land of rest

Land of Rest is a blog of Peter Jenks. Poems, quotes and photos are by Peter Jenks (unless otherwise noted or I miss noting an older post's photo) and are copyrighted, you are free to use these if you acknowledge their source.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Parable of the Unrighteous Steward

Some people do not want to know things, such as a woman I worked with did not want to know how to make coffee. If she knew how, she feared, it would be expected of her to make it at the office.
Some people just cannot know something, no matter how hard they try; I am this way with advanced mathematical formulas. Some people know more than there is to know; when I read art reviews I sometimes wonder if all the deep insights were truly meant by the artist or if they were just accidents that were overly interpreted. And sometimes we do not know something now, but hope to know more about it later.
Jesus' parable about the unjust steward (Luke 16) is one of the most challenging passages in the New Testament. I have wondered sometime whether this parable was simply a good try by Jesus that just didn't work very well. It ends with several different endings, like scribes wanting to add their understanding to it, because they felt it was too difficult or obtuse to grasp. But it is in the Bible and attributed to Jesus, and as such needs to be taken seriously.
The parable is the story of a rich man who has a steward running his affairs, the steward is charged with being dishonest. The rich man decides to fire him. The steward, who is too proud to beg and too old to dig for a living goes out and makes deals with the rich man's debtors. To one he cuts the debt in half and to another by twenty percent. In doing so he is creating a network of friends and support. The rich man commends him for his shrewdness. Then one of the most puzzling passages of scripture ensues: “For the people of this world are shrewder in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (verses 8,9). After this there is a couple of verses which are by Luke or someone puzzled by this parable adding that those who are faithful with a little are faithful with much and likewise by being
unfaithful with a little. And then another response is added to try again to understand this by saying that we cannot serve two masters, God and wealth.
If it were not for the lectionary, which schedules different passages of scripture to be read throughout the year, this passage would probably never be chosen by any preacher to be the centerpiece of a sermon.
Few commentaries have had much to say to help with this passage. And after much wrestling with this text I finally have two pieces of wisdom or insights where I feel God speaking to me.
One way is that we as Christians should not be naïve. I have a friend who is a Franciscan brother who won a lying contest; his lie was to the hypothetical situation of a Nazi officer at the door asking if there were any Jewish people in the house. My friend argued that in such cases a lie would be the best answer. Recently I heard a Christian being interviewed and asked the same question and she replied that she would tell the truth, knowing that God would work things out for the best. Being naïve to the ways of the world and evil in our midst is not always a good thing. Elsewhere Jesus encourages us to be wise as serpents, but innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). We do not offer evil back, but we do not blindly go forward tempting God with our naïveté.
Secondly, we need to have the perspective of the heavenly in order to be able to have the distance to see things in such a way that they can be appreciated and not engross us with emotion or personal hurt, and thus cloud our vision. When in an election an opponent wins, can we have the ability to appreciate what they did well or are we so caught up in the hurt that we miss such a lesson? When a family member who always seems to upend an event does it again in a new way, can we have the objective perspective to appreciate the new creative tact that this person has devised? I have people coming to me for assistance, sometimes I have had people with very good stories lead me to assist them, only to find out that they have been making the rounds and I was duped. I have become hurt and angry at such moments, but really it is because I was duped and might look bad. To be able to have a heavenly distance in my perspective that allows me to see the con when it is given and even appreciate it when it is done well, but not to be caught up in it or let it envelope me and my time.
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Collect of the Day for Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010)

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