“Shrewdness, Forgiveness, Mercy and Compassion”

Luke 16:1-13

22 September 2013

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

Luke 16:1-13

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. 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.’

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. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 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.

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. “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. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 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.”

Prayer.

My mouth nearly fell open the other day

When I heard a District Superintendent tell a group I was with

That he loves watching the reality TV show “Duck Dynasty.”

From the 5 minutes I’ve seen,

I wasn’t impressed by anything that I imagine might be funny to others:

Guys dressed like ZZ Top,

With wives or babes who are all Sports Illustrated swimsuit type models

Living in the bayous of Louisiana

Running a multi-million duck calling company

While behaving like junior high boys gathered in the lavatory.  

But then, three of my favorite shows are

“House of Cards,” “Breaking Bad,” and “The Walking Dead”,

Three shows that serve up gratuitous violence

Topped off with

Eye rolling sex, drugs, and every other vice

By the bucket full!

In my defense, I’d say

Both also are really well written and

cause the viewer to re-examine the moral and ethical milieu in which they live.

This is clearly a case of glass house Todd

Throwing bricks through the windows of fellow preachers

And everyone else who enjoys “Duck Dynasty”.

You might be surprised that I watch and enjoy these shows.

“What? a pastor watching that kind of filth?”

Indeed, I wouldn't watch it with my mother in the room.

“Why,” you might ask, “would you watch such a thing?”

As I survey the body of epistles,

the letters sent by the apostle Paul, Peter, John, and others,

I see one of the overarching themes

is how the Christian community is being encouraged

to wait faithfully for the return of Jesus Christ.

Waiting means living in the world,

but, at the same time,

not being transformed by the world.

Waiting means we must remain strong, unified, and focused on the ways of Christ,

not bickering, quarreling, and living according to the ways of the world.

The apostle Paul writes to his faith community in Rome

“Do not be conformed to this world,

but be transformed by the renewing of your minds,

so that you may discern what is the will of God-

what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

Living with Hollywood,

but not being transformed by Hollywood,

is where the fine line is to be drawn.

I do not, nor ever will, glorify violence, murder, or vice.

Yet, we live in an age where we are surrounded by these realities.

As Christians we walk the fine line of living in the world,

while not becoming one with the world.

Rather, followers of Jesus Christ live in the world

with the expectation that

we will change the world.

Our gospel lesson for today asks us to stop and take a second look.

Our gospel lesson asserts that

while we are living in the world,

lessons may be drawn

by observing the behavior of the world

we so seek to change.

Our Gospel lesson

is a parable unlike few others.

The famous German theologian, Rudolf Boltmann

Referred to this parable of “The Unjust Manager”

as “The Problem Child of Biblical Exegeses”.

It does not have a parallel in Matthew, Mark, or John.

It is not an allegory,

which is to say,

the rich man is not a stand in, or metaphor, for God

and the slave is not a foil for the story,

or a stand in representing the human condition.

This parable is different than the parable of the prodigal and his brother,

immediately preceding today’s passage,

and completely different from the Good Samaritan, found even earlier in Luke.

Indeed, our parable is a problem child

That just doesn’t fit in.

At the beginning and end of the day

It is a parable of Jesus about two rascals.

Jesus was grooming the crowd.

Jesus had been preparing the disciples and the crowd for this parable.

He’d been doing the necessary preparation work

with his parable of the Rich Fool,

the cost of discipleship,

and teaching about humility and hospitality.

In the passages following today’s parable,

Jesus will punctuate his point with his story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

The field that Jesus has been plowing

is one that makes it impossible for one to obtain and keep material wealth.

Bigger barns and full granaries may be a sign of wealth,

but when it comes at the expense of denying food to someone who is hungry,

what, then, will be the benefit when God demands the soul that very night?

“You can not serve God and wealth,” Jesus concludes today. (Luke 16:13c)

So, simply by definition, a wealthy man is a rascal.

Yes, he may be a member of the upper class,

the privileged,

the proletariat,

even a member of a royal line.

But he is still a rascal.

So, when Jesus begins this parable for his disciples with

“There was a rich man who had a manager …” (Luke 16:1a),

Jesus is making a statement: the rich man is a sinner.

Learn from him.

But don’t be like him.

Now, lets talk about his manager;

the manager that had been squandering his master’s property.

He is also a rascal.

But, you have to admit,

he is quite the ingenious rascal, isn’t he?

His present is imperiled.

He is going to be fired.

So he immediately adapts and begins to plan for his future.

He forgives debt,

albeit without authorization,

recognizing the fact that forgiveness has the potential of future dividends.

He didn’t do it deceitfully, or behind his master’s back.

He simply forgave debts,

with the anticipation of future rewards.

Now first time hearers of this parable,

whether they be disciples of Jesus two thousand years ago,

or some of us seated here this morning,

we allow our imagination to jump ahead of the story a little, don’t we?

We can see in our mind’s eye

how the master should be enraged by the actions of his rascally manager,

actions that cost him money ….

lots of money.

