Devotional Message: The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 20C (9/22/2019)

Revised Common Lectionary Texts

Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113

1st Timothy 2:1-7

St. Luke 16:1-13

Semicontinuous First Reading and Psalm

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Psalm 79:1-9

Prayer of the Day

God among us, we gather in the name of your Son to learn love for one another. Keep our feet from evil paths. Turn our minds to your wisdom and our hearts to the grace revealed in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

16.1 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? 12And 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.

St. Luke 16:1-13, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: Faithful and Shrewd

What’s not to love about this parable? It features misbehavior, suspense, conflict, subterfuge, criminal behavior, and a surprising commendation at the end. And it is troubling! Jesus uses the image of a dishonest manager, praises him for his shrewd behavior, and challenges us (“children of light”) to be just as shrewd as them (“children of this age”).

The parable, as troubling as it might be, is actually one of the few that still functions as it was originally intended to function. At the very heart of a good parable is a twist or turn that surprises us or distresses us. We have heard the parables of Jesus so many times that we forget there is anything scandalous about a Samaritan who assists a wounded traveler, or an employer who pays employees the same no matter how long they have been working in the hot sun. But such is not the case in this instance. There is still something scandalous and deeply offensive about this manager’s actions, and even more so about the fact that Jesus commends him and instructs us to learn from him. It is not a story that quickly leaves our minds. In fact, when we hear it, we (like Jesus’ original audience)  can’t quite forget. Two, three, four days later it is still rattling around in there, troubling and unresolved. And perhaps this is why Jesus uses such stories. But the question remains: how do we understand this?

Some interpreters suspect we don’t have the whole story. Has the rich man taken advantage of his debtors? Has he imposed an unfair (and unethical) amount of interest on their debt? Do the shrewd actions of the manager give those debtors justice, allowing them to pay only what they owe, and not what this rich man is trying to extort from them? The text doesn’t make this case, but would a first century listener, aware of how wealthy and powerful people are able to misuse these kinds of financial practices to their own advantage, have presumed all of this while the story is being told?

We, of course, are left just with this parable. And the troubling notion that Jesus invites us to behave in the same manner as this dishonest manager.

We have been reflecting on the character of Christian discipleship through the past few week’s Gospel lessons. Perhaps it is best to consider this lesson in the same light. Jesus calls us to pick up a cross and follow him; to do whatever we can as we seek to continue the work he began among us some 2,000 years ago. With this parable, he makes the same point in an even more dramatic way. Not only should we pick up a cross and follow him, but we should be as creative and as passionate and as determined and as desperate and as shrewd as this dishonest manager in doing so.

We are not asked, here, to do what is most convenient for us to do. We are asked to give our whole selves in following Jesus. We are asked to imagine how to best become involved in the work of God’s kingdom. We are to lay awake at night imagining how to grow in faithfulness to Christ’s command. We are to be filled with passion as we pursue the opportunities that lie before us. We are to be both faithful and shrewd as we live into our calling as followers of Jesus. Now there is a calling that is hard to forget. May we be found faithful in pursuing it!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. What causes the dishonest manager to work so hard, as he sets up for his future?

  2. What is most scandalous about the way he handles this situation?

  3. Why does the master eventually commend him for the way he discharges his duties?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. What work — what witness — what service does God call me to be about in my life, today?

  2. When have I felt a strong, passionate desire to excel in the work I believe God has entrusted to me?

  3. Who inspires me, today, with the passion and enthusiasm they have for Christian ministry?