The Rev. Dr. David K. McIntosh – 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20C
Amos 8.4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Tim 2.1-7; Luke 16. 1-13
“For the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” †
The parable we just heard, of the ‘dishonest steward,’ has always bothered me. Not only does it seem theologically awkward, it presents some real ethical challenges for me.
When hearing this story, there’s a natural confusion that comes when the master doesn’t condemn, but actually praises the manager. This is compounded by the added twist that Jesus praises his shrewdness, and implies his followers should imitate his behavior!
Again, I think it’s helpful to review the original Greek. Throughout this section of Luke’s Gospel, he uses the word ‘squander’ repetitively. The prodigal son and the dishonest steward are both said to have ‘squandered property.’ The word here—diaskorpizo — translated as ‘to squander,’ also means ‘to scatter, or to disperse.’ So, the dishonest steward is really scattering or dispersing property. To disperse wealth and property, you may recall, was an important attribute for the apostles and the early Church. One thing Jesus seems to be promoting is the emulation of dispersing property and wealth.
I find it helpful to consider this parable in light of the prophetic Scripture from Amos— Amos and his 8th Cent BCE contemporaries, Isaiah and Micah, warned the people of God against ‘trampling the needy’ and bringing ‘ruin to the poor.’ The use of incorrect weights on scales, so as to cheat the less educated and profit from another’s misfortune. In a word, their prophecy was about ‘justice.’ Not just fairness and following rules, but about real justice. One of my favorite passages is from Micah (6.8): “You have been told O mortal, what is good; and what does The Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Justice, first and foremost, arises from God. It is part of God’s being, God’s nature. And we, who are created in God’s image (Imageo Dei), also possess this ability to do justice. We are called to be like God. To do justice is to be like God, to follow God’s ways.
Following God’s ways, allows us to participate in God’s Mission (Missio Dei) and God’s actions (Actio Dei). As the prophets Amos and Micah tell us, to ‘do justice,’ is less about rules and regulations, and more about following God’s ways. Rules, no matter how just, are not God!
One of the things the bishops are asking parishes throughout the ECCT to try to do, is to consider what it means to be a parish in the ‘New Missional Age.’ To quote from the Bookmark on Spiritual Practices from the ECCT— A Parish is “a community of theological imagination, fed by Word & Sacrament, forming disciples and apostles in God’s Mission, and connected to the wider body of Christ.” And your profile and website do a good job at showing some of the ways you here at St. Michael’s are such a parish.
As God’s children, we are called to follow God’s will and God’s ways. And, if we hear what Jesus says in light of the prophets’ messages, we’ll understand it’s not about being dishonest. Jesus is really saying that the people of ‘this age,’ that is of the world, are better at attaining what they desire from their colleagues, than ‘the children of the light.’ The steward was better at attaining what he wanted, than many of Christ’s followers.
If only Christians would be as eager to attain goodness, as the worldly are to get money and comfort, think of what might be possible. If people paid as much attention to their spiritual welfare as they do to their business welfare, then the world would be a better place. The emphasis is on what’s really important! For the worldly of this age— it’s money, possessions, power, stuff that doesn’t last… mammon. For the children of light, those who seek God’s will—it’s justice, forgiveness, love, and eternal life.
Jesus warns, ‘you cannot serve both God and mammon, you cannot serve God and your own self interests.’ God’s Way’s are not our ways… we’ve got to be better at getting what really counts! And the author of the 1st Letter to Timothy tells us, that’s best done through prayer. We are told that when we pray, through the mediation of Christ, we are transformed… when we pray, we let go of self and enter into not just conversation, but relationship with God. ‘You cannot serve both God and mammon, you cannot serve God and your own self interests.’
We must be shrewd in participating in God’s Mission in our world, spreading God’s love and reconciliation everywhere. We must participate with God, spreading the Gospel, the ‘Good News’ of Jesus to everyone we meet, not just here at St. Michael’s, but also out there beyond those doors. St Francis of Assisi once said, ‘Preach the Gospel to everyone you see, and only if necessary, use words.’ Spread God’s love and reconciliation to everyone you meet.
If we are indeed called to participate in God’s Mission, not our own, or the world’s… If we are called to ‘do justice’ and promote healing of God’s people… If we are to follow God’s ways, not our own… Where do we start?