Mismanaging Grace

Erasing DebtThis is an excerpt from Sunday’s sermon. The full sermon can be found here. Better yet, join us for worship! We gather each Sunday at 11am to worship together. We also have a bible study at 9:30am and a time of fellowship after worship. Directions are here.

Pentecost 18C Luke 16:1-13

“…I think that the way we hear this story depends, like a lot of Jesus’ parables do, on which character you feel you are. This is often a good way to read a parable devotionally by asking, as we’ve been doing in Sunday school the past few weeks, who am I in this story? If you are the boss, this doesn’t look at all good for you and we as listeners might find ourselves saying, “huh?” at his reaction. The manager’s actions mean you’ve lost money, and you’re already thinking you’ve been taking some kind of loss because of this shady guy. Good thing you’re firing him! Of course, that’s not what this boss says. If you are the debtors, this looks pretty good to you! This incident might mean significant financial shifts for you and your family and could greatly impact your life for the better! If you are the manager, it is fantastic because through your somewhat unorthodox maneuvers, you’ve come out on top of things! People you deal with think you’re great and you’ve managed to keep your job! WINNING!

Some of my many pre pastor jobs, those careers I had before going to seminary, were working in retail. In my time working for various companies, I saw many of my co-workers and employees either in serious jeopardy of or actually losing their jobs. The most common reaction to this was to retaliate against the company or the people in charge. This is, actually, the most common reaction people have when they believe they’ve been fired unjustly. I remember one particularly difficult time when I had to fire an employee. As soon as she knew her job was hanging in the balance, she became not only careless with company property but outright destructive. She was also verbally abusive and in the end, her behavior sealed her fate and I had to fire her even earlier than I expected. But here is what is interesting about our dishonest manager in Jesus’ story: unlike “most people”, he does not retaliate when it seems his job is in danger. He also doesn’t do what many other people do either: work extra hard and hope to keep the job. He does not seek to skim off the top of the money of his employer before he is let go and he doesn’t scurry around to make a show of hard work. Instead, he does something completely different. Instead, he forgives large portions of debt owed to his employer, not taking money for himself but simply reducing their debt in order to have those people like him better.

To help us understand this, let’s look for just a bit at what leads up to the story. Just before this little set of parables in this part of the gospel of Luke, Jesus has repeatedly offended the religious elite and brought about their very public criticism by doing a lot of things, mostly by forgiving sins. He also did a bit of healing and a few miracles, but it seems that primarily their greatest complaint against him is that he was either working on the Sabbath or that he was daring to say he, himself, forgave sins. The healings weren’t so bad really, but the audacity of him daring to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ was a complete outrage! The set of parables here depict, in many different ways, how upside down Jesus’ critics were, as they were telling him what a poor Rabbi he really was…….”

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