Summary: The parable of the dishonest manager asks us to reflect on whether or not we as Christians are as willing to take drastic action for Christ as non-believers are to care for themselves.
Needed: Drastic Action
September 23, 2007
I don’t know how many of you have ever been fired from a job, but I have. It is not a pleasant experience. In January of 1978, during my first year of seminary, I was hired by North Presbyterian Church in Denver to be their Youth Director. The previous guy was moving back home to Ohio.
I should have known from the outset that this was going to be a tough place. At that time, the Presbyterian Church was embroiled in controversy over the issue of the ordination of homosexuals. As it so happened, the professor of Christian ethics at my seminary was a Presbyterian and had recently written an article for one of their national publications in which he argued for the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the church. That hit the news big-time and he was featured in both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News.
During my interview at the church, one of the members of the committee questioned my faith and wondered how I could be a Christian and still attend this seminary. That member’s negative vote didn’t cost me the job – yet – but it went downhill from there. I began that position with a whole lot of suspicion and baggage that I didn’t deserve, yet had to carry.
However unfair that might have been, I was finally fired after a year for performance related issues which, I probably deserved. The guy I followed was an honestly great youth pastor. He loved kids, was incredibly outgoing, could talk to anybody at any time, and really related well with all ages of people.
You’ve known me now for a little over three years and you know how introverted I am. You know how difficult I sometimes find it to just sit and chat. I don’t chat very well. I don’t hold hands very well. That is something with which I have struggled all the years of my ministry. On this job in Denver, I honestly couldn’t measure up to the expectations that the church had for me. They had a need for somebody like the guy that just left. I didn’t and couldn’t measure up. I honestly understood why they had to let me go.
The senior pastor was a very gracious and kind man. He secured a month’s severance pay for me and wished me well in my remaining years in school and my future ministry. But that didn’t make any of it easy to take. I was depressed. I was worried because I was getting academic credit for this job, and now I would not be able to complete the requirements for my field education. I wondered if I had made a mistake coming to seminary in the first place. It’s tough to get fired.
That is the situation in which the manager in the parable for today found himself. He had some real performance related issues that required some drastic action on the part of his employer. Of all the parables in the gospel, this one is perhaps the most difficult to understand. One commentator I read this week said that this parable has about as many interpretations as there are interpreters. The difficulty revolves around the discomfort of Jesus seeming to praise dishonesty.
Part of the problem stems from the difficulty of deciding exactly where the parable ends. If it ends at verse 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’” - then verse 8 would be Jesus talking.
Verse 8 says, “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.” If that verse is the end of the parable, then it would be the rich man, the manager’s boss, who is talking.
The biblical scholar, John Dominic Crossan, who I mentioned in last week’s message, believes that verse 8 is Jesus talking. Apparently however, there is more of a consensus that verse 8 is the rich man talking. That way, we don’t have the problem of having Jesus directly praising the dishonest servant.
Here’s what happens. The manager for the operations of a rich farmer was found to be squandering his boss’s resources. The boss called him to account and asked for a financial statement. The dishonest manager knew that he had been caught and had to figure out a way to save himself from his predicament. He didn’t know what he would do without this job because he wasn’t strong enough to dig and was too proud to beg.