Sermon 17 Pentecost Yr C

17 Pentecost Yr C, 19/09/2010

Lk 16:1-13

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“The dishonest, yet shrewd manager”

I must confess, I am troubled by today’s gospel parable. Down through the centuries, right up to the present day, many other preachers and biblical scholars have been troubled by this parable too. I think it is the hardest parable that Jesus ever told. We have a master who calls on the carpet a manager who has been cheating on his master. The master fires him and demands an audit of the books. The dishonest manager, now in crisis mode, does not fold his arms in paralysed despair and helplessness. No! Rather, he spends every ounce of his energy on planning his future. The guy is a crook, he is unethical, and thinks only of himself. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to like such a scoundrel. If justice were served, he should be convicted of fraud and go to jail. However, that’s not what happens. I don’t know about you, but I find that Jesus shocks us into reality when at the end of the parable the dishonest manager is commended by his master for his shrewd business practices. The unethical scoundrel is praised for his worldly wisdom, his business smarts. In the words of the Good News Bible: “the master of this dishonest manager praised him for doing such a shrewd thing; because the people of this world are much more shrewd in handling their affairs than the people who belong to the light.”

   In other words, I guess there are things that the people of God can learn from crooks! So, even though we may be shocked, offended, and even angry at this dishonest manager—let’s set aside our shock, offense and anger and see if we can learn what Jesus is trying to teach us here.

   For starters, the children of this world might teach the children of light something about single-mindedness. The dishonest manager knows what he wants—money, comfort, security. He is single-minded in his focus on these things. His goal is clear and he is willing to spend all of his energies to reach it. You may be familiar with the old adage: “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” Not this chap—he goes all out to make his plan and carefully, calculatingly executes it.

   What about us followers of Jesus? Do we have the single-mindedness of this chap? Or, does the Church get too side-tracked with non-essentials, wasting time, energy and resources on matters of lesser importance, instead of focussing on the essentials like, for example, spreading the Gospel in word and deed to the ends of the earth?

   The story is told of a man so dedicated to golf that he spends hours perfecting his swing and improving his putting. He becomes totally devoted to golf. Would that more Christians become totally devoted to the reading and study of the Bible, worship on Sundays, daily prayers and deeds of loving kindness.

   Another thing we can learn from this dishonest manager and the children of this world is the capacity to be creative and resourceful. The manager was certainly unethical and selfish. Yet he had considerable creativity and resourcefulness. He hatches quite a scheme. Notice how he displays a lot of worldly wisdom in his approach to the two debtors. He does not say to them in a blunt, confronting way: “Pay up or suffer the consequences!” Even though he likely knew how much debt they owed the master; he does not tell them what they owe; rather he asks them how much they owe. Worldly wisdom teaches that people are more likely to respond in a positive way if they are asked such things rather than told them. In asking the debtors how much they owed the master; the manager is giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are telling the truth and treating them with civility not scorning them out. He is providing a win-win method of communication with the debtors.

   What about us Christians? How can we learn to be more creative and resourceful? I think we can learn this from folks like, for example, the apostle Paul. You remember that on one occasion he said this of himself and his ministry: “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” Paul was quite creative and resourceful at times—dancing to the beat of a different drum than other Christian leaders. He was criticised for it and terribly misunderstood. Yet Christ blessed Paul’s bold creativity and resourcefulness on several occasions as he travelled far and wide preaching the Gospel and establishing many congregations. Christ wants to and does bless Christians today too who are willing to be creative and resourceful. So that’s why today there are Christian musicians and artists who have inspired the whole Church with their gifts of creativity; and much resourcefulness is being used by Christians knowledgeable in technology and computers to do some amazing Bible translation work, which enables the Church to reach people in their own mother tongues who have not been reached before.

   Another thing we can learn from this dishonest manager and worldly wise people is the importance of planning for the future and having a vision for the future. The dishonest manager was very proactive in planning and visioning his future. He might have been content to stay in the present or felt unable to see any future because of being fired by his master. He might have said to himself: “I have no future, all is lost.” However that was not the case. Rather, he looks ahead, not behind. Right away he says to himself that he does not want a future where he is digging ditches or begging on the streets. No, that is not going to happen to him.

   The dishonest manager doesn’t waste a moment. He acts immediately, hatching his plan to build bridges with the master’s debtors by asking them to pay, in the case of one only half the amount owed, and in the case of the other eighty percent of the amount owed.

   Now let’s be clear here, I’m not telling you to be dishonest in planning the future. I do not think the Church should practice dishonest, unethical means to reach future ends. However, what I am saying; and I believe what Jesus is teaching us here is that the Church has the potential to be blessed in many ways by faithful Christians being proactive in planning and visioning for the future. If a dishonest manager works so diligently in planning his future; how much more diligently do the followers of Jesus work to plan for the future of the Church. If Christianity is true; if what we have been given by God, through Christ, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is life’s most valuable treasure and of eternal worth; then how do we plan and vision for the future to ensure that there is a future for the Church? Of course the ultimate future is in God’s hands. By his grace we can plan and vision for that future with enthusiasm and hope, since we trust that we shall be a part of the future; when his kingdom shall come in all of its fullness. Amen.

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About dimlamp
I am, among other things, a sojourner, a sinner-saint, a baptized, life-long learner and follower of Jesus, and Lutheran pastor. Dim Lamp: dimlamp.wordpress.com gwh photos: gwhphotos.wordpress.com

7 Responses to Sermon 17 Pentecost Yr C

  1. Thanks for this, Garth! I’ve been struggling with this text, and your comments, plus those of some others, have given me a framework for a sermon on this challenging text.
    Matthew Diegel, Pastor
    Our Saviour’s-Immanuel ELCIC Lutheran Parish,
    Thunder Bay, ON

  2. greg kjos says:

    Well written Garth. Quality exegesis and practical and life transforming application.

  3. dimlamp says:

    Thanks for your comments Matthew and Greg. Yes, it is certainly a challenging pericope. Good to hear from you both. I wish you both God’s blessings in your respective ministries.

  4. Corrine says:

    Thank you for your wisdom, Garth. I have been wrestling with this text all week. What if we were as creative as the Lehman brothers in pursuing the justice and mercy of the kingdom? Peace to you and your ministry, and thank you again for your faithfulness.

  5. DimLamp says:

    Corrine, blessings and peace to you and your ministry too.

  6. Bob Rainis says:

    Thank you for this…..and yet, I still am unsettled with the parable……maybe the early Church knew what Jesus was getting at…….or, this parable got in the Gospel by mistake……..either way, it is a tough one to preach……….

  7. dimlamp says:

    I agree, thanks for your comment.

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