Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 67; 150, Ezra 7:(1-10) 11-26, Acts 28:14b-23, Luke 16:1-13
The Parable of the Unjust Steward (or Dishonest Manager) isn’t one that gets trotted out for sermons as frequently as some of Jesus’s better known parables. Maybe this is because it differs structurally from the others, and is less obvious in its intent, though Jesus does follow it with some application.
In short, a wealthy man discovers his steward/manager has been mishandling his estate. The steward gets wind of this, so he goes to several of his master’s clients and gives them discounts on the debts they owe while he still has the power to do so. Effectively, this obligates them to him so he might call on their generosity and support after he’s fired. His master commends the steward’s clever response. Jesus then tells his disciples to also be clever with how they handle their wealth, for while unbelievers are more shrew in worldly financial matters, believers should handle wealth (which ultimately belongs to God) as a tool for serving more eternal purposes. If they can be trusted with little, flawed resources, they can be trusted not to ruin the larger, better ones.
Jesus isn’t recommending or condoning shady business practices, but he is telling us we need to deal with the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be. We don’t influence the world for the better by withdrawing from everyone and everything who don’t meet our litmus test for worthiness. If we can close the gap between where we are and where we’d like them to be by eight, fifty, or even twenty percent, we have accomplished something. In such transactions and relationships we definitely do need to cultivate some shrewdness so we don’t end up being manipulated to move beyond what it acceptable.
This balancing act is on full display in elections, where we have to balance what public policies and values we believe a candidate supports against her or his personal peccadilloes and misdeeds. If a person is on “our” team we’re inclined to excuse many flaws we might use to disparage a person on the “other” team. Each of us must decide where that tipping point is, and we should apply it without hypocrisy.
Of course the factors leading to that decision began long before we got to the voting booth. What have we tolerated or promoted that results in so many choices between less-than-great options? Are we focused on the little things of the short-term – like the steward was before he got caught – or on the larger things of the longer term – like he was when trying to secure his future? Real shrewdness lies in not selling out long term principles for short-term gains.
Whether we are making decisions about politics, health, personal relationships, finances, or most importantly our eternal souls we are doing so in a broken world. Even Christian communities with the best intentions must deal with brokenness – inside and out. Perfect choices are extremely rare, if they exist at all. God has trusted us with stewardship – not possession and not perfection – of the imperfect. Just because we can’t get one hundred percent of what we want doesn’t mean the remainder isn’t worth loving and tending. Let us live as though those accounts are coming due any minute.
Comfort: Everyone falls short of the glory of God, but we are still to love each other.
Challenge: Unless you withdraw entirely from the world, you’re going to have to compromise. Do it with mercy, love, and integrity.
Prayer: Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. (Psalm 67:4)
Discussion: When do find it difficult to compromise?
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