Summary: Jesus invites us to be shrewd in our efforts to spread the gospel, and extravagant in our praise of God.
16 Pentecost C Luke 16:1-13 23 September 2001
Have you ever been suckered by someone shrewd? So shrewd that you can only admire his shrewdness? I once attended a trade fair and entered a whole lot of the draws that are always there. The next week there was a knock at the door with a man standing there with my prize - one of those plastic cutting boards. The moment that he was handing it to me I knew I had been suckered. Of course everyone who entered won - we also won a vacuum demonstration. I had to admire his shrewdness, even so much as to give him a go at his demonstration.
I imagine today’s gospel as something like that. The owner comes back to settle accounts with a manager he has heard rumours about and is faced with a man at least as shrewd as the owner himself, and he is impressed. It is hard to get angry with someone who shows such creativity and shrewdness. I suspect we are more scandalized by the story than the owner was who was had. Why is that? Do we identify most clearly with the owner? Is it because of the blatant dishonesty? The owner didn’t seem so concerned so why should we?
Money has become a much more high profile commodity than it was ever meant to be. Personal property is ultimately that which we have to provide us food and shelter. Money is simply a convenient form to carry our property with us, a convenient and easy means of payment and giving change. It has become much more than that. Throughout Luke, Jesus talks often about possessions and the way in which we can become so preoccupied with them. He tells the story of the rich young ruler who is blinded by his possessions and cannot continue his road to discipleship unless he unburdens himself. Jesus tells of the prodigal son where both brothers were preoccupied with possessions - one to squander, the other to hoard. Jesus’s message is always that true repentance and faith will dramatically change the way a follower of Christ thinks and acts with regards to material possessions. Possessions are of worth according to how they are used for the greater good. A disciple comes to realize that money cannot get him things that are really important, but that Christ can.
Money has become a score card, whoever has the most is ahead. The athlete paid the most, is the best. Who needs $15 million a year to live, or $10 million? We keep score with each other as we consider how big a house we have, the car, the vacations. We store it up even as we know that we can’t take it with us. We hoard it even when we know we have more money than we can possibly spend in the years we have left. The result being that many families are torn apart fighting over that nest egg that had so much importance while we were alive and now causes such pain once we are gone. The dishonest manager, knew this and did something about it. The money he had was not going with him so he used it for something that would last - friendship. Every Christian is in exactly the same boat as this man. For we, like him, are facing the certain and impending end of all our material resources.
I have a friend whose father-in-law bought a cabin and a big boat at a lake. He did it specifically so that his children and grandchildren had a place to play and where he could enjoy them playing. He had no interest in giving them money after he died, he wanted to use his money now when they could share the enjoyment of what it could provide. Shrewd.
We don’t like to talk about money in church. Why is that? Is it because it has a greater control over all of us than we would like to admit? That which is essentially neutral has taken on a life of its own. It has awesome power to control which Jesus recognized and still continues to be true today. Money is to be a tool and not a master. It has no value in itself, it takes on value, negative or positive, according to how we use it.
One writer says that there is a kind of piety based on what might be called dinky-ism. The dinkier it is the more Christian it is bound to be. Many people think that dinky-ness is next to godliness.
Garrison Keillor writes about growing up in a home filled with Christian devotion. He says that one of the cardinal rules of being a Christian was that you always bought the cheapest brand. And whenever you ate in a restaurant, you always ordered the cheapest thing on the menu. The same thing applied to church, he says. The small congregation in Lake Wobegon did not go for pricey things like churches with high vaulted ceilings, fancy vestments, and more candles around the altar that at a birthday party for an octogenarian. He says he grew up envying the Catholics and Father Emil for their extravagant displays of ecclesiastical finery. There were many times, he admits, when he wished that just once his own church would cut loose from its pietism and something really outlandish.