You have made us for your own, O Lord, and we are restless until we find our rest in you. Amen.
Well friends, I have to be honest with you….our gospel this week has frustrated me to no end. It’s just hard. And confusing. And it took me a long time to figure out what I could possibly say to you this morning that will make a difference to you this week. Just remember this: preachers preach what they need to hear. So we’re in this together!
The parable of the dishonest steward is a didactic parable—a teaching parable—and what’s so interesting about the didactic parable is that it incorporates peoples’ stories into it—like a mirror held up in front of us. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much that is redeemable in this mirror until we look a little deeper. We KNOW what Jesus teaches: the faithful, the poor, the hungry, the humble and weak….all of them, will be exhalted in the kingdom. And those who have wealth and status and full bellies will be brought low. So how is it that in our story this morning the bad guy wins AND he gets rewarded for poor behavior?! Surely we’re not to take the instruction in this gospel and run with it?? He is, as Luke says, truly “a child of this age.” He’s shrewd—another translation elsewhere in the gospel is prudent. He’s not like the children of light, those who know and understand Jesus and the kingdom.
But our steward is also lost and without a vision of larger life. What we DON’T know, until we look at the beginning of the next section of the gospel, is that the Pharisees were listening in on this didactic moment. The Pharisees, the keepers of the treasures of God, Jesus nemeses, and as Luke calls them, “the lovers of money.” Like the steward, they’ve lost their vision of what larger life looks like; they’ve traded their call to be leaders of God’s chosen in order to serve the treasures of this world instead of the kingdom. And Jesus is talking to THEM.
This story also is right in line with all the parables about lost things, which are also didactic parables, especially the story of the lost prodigal son. The unworthiness and shame felt by the son is, I think, what our steward is feeling: he says he doesn’t have the strength to work and he’s ashamed to beg. The son’s inability to change his life and return to his family—the Greek word is metanoia—seems to be the steward’s affliction as well, we just don’t hear of him returning to a family.
I’ve wondered this week about the things that lead us away from the kingdom: fear of scarcity and its sometimes resultant greed; uncertainty about how we are loved, IF we are loved, and by whom—feeling we’re just not worth God’s effort, or anyone else’s. I’ve wondered too what would have happened if the steward had gone to his wealthy boss and instead of wheeling and dealing, just confessed. Apologized? Offered to work of his own debt? But that would have required trust and vulnerability—things the steward simply didn’t have. Instead, he was ashamed and felt he lacked the strength to survive. He needed a willingness to ask for forgiveness AND a willingness to be forgiven. But he didn’t have that kind of relationship with his boss. And so I’ve wondered if he had that kind of relationship with God.
When I was twenty-four, thirty-something years ago, I made a decision that affected the rest of my life. I didn’t know it at the time, but it changed everything at that moment and would change everything beyond that moment. And it was a decision that was filled with shame and weakness for me. It took me decades—maybe even up until yesterday!—to truly understand myself as a loved, forgiven child of God.
Perhaps you too have gotten lost in your life. Perhaps we all, by virtue of our humanity, serve the ideals of this world and have lost sight of the fact that we’re supposed to be living and using our gifts in terms of an ever-lasting relationships with God. I don’t always trust God. And I think it’s a difficult thing for all of us to be truly vulnerable. But once we’ve buried our treasure—like the servant in yet another teaching parable—it becomes easier and easier to bury more, to become fearful and paralyzed.
We already have in us all we need to know ourselves are loved, forgiven children of God. In the end we must choose: fear or love. An earthly master or a heavenly one. My prayer for us is that we will know ourselves as loved, as forgiven, as beloved children of God.