I’m gonna be honest with y’all:
I have no clue what’s going on in this parable.
It is baffling.
This is a story
About a wealthy man
Whose accountant is embezzling from him.
He decides to fire this accountant,
And rightly so,
But gives him advance warning, I guess?
So during his notice period,
This accountant goes around to all the guys
Who owe the rich man money,
And tells them to rewrite their contracts
Saying they will pay back to the rich man
Less than they actually borrowed.
When the rich man finds out,
He says to this thief,
“Good job! You have done well.”
And then Jesus says to his disciples,
“Good job! Do like this manager.”
I mean, what?
I always start my sermon preparation with a series of questions about the section I plan to preach.
One of these is “what function is this text designed to serve?”
Last Monday, I wrote in my notes,
“To be honest, I have no idea.”
Commentaries were no help.
One footnote read,
“The parable defies any fully satisfactory explanation.”
I guess we can just opt out
Of wrestling with the hard passages
In a published commentary
That costs hundreds of dollars.
I guess we can just skip the sections
That are hard to make sense of.
That don’t match our pre-conceived notions
About what God might be teaching.
I mean, if you think preparing this sermon was hard,
Just wait until you hear the Kids’ Talk!
“Lying is good, kids! Jesus said so!”
I mean …….
But here’s the thing: we can’t skip the hard passages.
We can’t ignore the parables that go against the grain.
We can’t smooth out
What the Scripture has left rough
Because it conflicts with what we imagine we know about Jesus.
So I started thinking.
If we assume, as we usually do,
That the rich man represents God,
What if the dishonest manager is the people who work for God?
The Church, basically.
If we look at it that way,
What might this parable be saying?
Assuming that Jesus doesn’t actually think that lying is good,
What might he be trying to tell us,
In our work for God,
In this story that defies a fully satisfactory explanation?
I think he might be telling us that
God’s wealth is meant
To be squandered.
We talked about this back in Lent
When we heard the story we skipped over between last week and this week.
The story of the Prodigal Son.
The son who took his father’s money
And squandered it.
The Greek word that we translate as “squandered”
Literally means “living without saving.”
Not putting anything by for a rainy day.
Giving absolutely everything away.
And when I think about who God is
And how God works,
That is exactly what I picture.
A God who holds nothing back.
A God who spends every penny he has
In order to be in relationship with us.
He’s not a prudent saver.
He’s not hedging his bets.
He is betting the farm
God squanders the riches of heaven and earth
For our sake.
(The dishonest manager, remember?)
Is not a place
Where wealth is squandered.
Not that we’ve got any wealth, to speak of.
But by and large,
Christians, in 2019,
Are extremely careful with our money.
We work hard to be honest managers.
Accountable to God,
And more importantly,
Or at least more immediately,
To our donors.
We make sure that not one penny is wasted.
And we set aside funds for a rainy day.
But when that rainy day arrives,
(That’d be about now, if you look at church decline figures),
We remain hesitant.
What if an even rainier day
Better not risk it.
My friends, this is not the Gospel!
Jesus did not come that we may have a careful, frugal, orderly future!
Jesus came that we might have life,
And have it abundantly.
And he squandered the riches of heaven itself,
Giving even his very own life away
As he bet big
So it’s time to start following his example.
It’s time to go out into the highways and byways,
To tell everybody
That the bill they thought was one hundred
Is now fifty.
That the hammer they’ve been living under
Because Jesus gave everything he had
In order to make it so.
And we do this not only by word,
But also by example.
Because the Jesus who bet big on us,
Is counting on us
To pay it forward.
What could we do, Good Shepherd,
If we bet big
If we squandered it all
If we took a risk
For the sake of God’s kingdom?
What abundant life
Could we offer our neighbours
If we lived without saving
And gave everything we had
To get them out from under the hammer
Even at the risk of our jobs
Even at the risk of our reputations
Even at the risk of our very own lives?
What if that’s what it means to be faithful?
To be a good steward
Of the gifts God has given us?
Not to prudently set it up in a bank account
And live off the interest,
But to spend our time, talent,
And yes, treasure,
Holding nothing back
So that others may know the God
Who holds nothing back from them.
That’s what Jesus teaches in the parable of the sower!
A sower went out to sow some seed.
He didn’t set up a committee to do a needs assessment.
He didn’t analyze the land to find the best soil.
He scattered the seed wildly.
Some of it went really poorly.
Could be considered an utter failure.
Eaten up by the birds
Or choked off at the root
Before it even had a chance.
Some of it went really fantastically well!
It produced one hundredfold
What the sower expected it would.
God’s seeds are not meant to be prudently sowed.
They are meant to be scattered wildly,
With extravagant optimism
That this squandering,
This living without saving,
This betting the farm
On an uncertain future
May produce the wealth of the eternal homes.
And so today I invite you to dream big.
To consider what God might be asking us to risk
For the sake of the wealth
That can only come
When we give it all away.
Because the God who squandered the riches of heaven itself
To come find you
Gives abundant life