Luke 16:1-13 “Seriously? Be Like That Guy?!”
September 22, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell
Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO
Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said 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. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?’ He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 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. 10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Here’s a conversation that came up in our house:
Kid: Mom, how much money do you make?
Me: That’s not really something I want to share with you.
Me: Well, you don’t have a frame of reference for what that means, where it all goes.
Kid: Well, do you and Dad make more than six figures combined?
Me: Again, this is not something I’m comfortable sharing with you right now.
Kid: Why? How do you expect me to learn about real life when you won’t talk about it?
My daughter has a way of cutting to the chase. She can see through our conversations to the problem. Not always but certainly more often than is fun for me.
Here’s the conversation as I hear it in Luke:
Rich Man: I just heard that my property manager is doing a terrible job. If it’s true, he’s so fired.
Manager (to himself): I can’t dig or beg…I have to figure this out! I know, I’ll cancel some debts for people who owe my master so they’ll treat me well later.
So the manager goes and does just that – cutting one debt by 50% and another debt by 20%. Here comes the mind-bender…the master praises the shrewd, dishonest manager and Jesus is telling his disciples they should be more like that guy.
What can be made of Jesus’ directive? Just for fun, next time you have a few minutes, web search this passage in Luke and see what comes up. There are all kinds of interpretations of this text that leave the reader wondering why it’s sitting in scripture and maybe even wishing some sly scribe would have edited it out centuries ago.
In the midst of those feelings, here’s why I’m grateful for this parable. No matter how you look at it, the manager seems to have one thing right. He understands that money, and how it is used, is ultimately relational. The way money is gained and how it is spent affects life for people and between people. We know who treated last for lunch and we know the neighborhood we live in compared with other neighborhoods. We notice all kinds of things that define our relationships in terms of money. This is all publicly traded information based on all kinds of assumptions. We can see it. It is visible. And yet, we make the quick almost automatic move to stop conversations about money because money is personal.
A piece of the good news in this text is that money is put into the public conversation of the church by Jesus. This means that we, as people of faith, can talk about the nuances of money and how we put it to use in our lives. This is a lesson for the disciples that they may not have understood as a possibility because money can be seen as everything but a spiritual concern. Just as some of us can be inclined to see the body as not as spiritual as the mind, others of us can be inclined to see money as not spiritual, period.
We think of money as having no spiritual value for a couple of reasons. In part, it’s because of Bible stories like this one. In stories like these we are warned about serving God versus serving money. They set us up for a mental dance around the subject and we want to separate ourselves as fast and as far as possible away from the idolatry of money. The separation of church and state does a number on our thinking as well. And religious hucksterism in churches through the centuries seems to ice the cake of all the excuses and makes us twitchy when money comes up in the church.
But we are not above the fray because money is spiritually suspect and we are somehow spiritually superior because of faith. Rather, we are in the fray with money and each other because we are people on the planet affected by money and each other. The shrewd manager knows this and so does Jesus. It is not money that is suspect. It is us. Our use of money, our assumptions about money, and our desire not to let any critique of our use or assumptions about it are all suspect.
One of the reasons I love the confession and forgiveness at the beginning of the worship service is because it shows me my limits as a person – as much as I might want to imagine it otherwise or behave otherwise in the day-to-day. At the same time, I love the paradox that is set up in the confession and forgiveness as I’m reminded that I’m in the hands of a limitless God. The paradox is this: When I feel limitless, God reminds me of my limits; when I set up a false limit, God says look in the other direction and reminds me of my freedom.
In the parable today, Jesus challenges the disciples, and their assumptions about money, by telling them that the dishonest manager has something to teach them. We are just as dumbfounded as they are in the face of this challenge – caught by the sin that affects our relationship with money and each other.
Here’s the good news. As church, Jesus frees us into honesty about being saints and sinners at the same time. This is one of the gifts of the cross to the whole church. This means that our lives of faith are our whole lives…our 24/7 lives. As such, we are free to think and talk about our 24/7 lives in church. This includes talking about money – the way we gain, lose it, and spend it – and the way all that gaining, losing, and spending affects our own lives and each others lives. Thanks be to God!