I haven't really posted in a while. It's about time I start up again, so I will leave you with this sermon.
“The Parable of the Dirty, Rotten Scroundrel”
September 23, 2007
Lake Harriet Christian Church
I remember getting up early on some school monrings to watch the cartoons on TV. Before the days of “Good Morning America,” some local stations would show kiddie fare in the early hours. I remember watching “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” “Underdog,” “Tennessee Tuxedo,” and of course, “Dudley Do-Right.” Some of them, like “Underdog,” were serials, that went over several episodes. What I remember from these cartoons are the characters, especially the villians.
“Rocky and Bullwinkle” had Boris and Natascha. “Underdog” had Riff-Raff and Simon Bar Sinister and Dudley Do-Right had Snidely Whiplash. The villians were over the top. Where the heroes were the embodiement of all that was good and true, the villains were the exact opposite. Simon Bar Sinister had this weird voice that sounded like he was perpetually inhaling. Snidley Whiplash seemed to be this odd shade of green that I guess was to tell us he was bad. Boris and Natasha had Russian sounding accents, that indicated their badness to the world.
The villians in these shows were bad to the bone, there was nothing to be learned from them except what not to do. In the end, the good guys won and the bad guys got what they so richly deserved.
Today, we read the parable about the Dishonest Manager. This has always been a puzzling parable for me, because it seems to be lifting up the manager as the hero of the story. I mean Jesus can't possibly be telling us that this crook is a hero, can he?
That's exactly what he's doing.
Let's start at the beginning. There is a rich man that owns a ton of land and has to have a manager to handle everything. So he hires this guy who is supposed to be managing his immense wealth. The manager wasn't doing that. Instead, he was taking a bit of the money on the side. Well, you can only do that for so long before you are caught, and the manager got caught. The rich man was quite upset and for good reasons. Here was a man that he hired to manage his money and instead of doing his job, the manager was embezzeling. The rich man lays down the law and tells the manager he should get ready to pack his bags.
The manager is of course scared. He is not good with his hands, so working in the fields is out. He doesn't want to beg. He knows he needs to do something and fast to save his own skin. So, he goes to those people who owe debts to the rich man. “How much do you owe?” he says to one man. “Fifty thousand dollars,” says the man. “Well, you now owe $25,000. Next!” He does this with all of the rich man's debtors. The rich man gets wind of this. Now, you think that he would be really mad right now. Not only was this weasel skimming money off the top, but he is dispensing money that isn't even his to the debtors! Instead, he honors the manager for being so shrewd. The crooked manager is now in the best of positions: he has the respect of both the rich man and the debtors.
So, what in the world is the point of this story? Why in the world is Jesus lifting up this thief?
Well, if you have heard me preaching about parables before, you know that parables should not be seen as moral tales, telling us how to live. I don't think Jesus is telling us to go out and embezzle money. Instead of a moral tale, a parable is a clue to what the kingdom of God is like.
The manager is very generous with his master's money. He is going around forgiving debts left and right. People who were worried how they were going to repay a debt, now have their debts drastically cut. The manager is a lot how some people are in this world. They may not be the nicest people in the world, but they are generous and treat people with kindness. They tend to put the church to shame. Mohondas Ghandi was not a Christian, but they way he lived life; working for justice, caring for the least of these was more Christian than his British counterparts, who were steeped in their Christianity and did not live it out. He was rumored to have said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
The God that we serve is one that is incredibly generous. It might even look wasteful to some. The famous parable of the prodigal son, shows a father whose love is so freely given, that he embarrasses himself by showing love to his wayward and scheming son. The son didn't deserve the love he was given, but the old man gave it anyway. The parable of the Sower has a man spreading seeds anywhere, not caring where they fall. God shows his love, even when God is not loved back. That is the kind of God we serve. Some people who would be called “children of the world” are more generous in how they live life than those of us so-called “children of light.” I think that is what Jesus is getting at here. The Pharisees and even the disciples, the insiders, did not understand that following God means being generous with others. The ones on the outside did get that.
How generous are we? Are we willing to forgive people of their debts? Do we welcome the strangers in our midst? Do we care for the forgotten ones? Are we stingy or generous? Are we Christians willing to be like the Christ we profess to follow?
The villain in this story becomes the hero. This scalawag shows us how we are to live our lives and about the God we serve. But that's the way it is in God's upside-down kingdom. Thanks be to God. Amen.