Debts Are Tossed

Having Words with Jesus

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Worship needs a vision that looks first to God and then to community within and then to the world beyond the walls. We are driven by the question, “How do we share this gift of faith?” We are constantly seeking ways to be a witness to the treasure we have found, to the joy we live.

Keep reading. That’s the best advice for dealing with this text. Don’t stop at verse 13. Sure, the lectionary thinks that the verses assigned are a complete story and enough context for you to craft a powerful sermon. And as usual, the lectionary is correct. There is enough here—more than enough to be honest—to preach this text powerfully and effectively. It also fits well within the idea of this series, “Having Words with Jesus.” These are difficult words that need some artful presentation to deal with the furrowed brows in the congregation after reading the assigned verses.

But keep reading anyway—at least one more verse. “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all of this, and they ridiculed him” (Luke 16:14). Uh oh. Let me hasten to insert here that this isn’t supposed to be another opportunity to hate on the Pharisees. There is far too much of that in our preaching. It’s a lazy approach and allows us to squirm out from under the gaze of the one who is calling us to examine our own hearts. Reading verse 14 is supposed to catch all of us who heard the parable of the dishonest manager. We all rolled our eyes, or raised our brows, or snorted at the hyperbole that Jesus tosses out here. So, we too ridiculed him in our own somewhat respectful way.

We too are lovers of money, more than we’d like to admit. So, this parable is one with which we all must wrestle. Let’s be honest, even the text itself wrestles with the parable. Verse 8 introduces what some commentators consider “a gloss” on the text by emphasizing the way the world is. Then verses 10 through 13 seem to be a contradiction to the very point of the text, which seemed to be to act “shrewdly.” The gospel writer (or writers/editors) stumble over Jesus’ parable just as assuredly as we do.

That is good news for us preachers. It relieves us of the responsibility of explaining what Jesus was trying to say. That is a scary proposition at the best of times. Can you imagine a sermon saying, “I think what Jesus was trying to say . . .” Yikes. If we are not explaining, what are we doing? We’re listening. We are leaning in. We are examining our hearts.

So, what is he talking about? He is talking about money in the way he always talks about money—as though it were not nearly as important as we make it out to be. We have a problem with money. As one preacher was heard to say, “We print the words ‘In God We Trust’ right on the god we trust.” We have a problem with money.

When Jesus talks about “dishonest wealth,” what does he mean? Is this business a shady operation? Are they dealing with illegal products, or are they skipping out on taxes or permits or the like? Not at all. Dishonest wealth, or “unrighteous mammon” is the currency that empire uses to do business. It is the money in your wallet right now, the money in your offering plate each week. It is the coinage of a world that is passing, making way for a new way of living, a new age of being. Dishonest wealth is that which is beholden to the way things are in a broken and sinful world.

And Jesus says to use it well: use it for the kingdom of God; use it for the kin-dom of heaven: use it for purposes it really isn’t designed for; use it to build community and to value people. Use it to rescue people rather than to enslave them. Use it to lift folks up and not push them down. Use it to give away and not to hoard.

Those are the “laws” Jesus is telling us to break. You know, the laws of money: It is getting all you can, no matter who gets hurt. It is measuring your value by how much you have. It is always desiring for more. It is, “Those who have the money make the laws.” Jesus says God has made the laws we are to live by, and they are to love God and love neighbor, even when it costs us something. He is not asking us to set up pyramid schemes or get-rich-quick schemes or to get into loan sharking. He is not asking us to engage in unscrupulous business practices to gain a following. He is saying, “Don’t use money the way it is usually used.”

Then, whether it is a gloss added later to mute the surprising message of this parable, or whether it is a part of Jesus’ explication of the process of living in this world and working for the kingdom at the same time, Jesus says that it won’t be easy, so take small steps. Learn to be faithful in the small things, the daily things, the quickly forgotten and passed-by things; and then the big things, the true riches—relationship and family and hope and joy and justice and peace—will be yours as well. Be faithful in the things that don’t really belong to you—remember “give Caesar what is Caesar’s”—then you will be faithful with what is your own. And what is your own? Your soul, your salvation, your connections, your passion for justice, and your ability to see the face of God in the other, that’s what is yours. That’s the currency of the kin-dom.

In This Series...

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C - Lectionary Planning Notes Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C - Lectionary Planning Notes Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C - Lectionary Planning Notes Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C - Lectionary Planning Notes