Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

by Crossings

Luke 16:1-13
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 20–Sunday Between September 18 and 24 Inclusive)
analysis by Mike Hoy

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 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.”

DIAGNOSIS: Crooked Stewards

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Mismanagement
The steward in Jesus’ parable is crooked because he failed to exercise his vocation as steward. In fact, it would seem, the steward was not only guilty of failing to collect the rent from the manager’s tenants, but that he may well have been stealing from the manager, pocketing some of the takings and blaming the tenants. Whatever the case, the fact that the manager comes for an account presupposes that accountability is part of the worldly structure–not only for the steward, but also for us. Do we make full use of what we have been given “on loan” by the Creator/Manager?

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Dishonest
The dishonesty of the steward is not so blatant as to be immediately evident. That only means that the steward has learned how to find ways to cover his tracks. The “old Adam” is quite adept at finding ways to conceal the truth. Still, the real problem of dishonesty is not in the steward’s mode of conduct, but the dishonesty about his connection to the Manager. Whose are we? That is the ultimate question which the steward fails to address.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Dismissed
There is only so much hiding, until the Manager calls us out–and calls us to “give an account of your management.” The problem is that we don’t have much of an account to give, neither by way of answer nor by way of adequate payment. We are caught in the act of poor stewardship, and we have no recourse. We are dismissed, and with divine displeasure.

PROGNOSIS: Crossed Stewards

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: The True Riches, Giving an Account for Us
What Jesus brings to us when our books don’t balance is his own self–“the true riches” (v.11). Indeed, Jesus is comparable to the steward in his own parable–for Jesus was not above using all kinds of worldly imagery to describe his bringing in the kingdom. Jesus ends up cutting the debts short for people. But when he cuts the debts in his mercy, it is not simply by 20% or even 50%–it is by 100%!

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Faithful
These true riches are “entrusted to us” in the life of faith. “Faithfulness” is comparable to “shrewdness” in this one respect–daring to trust that the riches which Jesus brings do in fact cancel the debt, and that our outstanding poor credit really is credited for the good, making us look good before the Manager–so good, in fact, that we dare to assert that we are truly his.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Serving God, not Mammon
We get to live life in this new credit that is ours in Christ by no longer being bound by our indebtedness and unrighteousness–nor being bound to anything else (like “mammon” or “property”)–but living freely bound in the righteous relationship we have with our Lord. What distinguishes this new lifestyle from the old is that now we are no longer caught in a “got” to accounting for lives; nevertheless, we do indeed “get” to serve God.


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