Monday, September 19, 2016

Pentecost 18C

Luke 16:1-13

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."

We're still in Luke's gospel. Recall how deep, wide, high and inclusive Luke's world and his gospel are. He firmly roots his narrative in the history of Israel and in the current historical setting of Roman occupied Palestine. We've also talked about Luke featuring marginalized people and women (who in that day were not society's central actors), table fellowship, reversals of social and economic status. Redistribution of goods and wealth, "distributive justice." The entire witness of scripture concerns itself about finances, economics, money, dollars, shekels, euros, legal tender... mediums of exchange that help us navigate the world and help give us stuff we need to live.

Luke, Matthew, and Mark all bring us parables. Parable? A multi-layered anecdote or situation open to more than one interpretation. Every commentator I consulted about this text had several suggestions and ideas, none of them felt there was a single conclusive meaning to the parable's characters, situation, or outcome. For one possibility, we definitely can claim the unjust steward is Jesus Christ who brings us the outrage of grace, mercy, inclusion, and forgiveness. The total loss of respectability. But unjust steward also can be parsed otherwise.

Debt and sin essentially are synonymous, the same thing, in the world of the bible. Torah forbids charging interest on a loan! Roman occupied Israel was full of indentured servants and tenant farmers, who in time would owe their soul to the company store. Pastor Peg told us about a former plantation she visited on her recent trip through the south, and how slaves who worked on the plantation actually had more personal and economic freedom as slaves than they did working the same land as freed individuals. Sara mentioned her Irish ancestors in such indebtedness over micro-parcels of land that had been subdivided a multitude of times that their descendants never would get out of debt, either. Also remember that in the setting Luke wrote about, the landowner, the steward, the manager, and Rome all take their cut.

A couple of important Lukan passages that relate to this parable:

• In Luke 1:46-55 we find Mary's Magnificat. Luke based all his canticles /psalms on songs from the Old Testament—Mary's song and Hannah's song found in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 share many similarities. Mary sings about God acting through the baby she's pregnant with: God has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts; brought down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. Filled the hungry with good things; sent the rich away empty." Done deeds!

• What is Jesus' IPO, his first act of public ministry in Luke's gospel? Luke 4:16-21 records Jesus reading in the synagogue from Isaiah 61:1-2 promising liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, the year of the Lord. Jesus tell us, "I am the Jubilee year! I am Mary's child"—the son, the baby in Mary's womb who would bring great societal and economic reversals.

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