Lectionary (Year C) 17th after Pentecost: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; Psalm 113; I Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 16:1-13
The parable of the Dishonest Steward (which appears only in Luke) is difficult exegetically. But its context in Luke and the Lectionary readings help the preacher give it a hard missional edge. The parable comes immediately after the grace filled Prodigal Son Parable. In both parables money is wasted – the same Greek word is used in both cases describing the waste. In both parables money is used to secure friends – in one case it works in the other is does not. In both parables a character “dies” – the son about to starve – the steward his previous lifestyle is no more – and miraculously finds new life.
Jeremiah weeps that healing has not come to “my poor people” (4 times in NRSV). The Psalm asserts God raises up the poor, the needy, and the barren. And the writer of Timothy boldly proclaims God our Savior “desires everyone to be saved.”
All the texts affirm the promise of redemption as the result of God’s gracious action is there for the poor and the broken (that is okay for it fits our and our congregation’s preconceived notions) and the disreputable and the shady (about this we and our congregations are not so sure.)
We are invited to become participants in this work God is doing, using mammon (with all the implications of that word) to make friends that last, to make a difference for eternity. Spending our money and the other resources at our disposal for eternity may get us laughed at. If we suggest the congregations we serve do the same we will be called irresponsible for such actions could cause the death of the church. But we will be in good company with the other “dead” people in these passages who found new life. Money is only good in this life and then it is gone, friendship built in God (fellowship – koinonia), Jesus suggests, lasts into eternity. To reframe Jim Elliot’s, missionary to the Auca people in Ecuador, often expressed classic piece of wisdom: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”
A note: if you have not read Robert Farrar Capon’s discussion of this parable, it is worth the read, even though I don’t entirely agree with him. (Parables of Grace, Eerdmans, 1988)
I am part of a denomination that has historically stood against all forms of gambling. In my first pastoral charge, one day I visited a gentleman who was in his 80’s. In the course of the conversation he told me he had won $50 on a scratch and win card that day. He pulled the $50 bill out of his wallet and said to me, “I haven’t been in church the last little while, and haven’t put any money in the offering plate. Here, take this and put in the offering for me.” In the moment I had to respond, I thanked him for his gift and assured him I would put it in the offering. But I worried about what I had done for the next couple of days. Had I been wrong to accept gambling winnings as an offering to the church?
It’s only money. Don’t make money a bigger deal than it is.
– Robert Cueni
Here, it is the lord of the steward who starts out unwilling to drop dead to any of his bookkeeping: he will not die to the steward’s peculations, and he will not die to accounts past due that he has never succeeded in collecting. The steward, however, does die; and because he is freed by his death to think things he could not have thought before, he is the one who, from the bottom of the heap, as it were, becomes the agent of life for everyone in the parable.
– Robert Farrar Capon
Free market capitalism is a remarkably good system, but it is not perfect. The system has always stood and will always stand in need of moral evaluation and discipline. Along this line, I believe we should use modern capitalism for the sake of our fellow servants, showing them grace, forgiving their debts, unexpectedly lightening their burdens, employing whatever wealth we have – wealth that we know we cannot keep for long – in the service of fellowship and friendship. And we should place our hope in the goodness and above all in the graciousness of God, the God for whom all things are possible.
– Craig Gay
If when the accounts are rendered and it becomes known in heaven that it was your sacrificial giving that provided the copies of the Gospel of John which led a whole tribe to faith in Christ, will not that whole tribe show towards you an eternal gratitude which they will not show towards me who spent my spare cash on some luxury for my own enjoyment?
– David Gooding
The twentieth century saw the so-called ‘mainline’ churches in many parts of the world – the traditional denominations – in decline, with newer churches, not least in the Third World, growing and spreading. What should traditional churches do when faced with their own mortality? Perhaps they should learn to think unconventionally, to be prepared to make new friends across traditional barriers, to throw caution to the winds and discover again, in the true fellowship of the gospel, a home that will last.
– Tom Wright
“O Holy God, Whose gracious power redeems us”
– Jane Parker Huber in A Singing Faith (WJKP, 1987)
“Called as Partners in Christ’s Service”
— Jane Parker Huber in A Singing Faith (WJKP, 1987)
O Lord, our Savior, you have warned us that you will require much of those to whom much is given; grant that we whose lot is cast in so godly a heritage may strive together the more abundantly to extend to others what we so richly enjoy; and as we have entered into the labors of others, so to labor that others may enter into ours; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
– Augustine of Hippo
Lord, the wounds of the world are too deep for us to heal.
We have to bring women and men to you and ask you to look after them
— the sick in body and mind, the withered in spirit, the victims of greed
and injustice, the prisoners of grief.
And yet, O God, do not let our prayers excuse us from paying the price of compassion.
Make us generous with the resources you have entrusted to us.
Let your work of rescue be done in us and through us all.
By the authority of Jesus Christ we resist all evil powers seeking sway within us.
We stand against the fear that makes us want to manage and control others.
Grant us the gift of faith, O Lord, to overcome our fear.
We stand against the greed that makes us use others for our own selfish purposes.
Grant us a spirit of generosity, O Lord, to temper our greed.
We stand against the pride that drives us to seek inordinate attention.
Grant us the grace of service, O Lord, to conquer our pride.
May faith, hope, and love have increasing sway over every thought and action. Amen.
– Richard Foster (adapted)