Blogging Towards Sunday, September 19
The Clever Manager parable is widely regarded as one of the most difficult of Jesus to understand. Is he wise? Shrewd? Dishonest? How are we to interpret it? Having squandered the property of his boss (as the Prodigal Son scattered the inheritance of his father Luke 15:13) he is lauded as a good manager. Is this clever steward commended by his boss or by Jesus for having reduced the debts owed to the master? In doing so he gains favor with the indebted farmers. He makes his boss to look like a very generous benefactor. And he secures his position by earning new friends and making it nearly impossible for his boss to fire him without losing face among his grateful debtors. Jesus talks about children of the world (or this time/age), encouraging children of the light to be clever in their decision-making. It’s not about dishonesty, deceit, trickery, but rather about recognizing how things work and working in the world with a different view as the goal. It’s not just about self-preservation or self-enrichment. It’s about a wider vision of life, a world-view of Jubilee (based on Leviticus 25): a global vision of justice, inter-dependence, solidarity, and peace all both in the name of God and for God.
In our country we proclaim that we are indivisible, under one God, yet we seem far from it. Lehman Brothers is an example of both this and possibly a modern day personification of the tricky manager. While they were financially imploding, begging for federal aid, they also were preparing their golden parachutes. True they were cheats, yet they were realistic. Too often in the church we’re quite possibly too pie-in-the-sky with our heads in the sand, naively pretending that we understand what it means to live in but not of the world.
How often do we flock to a good restaurant or store, waiting in line for something in that particular spot. How often do we see similar lines outside our churches? Why do we so easily prefer and demand that places where we will spend our money to be one way while allow the church to coast on former gold-plated glories of the past? Jesus is challenging us to integrate our faith in all that we do. It’s not a matter of opposing business (or professional knowledge) and faith. It’s a question of living all of our life for God, recognizing that all our gifts come from the Divine One who calls us each by name. Maybe in the way we live our life as followers of Jesus as both individuals and as a community of faith, is too often directed by the fear of being dishonest rather than clever? Maybe we underappreciate the gifts that we’ve been given and the trust that God puts in us?
The underlying existential and faith question the parable poses is what are we doing to secure our futures? How then shall we live? I find the image I selected ironic, as risk is sought out (sarcastically) because big government (whether Republican or Democrat) will bail us out. I think Christ is calling us to risk action in a time of crisis not because we'll be bailed out if we fail, but because we fail by bailing out of the world.