You really have to watch the managers of your property. They might actually have your best interests at heart.
What are we to make of this parable that Jesus tells us in this week’s Gospel. The story begins with this rich man who was powerful enough to have a steward, a sort of “manager,” of his business affairs. Apparently, someone complained to the rich man that this manager was being less than prudent with the owner’s money and goods. I think it’s important to note that there’s nothing in the text that even implies any dishonesty or unethical business practices, nothing serious enough to call in the securities and exchange commission to investigate. It’s just that he didn’t seem to be very discriminate with the rich man’s property. Who knows, maybe he was the type of person who just can’t help but give away the store.
In any event, the owner tells his manager that his job is coming to an end, and this seems to send the manager into a kind of panic. He runs out to all the people who come under his stewardship, all the people who owe his boss something, and here is where he really gets reckless and indiscriminate in his stewardship. The steward offers to REDUCE each one of the debts as much as 50 percent!
If you can believe this, the owner actually PRAISES the steward for this behavior. You read that right. He patted him on the back. He thinks that this manager is clever, and those of us who hear this parable are left wondering why he would feel this way. We are left wondering how this could be and what does it mean. Well, it’s just a fact that sometimes to explain one story, you need to tell another story, so here it is.
Once upon a time there was a God, and this God was very rich in wisdom. This God owned the whole world, and he cared for the people in the world. So much did he want to care for them that he placed his only Son in the world to be his steward.
Now this God’s Son wasn’t much of a businessman. He didn’t ration out God’s forgiveness and compassion very conservatively, and he was terribly liberal with God’s love in general. He just threw it around like some Sower broadcasting seeds in every direction. That love fell along every imaginable path.
This God began to hear complaints about his Son’s managerial style. Some of the most righteous people in the land began to complain that he was even giving away God’s forgiveness and love to undesirables. “He even eats with sinners and riffraff,” they groaned.
This God had made it known to his Son that his stewardship was about to come to an end. The Son was on his way to Holy City of Jerusalem with some friends, and he spoke to them of his impending death that would take place there.
The Son seemed undaunted by this, however, and he just seemed to turn up the burners even more. He began to forgive debts left and right. He seemed to have no pride. He even touched unclean people, beggars, lame people, and lepers… even undeserving and unrighteous people.
By all known business standards there was nothing rational in his actions at all. He seemed to have no respect at all for fairness. In fact, he said that those undeserving and unclean people were going to make it into heaven ahead of those who kept all the laws and saw themselves as righteous!
And what did God think of all this? God actually praises his Son for these actions. One day, God’s Son climbed a high mountain with a couple of his disciples, and while they were there, his clothes turned as white as snow and a voice came from heaven. It was the voice of God and guess what the voice said: “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” God is STILL PRAISING HIS SON’S STEWARDSHIP!
I imagine God thinking to himself, “If only everyone in the world were as liberal and unscrupulous with my love. . . what a Kingdom it would be!”
I see the Parable that Jesus told in the Gospel this week as a metaphor on Jesus’ very life. Jesus wanted more than anything else to lure in people from the world that the self-righteous could only terrify and condemn! And they are still out there trying to do it today! “For God so loved the world that he sent his only son, not to condemn the world, but to save it.”
St. Paul said, in an appointed reading just last week, that he was the “foremost” of sinners. Well, that’s only because I hadn’t come along yet. When I contemplate my own sinfulness, I’m so very glad, so very thankful that God sent an unscrupulous steward into the world. Considering what I really deserve, I certainly am glad that I don’t have to face a respectable, righteous manager of world affairs. I’m still trying to figure out though, why so many Christians prefer a Jesus that is more like Judge Judy than Mother Theresa. Do they assume that by thinking this way they can pretend not to have anything damaging in their past, to be truly self-righteous with a divine right to judge others freely?
Legend has it that St. Peter was put in charge of the front gates of heaven. But I believe Jesus controls the back door, so he can sneak in those that many of the self-righteous of the world would consider undesirable and unacceptable. That’s the Jesus of free grace that I believe in with all my heart.
And so, I am forced to ask the question: “Who have I ignored or turned away, that Jesus would sneak in through the back door despite me?
When I face my judge, I certainly hope he is an unscrupulous judge, because if true justice is served, I’ll be in big trouble. I’m certain that I’m going to need quite a few of my debts reduced before it’s over. How about you?
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Frank Tortorich says
A friend told me one time when giving historical tours of the area, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.” I find this to be a good story, but the facts are that God is love. Jesus was telling those great stories of love. It is too bad the in the English language we don’t have more words for love. The Greeks have 7 different words to describe the different types of love. i.e. Love of country, love of food,and love for my wife all are different degrees of love. Bishop Spong simplified it with this phrase on how to live a good life. “love wastefully, live life fully and be the best that you can be.”
Sandra McCann says
What a refreshing new look at this parable–thank you.