In the midst of the gods, you hold judgment:
"How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?"
(adapted from Psalm 82:1-2)
Jesus told his disciples a parable about a rich man about to fire his manager who had been accused of squandering his property. I don't know if that mean incompetence or dishonesty or if it matters.
When his boss demands an accounting, the manager knows that he has no defense. And, he doesn't think he's going to be able to get a job as good as the one he has. The only prospects he sees are manual labor or begging.
Since, he doesn't want to do either of those, he comes up with an alternative plan. He summons each of his master's creditors and reduces the amount they owe. Whatever his previous shortcomings had been, this act is certainly dishonest. He has been entrusted with the care of someone else's resources, and he is misusing them to satisfy his own needs.
How are we to interpret this parable? One alternative is to assume that the boss represents God and that the manager represents the church. We treat the world and the goods in it as if they are ours. We use them for our own benefit, or we waste them without considering whose they really are. How would we react if God called us to account? How would we try to justify our decisions and our behavior?
The manager in the parable took actions that would prevent the master from getting his due. In what ways, do we that make up the church act that would limit what the world understands about God?
An employee had abused the trust of his employer and had been caught. The boss told him he was going to be fired. So, the employee figured out a way to get more of his boss's money while he could.
That story is not particularly shocking to modern readers, and I doubt it would have been then, either.
The boss's reaction, though, is surprising. Rather than having the employee sent to prison, he commends him for his shrewd actions. And, even more difficult to understand is Jesus' comment, "And 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."
It doesn't help much that commentators disagree on whether that comment was made by the boss or Jesus talking about the boss. Either way, Jesus is offering it to his disciples. We would have been more comfortable with a parable in which the dishonest employees was caught and repented and tried to pay back his boss and so on.
So, I was relieved to read the interpretation offered by Ronald Allen & Clark Williamson in their Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews. They disagree with the standard assumption that the owner in the parable is a representation of God. Rather, they propose that Jesus is using the story to "cast a negative light on some Pharisees (and other Jewish leaders)". Thus, in their view, "The dishonest manager is not a model but a foil for the Pharisees. They are as misguided as the manager."
Allen & Williams tie this parable to the one in chapter 15 of the Prodigal Son. They interpret the story of the older son resenting the acceptance of his brother as a parallel to that of some Jewish leaders who resented the inclusion of Gentiles in the early church.
In any case, I know I would be more comfortable if Luke had just left this story out altogether. I am not helped much by the commentators who try to convince me that the employee was cutting his commission out of the debt and that's what the boss was commending.
But, whether I get the intended meaning of the parable right or not, I still am grateful for verses 10-13. They sound a lot more like what I am accustomed to hearing from Jesus.
"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. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No 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."We didn't create this world; God did. We didn't create the wealth on the earth, but God has entrusted it to our care.
One troubling aspect in this psalm is that God will judge our actions.
Something else troubling is the actions that we are going to be accountable for. God is going to judge whether we
give justice to the lowly and the orphan
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute
rescue the weak and the needy
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
We need to review this checklist as we determine how our church congregation should be involved with our neighborhoods and we need to review it as we determine what each of us personally is called to do.
How far does this Bible stuff go? Should we also think about this list as we make decisions on who to vote for?
Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms.