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The Crooked Manager

Luke 16:1-13The Message (MSG)

16 1-2 Jesus said to his disciples, “There was once a rich man who had a manager. He got reports that the manager had been taking advantage of his position by running up huge personal expenses. So he called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? You’re fired. And I want a complete audit of your books.’

3-4 “The manager said to himself, ‘What am I going to do? I’ve lost my job as manager. I’m not strong enough for a laboring job, and I’m too proud to beg. . . . Ah, I’ve got a plan. Here’s what I’ll do . . . then when I’m turned out into the street, people will take me into their houses.’

“Then he went at it. One after another, he called in the people who were in debt to his master. He said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“He replied, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’

“The manager said, ‘Here, take your bill, sit down here—quick now—write fifty.’

“To the next he said, ‘And you, what do you owe?’

“He answered, ‘A hundred sacks of wheat.’

“He said, ‘Take your bill, write in eighty.’

8-9 “Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”

What a strange Gospel. It is about a manager who is afraid he is going to be fired for running up huge personal expenses. His boss tells him to do a complete audit of the books before he goes. So the manager is justifiably worried. He knows he has to think of a way to take care of himself after he no longer has a job. So, he decides to get on the good side of all the people who owe his boss money. Because maybe if he is on the good side of enough people, at least they will take him in when he no longer has a job and income. He calls each of them in and whatever they owe the manager, he tells them they only owe half or so of that. You can imagine the joy and relief of the people as they find out their debt is suddenly so much less. And you would think that the boss would be incredibly upset when he found out. But the text says that he wasn’t mad – in fact, he praised the manager! The manager knew how to look out for himself. He had street smarts.

Then Jesus goes on to tell the people gathered that he wants them to be that way as well – except in the right ways. “Using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”

He then goes on to say:

“If you’re honest in small things,     you’ll be honest in big things; If you’re a crook in small things,     you’ll be a crook in big things. If you’re not honest in small jobs,     who will put you in charge of the store? No worker can serve two bosses:     He’ll either hate the first and love the second Or adore the first and despise the second.     You can’t serve both God and the Bank.”

The interpretations of this gospel are varied, but one I saw this week that really captured my attention reflected on it in terms of balance. Karoline Lewis from Luther seminary writes, “our Gospel text for this week offers a critical corrective of our own confirmed commitments and of the church, which often seems to have an imbalanced sense of its own priorities. The point of Jesus’ story is not to bash the wealthy. Often our sermons turn too often into choosing one thing over the other: case in point, when we preach that you have to choose God over money. The Gospel is not that easy, as much as we want it to be. Jesus is not calling out the rich. Jesus is calling out our loyalties, not only to God, but also to that which in your life enables you to be who God has called you to be. That is, we are no good to God if we are not good to ourselves. Being good to ourselves is not an act of sacrifice or self-care or even self-serving — it is an act of salvation, being and existing in a way that you believe you are saved so as to make possible that others might see God’s salvation is for them.”

I thought her interpretation was important for us to consider – because that really is the heart of our Gospel for today. How do we live best with what we have been given? How do we serve God fully through each part of our lives – our relationships, our time, our resources, our talents? How do we take care of ourselves best so that we are able to best be God’s people?

There is a book called “Living Forward” by Daniel Harkavy and Michael Hyatt. This short and simple book seems to get at this idea. It encourages the reader to think about the important areas of one’s life as “accounts” and that one must spend time daily and weekly on each of these accounts in order to make a proper investment in each and see a good return in each. For instance, one can’t just expect to have a great relationship with his kids if he never invests time in them. One can’t expect to make strides financially unless she spends time working on a budget and thinking about where she wants to save and where she wants to spend. Most importantly, the book stresses that if you take time to discern the most important accounts in your life and the things and people on which you choose to invest your time, it makes your decisions easier because if they align with your goals, you fit them into your schedule. If they don’t, then let them go. The interesting thing is that even though this book is one that is from the business section, both of the authors are men of faith and so they talk openly about how number one on their list of accounts is God and so each day they make time for devotions and to pray…and taking that time helps them start the day on a firm foundation. They aren’t just scrambling after what everyone else wants them to do, they have claimed their purpose first thing and then the rest of their day flows behind that and is seen through that lens.

I think the reason that some people too often think of the word “guilt” when they think of the church is because we tend to think of it as a list of things we should do that we aren’t nearly good enough at doing. We don’t give enough. We don’t think kind enough thoughts. We don’t read the bible enough or we aren’t good enough at serving, giving our lives fully to God.

Here’s an example of that kind of thinking creeping into my own mind – Just a few days ago I was reading an article about a group of hundreds of Buddhist nuns who are biking 2,500 miles through the Himalayas to protest human trafficking. They are trained in Kung Fu and as they journey they share a message of empowerment for young girls. In areas of India and Nepal many young girls are not treated with value, are not educated, and are often sold into human trafficking. So I read about this group of 500 kung fu trained nuns biking across the Himalayas and suddenly I feel this seeping guilt – like I do nothing.

But of course I do something. God hasn’t called me to get trained in kung fu and bike across the Himalayas – at least not yet. But God has called me to be here, to pray with and for you, to think with you about matters of faith and service and how to be the church right here and in our community. Each day I get to ask, how can I be faithful in this work? And God has called me to be a mom and a wife – to love my family to the best of my ability. Each day I get to ask, how can I be faithful in this? And God has called me to take care of myself – to exercise and eat nourishing things and get enough sleep and time for reflection so that I’m healthy enough to fulfill my tasks. Each day I get to ask, how can I be faithful in this. God has called me to be a friend. To nurture the friendships I have been given and look for ways to care for them as the years pass. Each day I get to ask, how can I be faithful in this?

You see, God calls us to be faithful with what we are given – all of it. God isn’t just concerned with how much we read the Bible and how often we have our heads bowed in prayer – of course those things matter – but so does being faithful to really live the lives we have been given. Life looks so much different when we see that all of it is holy. God’s presence is found in everything, if we just open our eyes and see.

Think about your life – what matters to you? Those things matter to you for a reason. God has given you those things, those people, those projects, those possessions, those funds. So if all of them come from God, all of those things have a spark of the holy. How can you fan the spark in each of them into a flame of warmth and light?

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