Scripture for this Sunday:
Jeremiah 8.18—9.1; Psalm 79.1–9; 1 Timothy 2.1–7; Luke 16.1–13
So, let’s consider the parable offered by Jesus about the dishonest manager (or was he ‘shrewd?’!) and ask whether it doesn’t matter if we are dishonest, as long as the church benefits. Is that even a serious question?
Raised in the rabbinical tradition, Jesus would have been inclined not only to teach but to challenge; sometimes to make a concrete point with a parable, sometimes to provoke thought. In this case, we might surmise that Luke records parallel conversations that Jesus has with his disciples (who, flawed though they may have been, were not generally dishonest) and others around who are specifically described in terms of their bad practice. In the latter case, Jesus may well have been encouraging them to think about how to redeem themselves from dishonest practice, and channelling ill-gotten gains into building goodwill might not be such a bad idea.
As for us, how many of us can be truly sure that our income – our prosperity – is derived wholly from ethical sources? It is not easy in a world of managed investments. Nor do we always pay attention to the sources of our prosperity – wherein we live in a sort of second form of post-industrial revolution in which instead of prospering through the availability of cheap goods from sweatshops in our own countries, we have simply exported the sweatshops to (mostly) third world countries.
There is another aspect of this in the parable, which comes immediately after the prodigal son parable in Luke’s gospel and shares an unusual Greek verb with it, which is translated as “squander.” Both the prodigal son and the manager are described as squandering resources entrusted to them.
Not only should this stop us in our tracks to ask ourselves when and what we might have been squandering – not just money, but energy, time, love, even life itself. And then to wonder whether, like the manager in the parable, we might just try to redeem ourselves by doing some more squandering in the common good. Isn’t that what the father of the prodigal son does when his son returns?
What Jesus demonstrated is a shift of focus from economics of self to social justice, from personal household to community. If we are going to squander – and we will – then it’s time to handle it as the overflow of God’s abundant grace: to scatter it freely, to the end of making friends and setting people free – just as God does with grace. And – something to ponder – did Jesus squander his life, for the benefit of a lot more than goodwill?