22nd September 2019
Amos 8: 4-7
Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
5 saying, ‘When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practise deceit with false balances,
6 buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.’
7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
1 Timothy 2: 1-7
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For
there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6 who gave himself a ransom for all
—this was attested at the right time. 7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth,[a] I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
Luke 16: 1-13
Then Jesus[a] 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 account 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.” 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[b] so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.[c]
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,[d] 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.’[e]
My Bible provide a title to today’s gospel reading – The Dishonest Manager. It’s how the manager is described, when his master uncovers his irregular deal-doing. But to my mind it is a one-sided translation. The underlying Greek is more nuanced, it carries the sense of someone dealing in the dark arts of worldly business, someone canny, astute, one might even say “entrepreneurial.”
But regardless of arguments about the translation, this doesn’t seem to be a simple story of moral failure – holding up the manager as an example of how not to behave - for, surprisingly perhaps, the master in the story does not get even more angry when he learns how his assets have been discounted – instead he congratulates the manager for his shrewdness.
Let’s take a step back for a moment and think about other characters Jesus creates for his stories: for example the Prodigal Son, who features in Luke Chapter 15, just before this passage. Both he and the manager live in a disordered world - of their own making, you might say - where things go badly wrong and they find themselves in trouble. Both squander resources – the word used to describe the actions of the prodigal son is the same as used here of the manager.
Both are driven by basic motivations: Why does the prodigal son decide to return to his father? If you remember, it’s because he’s really, really hungry! His simple reckoning is that the food is better back home, even as a lowly servant.
And the manager, what drives him? Jesus describes his thinking: “What am I going to do?” He asks himself – “I’ve gotten too soft for manual labour and I can’t bring myself to beg. What I know best is how to trade, to wheel and deal” – and so he seizes on a solution to the crisis he faces. He needs a boost to get him started if he is to survive after he’s been fired, some friends who have a reason to give him a break. And the only solution immediately within his grasp is to create that goodwill by writing down his master’s debts.
This is life lived in the human jungle, painted in primary colours, a wry caricature of everyday, relatable people preoccupied entirely with money and stuff and the here-and-now. Like Dickens’ London, perhaps.
In today’s passage, Jesus hints at what he is doing: He calls his characters, “children of this world” – in contrast to those he calls “children of light.”
Behind the colour I sense there is something very deliberate at work. Like other great storytellers and poets, Jesus delights in taking two groups of people completely opposite in every way and then finding the one thing which they have in common, so he can use the one to illuminate the other.
So what is the hidden connection, by which this huckster manager and his admiring boss might teach us something about the Kingdom of Heaven?
The connection Jesus makes is found in verse 9. To my mind it is more clearly rendered in a slightly different translation:
“And so I tell you this: use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it runs out, they will welcome you in the life to come.”
So perhaps the unlikely thing which Jesus suggests the rogues of this world and the children of light have in common is an audacity, a willingness to see the systems and structures of the world as negotiable, to be bent to a more important purpose. From an ethical standpoint, they may be worlds apart, but that is not Jesus’s focus here.
Let the children of light set about challenging the structures of oppression - transforming the world like yeast working through the dough - with the same commitment and ingenuity, the same creative energy and vigour as do the children of this world – for all that their motives could not be more different!
I am reminded of the story told by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, about his journey after the ascent to power of the Nazi party in Germany in 1933. The new government attempted to bring the different protestant churches into a single National Church, introducing anti-semitic changes to its creeds.
Bonhoeffer joined a break-away movement, the Confessing Church, as his faith took him step by step towards ever more radical commitment to the persecuted. He describes how he lost one community and gained a different one, at the margins of Nazi society: communists, minorities, Jews. And then he was asked by his brother-in-law to carry messages for a resistance group plotting to assassinate Hitler. So finally, when the plot failed, he found himself in prison, an accessory to attempted murder, lying repeatedly as he tried to protect his co-conspirators.
In his dishonesty, his world turned upside down, Bonhoeffer found in prison that Christ neither condemned nor abandoned him, but was there by his side.
Richard Young (Rector)