKES HIS HEAD, AND SADLY REPLIES, “I KNOW IT’S NOT MUCH, BUT IT WAS ALL WE COULD DO WITH WHAT YOU SENT ON AHEAD.”

“AND,” JESUS SAID, “IF YOU HAVE NOT BEEN FAITHFUL WITH WHAT BELONGS TO ANOTHER, WHO WILL GIVE YOU WHAT IS YOUR OWN? . . . YOU CAN NOT SERVE BOTH GOD AND WEALTH.”
AMEN

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