Gospel lesson and Pastor Richard Pokora’s sermon from Sunday, September 18, 2022
Message from September 18 by Pastor Pokora
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
Most commentaries or sermons about today’s gospel, the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-13; Proper 20, Year C), either begin with or quickly make the point that is it just a strange and difficult text; and it is. It doesn’t make sense. A dishonest employee is commended by his boss? That’s not how we want the world to be. That’s not what we teach our kids. That’s not what we expect Jesus to say or encourage. So, I want to begin somewhere else. I want to begin with something that, while not necessarily easier, is a bit more understandable and familiar.
“Give me an accounting of your management,” the master said to his manager. We’ve all heard those words. It may not have been those exact words but at some time in our life, probably many times, an accounting has been demanded.
No one likes to have to give an accounting. We’re pretty private about our books. Not only do we not want others to see the balance, sometimes we do not want to see the balance. We do not want to face and deal with that reality. But that’s what this accounting asks of us.
You see the accounting demanded of this manager, just like the ones demanded of us, is really an accounting of his life. It asks us to open the books of our life and examine, audit, what we are doing with our life and who we are serving. It raises important questions. What are we doing with the resources, assets, and gifts entrusted to us? Think about all we have. Time. Money. Ideas, dreams, and hopes. Passions and concerns. People and relationships. Love, compassion, forgiveness, mercy. Talents and abilities. Questions and curiosities. What if we were to give an accounting of our management of these? What would our books look like? What do they reveal about us? Where, how, on whom are we spending and investing these assets?
These aren’t just questions to be answered individually. There is also a communal or corporate accounting of our management to be given. What would it look like for America to account for its management? Would do the books and balances say about our national life? What about globally and internationally? What do the world’s books say about humanity? At every level people are trying to serve two masters. And it just doesn’t work. Look at the last couple of weeks: Egypt, Syria, murders in the U.S. Navy Yard, bombing an Anglican church in Pakistan, hostages and executions in Nairobi. We can’t go on like this. Something has to change.
Today’s gospel calls us to account for our management of all that we are and all that we have. The demand for an accounting often sounds like someone is in trouble. That’s how today’s parable begins. The manager has been charged with squandering his master’s property. He going to be fired. He will lose his job, income, reputation, and status. A part of him is dying. At some level he will lose his life as he now knows it.
Whether we’ve lived it, heard it from a friend or colleague, or read it in the news, it’s a familiar story. Somebody has been bad. They’ve been caught. Now they’re going to get what they deserve. That’s how the world works. That’s what we expect. But that’s not how the kingdom of God works, and parables rarely give us what we expect. So, we ought not be too quick to come to a final or definitive interpretation of this parable. We cannot with ease or confidence declare who, if any one in particular, each character represents: God, Jesus, or us. The parable offers ambiguity and tension not a neat resolution and that feels a lot like real life.
Maybe this story and the manager in particular is simply a picture of that ambiguity and tension. It is a picture that probably looks very familiar to most of us, a picture of the tension and ambiguity in our own lives, struggles, and decisions. There is even some ambiguity in labeling this man as the “dishonest manager.” What does that mean, the “dishonest manager?”
Maybe the label of dishonest isn’t what we think it is. Maybe it is less a declaration about the manager and more a description of his relationship to his master. First, we have no details of what this man did or did not do to be charged with squandering and to be fired or whether the charges are even valid. Second, while the word that is translated as “dishonest” can refer to a particular action or wrongdoing it can also mean the quality of unrighteousness. In that sense the manager’s relationship with his master is not right. It’s broken, impaired, out of sync. Perhaps the manager has chosen self-interest, self-loyalty, and self-serving over interest in, loyalty to, and service of his master. That can happen quickly and easily to any of us. This manager then is the face and image for Jesus’s words, “You cannot serve two masters”
Since we don’t know a lot about this guy or what he did maybe we can shift our focus a bit. Instead of trying to audit his books maybe we ought to examine our own books. Instead of being shocked that this “dishonest manager” is commended maybe we can see precedent, hope, and possibilities for our commendation. The accounting that should have been the manager’s ruin became the starting point for a new life, new relationships, and a new home. Grace hid in the demand for an accounting, waiting to be discovered and claimed. The accounting demanded of this manager was an ending and a new beginning, a death and a resurrection.
While the master may have wanted an audit of past numbers and transactions the manager saw that his old life was empty, bankrupt. New life would be seen only by looking forward. New life would be found only by being and doing differently. The manager claimed for himself the grace hidden in his master’s demand for an accounting, and he was commended. If the “dishonest manager” can be commended, why not me? Why not you?
Here’s a crazy idea. What if the accounting asked of us is never complete, the books are never closed and the bottom line is never tallied, until there is new life, until there is a commendation? What if the accounting is not about finding wrongdoing but new life? What if it’s about grace rather than punishment? That certainly changes our usual understanding of an accounting but isn’t that what parables are supposed to do? They change the way we see and understand. If a parable makes sense, we’ve probably missed the point.
The accounting of our management isn’t about numbers, wrongdoing, or punishment but about helping us see and orient our lives in a new direction. It opens us to new possibilities. It points us to our eternal home.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.