But, instead, Jesus surprises us.

“His master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” (Luke 16:8a)

The master resorts to compassion and mercy;

compassion and mercy that supplanted the mercy and compassion

that the dishonest manager had planned for his master’s creditors.

Whether it came from the master or from the creditors,

the dishonest manager had shrewdly worked it out

such that compassion and mercy would see him home …

indeed, as Jesus said,

that he may be welcomed into the eternal home. (Luke16:9)

So, if we are to live in the world of sin, but not be a contributor to it;

If we are to live in this world, but not be a part of it;

If we are to dive into this parable of Jesus, but not become rascals like the leading characters,

Then what is it that we can observe?

What can we learn?

What are the gems that Jesus meant to convey to us,

such that we don’t become rascals ourselves?

1. First and foremost, Jesus is teaching his disciples to be shrewd in our behavior.

Not dishonest, mind you,

but shrewd in every transaction,

careful stewards of what God has entrusted to us,

not wasting one unnecessary penny.

For example, are our savings wisely invested,

such that they will maximize the highest potential return,

while having the least possible negative social impact?

Have we paid the least amount possible,

while maintaining the highest possible quality,

at the same time being reflective of Christ?

We can live in the world of marketing and advertising,

buying and selling,

but ….

we need to be as shrewd as the wisest business man,

as smart as the most conservative banker,

and as generous as the most loving Samaritan.

Being shrewd is not a bad thing.

It is a quality that Jesus lifts up.

2. Secondly, when we ask

“what, precisely, is it that the steward does,

albeit without authorization and with deception?”

The answer leads us to the second point:

The steward forgives debts.[1]

The steward forgives.

And so should we,

as disciples of Jesus Christ.

It's a moral of great emphasis for Luke:

FORGIVE.

Forgive it all.

Forgive it now.

Forgive it for any reason you want, or for no reason at all.

Regardless of motive or scheme, forgive.

“...Why,” you might ask, “forgive someone who's sinned against me,

or against our sense of what is obviously right?”

We don't have to do it out of love;

we may not love them.

We could forgive the other person because of the Lord’s Prayer:

“Forgive us our trespasses, even as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”

We could forgive because we know we'd like forgiveness ourselves.

We could forgive because we've experienced what we're like as unforgiving people.

Unforgiving people can be pretty ugly,

Especially when

They are me.

We know that refusing to forgive

because we don't want the other person to benefit

Is, as the saying goes,

like eating rat poison hoping it will hurt the rat.

We could forgive because we are,

or we want to be,

deeply in touch with a sense of Jesus' power to forgive and free sinners like us.

Or we could forgive because we think it will improve our odds of winning the lottery.

It doesn’t matter.

It boils down to the same thing:

deluded or sane,

selfish or unselfish,

there is no bad reason to forgive.

Extending to others the kind of forgiving grace

God shows us in every possible aspect of our life

-- financial and moral –

-- social and spiritual --  

can only put us more deeply in touch with God's himself.

3. Lastly, Jesus is using this story of two rascals

to teach us about the importance of mercy and compassion.

The bottom line in both stories,

of the returning Prodigal in chapter 15

and of the Dishonest Manager in chapter 16,

is to find a way to warrant mercy

and be welcomed home.

Before the Prodigal Son even has a chance to work his scheme,

he finds his father running out to welcome him home.

The dishonest steward shows mercy to the master's clients

in a way that will reflect kindly on the honor of the master within the community.

Whether in the home of another wealthy person

or in the home of his current master,

he expects the end result

will be that "people may welcome me into their homes."

Being welcomed home seems to be the goal in both Luke 15 and 16.

For the faithful,

the goal isn’t to obtain wealth through dishonest dealings.

The goal is to come into that eternal home which only Jesus promises.

Unfortunately, the only phrase many casual readers of the text take away,

as a memorable trinket,

from today’s unique lesson is the final sentence:

“You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:13c NRSV),

or, in the old King James Version

“You cannot serve God and mammon.”

But to do so,

one overlooks the message of Jesus inherent in this parable,

to be shrewd while we wait,

to forgive without exception,

and to extend mercy and compassion,

without ever holding back.

Can we live in the world,

and not be transformed by it?

Even the most vile characters of

“House of Cards,” “Breaking Bad,” and “The Walking Dead”

Value loyalty,

Display strength in times of fear,

And exhibit deep conviction for their cause.

Yes, there is much to be learned from realms far outside of conventional Christian norms.

We should not, and cannot, isolate ourselves.

Jesus meets us at the intersection of the secular and the sacred.

Jesus quite convincingly makes the statement today

that we should use this world

to learn how

to better transform the world for His almighty purpose.

Be shrewd; but not sinful.

Be forgiving; but not weak.

Extend mercy and compassion; because,

when it comes to Jesus,

mercy and compassion

are His middle name.

Amen.

[1] With thanks to: http://girardianlectionary.net/year_c/proper20c.htm