In God We Trust
At first reading, we can hardly believe our ears. The story itself seems confusing and controversial at best. A manager has gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar, so to speak. He is going to get fired and he knows it. To his credit, he drops everything and goes to work calling in all those who owe his master money…and proceeds to play “deal…or no deal”. One by one…the deals are made and what is owed to the master is generously reduced. So much so in fact, that the master begins to look like a hero to those who haven’t been able to pay the full amount that they owe. Which in the end…may very well be why Jesus says, quoting from verse 8:
“His master commended the dishonest manager
because he had acted shrewdly.”
Notice what Jesus doesn’t do. He does not praise the manager for his dishonesty in handling his master’s account…nor does he commend him for his cheating. When all is said and done and the last deal has been made…the master will have been bilked out of his rightful earnings.
And yet…according to Jesus…the manager was praised for having taken such clever steps in securing his own future. He acted with such decisiveness in showing a ‘practical cleverness or judgment’…that it immediately caught the attention of his master. The next thing that we hear…is the sound of the master applauding the very one who stole from him in the first place. Go figure.
If I didn’t know better, I would say that Jesus was having a brain freeze on the day that he told this parable to his disciples. Exactly what we are suppose to glean from it…has been debated since the words were first spoken. Many believe that the key lies in understanding what Jesus meant when he used the word “shrewd” not once…but twice in the same story. According to my thesaurus…given to me by Pastor Jim at the beginning of my sabbatical…here is what the word “shrewd” is synonymous with:
Canny, clear-sighted, hard-headed, knowing,
sharp, sharp-witted, smart.
And if that weren’t enough, there are “related words” that help to shed even more light:
Artful, crafty, cunning, discerning, insightful, perceptive,
wise, experienced, agile, alert, brainy, bright, brilliant, clever,
intelligent, keen, quick, quick-witted, apt,
ingenious, resourceful, informed,
knowledgeable, and well-read…just to name a few.
To say that the dishonest manager was “shrewd”…turns out to be quite a compliment. And by implication, Jesus says that we in the church can learn something from such “shrewd” behavior which led me to thinking.
What would happen, I wonder, if we in the church began to take seriously our role as stewards of all that we possess…of all that God has so graciously given to us to “manage” during our time here on this earth? For some of us, it might mean a change in our priorities, a change in our lifestyle, not to mention the way we handle our finances. If I am hearing correctly what Jesus said took place in this story, then what we are really talking about is nothing short of a total reformation. One where God is given complete control to shake us and to move us wherever God needs us to be.
As most of you know…I love my home state of Tennessee…and I love being with my family especially my mom. But in order to accept the call into the ministry I had to place my trust in God that my family would be taken care of and that my call meant following Jesus wherever he led.
What you probably don’t know is that for almost three years, my mother refused to talk to me because of my decision to leave. It was three of the hardest years of my life. As I found out later, mother had not put her trust in God…and was afraid that something bad would happen to me out there in the world. Needless to say, her fears were unfounded.
Two years after receiving the call, I entered seminary at LutheranTheological Southern Seminary in 1993 and graduated in 1997. An added blessing to the joy was finding my soul mate in Pastor Jim…to whom I got married just one day before my ordination. In the meanwhile, I discovered that my mother had been on her own faith journey of sorts, and had begun picking up pennies whenever she saw them on the floor…or street.
She called them pennies from heaven…and said they were signs from heaven that whatever was worrying her at the time would be taken care of by God. In other words, mother had come full circle. Everytime she read the words on a penny, she was reminded that it is in God we trust.
And so it’s good to hear once again, that no matter how much we have, according to Jesus, it’s what we do with it that counts. And what we do with it is a direct expression of our relationship to God. Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus ended today’s lesson by saying that one can not serve two masters? Which begs the real question that Jesus is leading up to ask:
Whom do we serve?
That is the one question that each one of us must be absolutely clear on. The manager in today’s lesson was in effect serving only himself…even though he was subject to his master’s wealth. What he chose to do with a little…turned out to reflect his whole relationship instead. It was enough to get him dismissed, despite his ability to impress his master.
In the end, he didn’t even trust his master to forgive. In the end…all we can do…is trust our master…not only to forgive, but to offer to us the gift of new life.
Thanks be to God…Amen!