1Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
10“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
I’m a really annoying person to watch a movie with. Just ask my wife. I’m the guy who tries to guess what’s going to happen. I’m the one who can’t help myself – when I hear a music cue change or notice an inconsistency in a character or feel like something is about to happen, I say it. I’m the one who tell the TV characters not to go into a room where I’m certain something bad will happen in an action or thriller. I’m the one who guesses who-dun-it in a mystery. I’m that guy. I’m annoying. But maybe the most annoying thing is that I absolutely love it when I’m wrong. I love a twist ending way more than I like knowing what will happen. I’m pretty sure that’s annoying too.
Well, we have a bunch of twists and turns in our gospel for today. We set up our gospel with three other readings that give us some clues as to what Jesus is going to tell us – Amos prophesies that the Lord will remember the greedy and bring justice for the poor. Our Psalm tells us that, although God is above all the heavens and the earth, God still stoops down to see what’s happening, picks up the weak and fallen like a mother with a young child, and lifts up the poor and broken. In Timothy, we see that this God is seen through the lens of Christ, that Jesus is the mediator and the justice maker for God. And then we get to the gospel. A twist ending to what we’ve read so far.
The twist comes in the fact that this dishonest manager becomes a shrewd, or wise, manager. There’s a transformation. But the transformation isn’t seen in him doing his job, collecting the debts for his master to get back in the master’s good graces, but instead by using the wealthy man’s potential income to build relationships; creatively using what he had been entrusted with to do something else. Faced with losing his job, his way of life, and (maybe most importantly) his security and paycheck, this manager has a few options – he could hoard and steal from his master (this would definitely land him in jail), he could adjust his outlook and say, “Well, maybe working with my hands won’t be so bad.” (he doesn’t like this option at all), or he could think creatively. He decided to be creative with his position. He creates relationships. He creates favor. And, in the end, he creates community. He is finding people to place around him to help build him up.
Faced with the prospect of losing his job and needing to look out for himself, he decides the best way to do that is to help others first. Needless to say, those whom he helped were overjoyed that their debts were decreased. But, less obvious and a little odd, is seeing the master congratulating the manager for being wise. What? That’s not justice! He just lost out on a whole bunch of potential wealth! He should be angry! He should be bringing this manager to court! He should be throwing him out into the street or into the prison! In our culture, where we see people being taken to court all the time, when the courts are inundated with lawsuits, this makes no sense. This is a big twist ending.
In telling this story, Jesus wraps up his parable by saying that we cannot serve both God and money. There is a slight disconnect there, as we first read it, but if we look at what Jesus has been doing the last few weeks, it might not be so surprising. These last few weeks, Jesus has been showing how his economics, the economics of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness, fly in the face of the values of our world. No shepherd would leave 99 sheep to search for 1, but Jesus would. No person would search for an amount of money and then throw a party with it, spending it all and more just to celebrate finding it, but Jesus would. No master in their right mind would congratulate a manager, would call a manager wise, who just gave away a bunch of his resources and earning potential, but Jesus would.
You have been given so much. You have wealth and energy and power and a voice and skills beyond your imaginations. You have been given the love and grace and mercy of Christ. God has stooped down and picked you up from the ashes. The Son of God was raised up on a cross and raised up from the grave to show you the extent of God’s care for you. Don’t worry about preserving yourself because, ultimately, you don’t do this alone. You don’t get through this life alone.
I wonder if that’s why the manager was called wise. He realized that he needed to depend on others. He realized that he couldn’t serve his resources because they weren’t really his in the first place. All he did was manage them. Instead of hoarding them, trying to sustain himself, he used what he managed to build up a community around himself. He saw how his strengths would serve those who were weaker and he saw how his weaknesses could be met by the strengths of others.
Now, I’m not going to say that he was very ethical in how he did this. I’m not going to approve or condone his tactics or his self-interested intentions. But I think he understood something that is a core component of the gospel – that you should use what you manage. You are loved and entrusted with a gift, you manage your life and resources with that in mind. You have been given God’s love, and so you share it. You have been given skills, so you use them. You have the means to ease the burdens of others, so you do it. You have weaknesses that can be met with the strengths of others, so let them.
That’s what the Church is. The Church doesn’t serve itself – its budget, its social standing, or its status quo. Instead, we, as the Church, work for justice, ease the burden of others, and think creatively to work for the building up of the community. How do I know that? Because that’s what Jesus did for you, for me, for the world.
You know, the twist ending of this gospel is a tough one to learn, but also gives us hope. If this shrewd manager can think creatively, use what he had in this way, maybe we can to. But it’s going to take risk. It’s going to take faith. And it’s going to bring us out to places and people we may not want to be or learn from. But, with God’s grace and God’s guidance, maybe we can live into this twist ending as God turns the world on its head. Amen.