By Rev. Heather Blais, Rector
Today’s gospel is meant to be a wake up call for followers of Jesus. Jesus turns away from the gathered crowd, and speaks directly to his disciples.
He tells them a story about an absentee landowner, the rich man; and the steward of his property, the manager.A co-worker of the manager has brought charges against the manager; claiming that the manager has been wasting the rich man’s possessions.The rich man asks for a final audit of the books, and then fires the manager.
The scene then transitions to an internal monologue of the manager. The manager’s world has been turned upside down--what is he possibly going to do? If he is fired, his reputation will go down the tubes. He considers his limited options--manual labor? Begging? No, neither of those options will do. But...he could save his own reputation, ensuring he will still be able to find decent work.
So the manager promptly begins to call the rich man’s debtors and reduces the debt of each. By reducing their debts while he is still in service to the rich man, he will gain the debtor's’ favor. The rich man will not be able to reverse his actions later without losing face with his debtors. And the manager will have acquired a debt of honor and gratitude from each debtor that will ensure their good will toward him in the future. He was one smoother operator.
The manager cheated the rich man by reducing the size of the debts. This is dishonest, unethical, and illegal. Even worse, the manager also continues to misappropriate funds—the very thing he was fired for! So why in the world would the rich man commend the manager for his actions? Verses 8-9 from The Message translation shed some light:
“Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”
The rich man praises the manager for his foresighted, shrewd actions, regardless of whether his actions are honest. The manager’s actions cast an aura of honesty and goodness on the rich man and shrewdly provides for his own future. Similarly, Jesus wants his followers to be foresighted and shrewd. The difference between the manager and ourselves, is that Jesus wants his followers to be “...smart in the same way--but for what is right” (Luke 16:9 The Message).
When we face adversity, Christ wants us to think creatively about how to survive the situation, perhaps even thrive. He reminds us that all we truly need in this life are the bare essentials. Honestly, everything else is just a distraction that keeps us from living a life in God.
Each year the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics puts out a study of how Americans spend their money. This information is helpful in gaining a glimpse into American life, and our priorities. In 2015, the average annual expenditures per household was approximately $50,486.
After costs associated with housing (33.9%), transportation (17%), food (12.8%), personal insurance and pensions (11.1%), and health care (5.9%) is entertainment at 5.6%. Entertainment costs included audio and visual equipment and services; pets, toys, hobbies and playground equipment; fees and admissions; and other entertainment spending.
After entertainment it gets interesting: apparel (3.6%), then charitable cash contributions (3.4%), then education (2.1%), miscellaneous (1.7%), personal care (1.2%), alcohol (.9%), tobacco (.6%), and last, but Lord help us, not least, is reading at (.2%). I think an argument could be made that some of our priorities as a society are a bit askew.
Now, look, I am not calling for Christians everywhere to give up their Netflix, pets, or toys. What I am trying to say, is in the context of our faith, we have to prayerfully consider what our priorities are. Have you ever sat down with your monthly budget on a regular basis and analyzed your spending? If you did, what were your priorities based on your spending? I know this is a practice Jason and I follow, and we have yet to sit down together and not discovered ways where our spending was out of sync with the priorities are faith calls us to. We always leave the conservation with a returned sense of purpose in how we spend our resources based on our faith, and we strive to do better.
This gospel is a stark reminder what precious little time we have in this life and Christ’s call of us to live a life in God-smartly. I would invite you this next week to pray on the questions that this Gospel lesson stirs up: How are we going to spend our time? What are we going to do with our talents? What will we do with whatever wealth we have? Who comes first, ourselves or God? What master do we serve? Amen.
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