Messianic Sarcasm?
2010-09-15 by David von Schlichten

Like most of us, I don't fully understand the story of the dishonest manager. It's often called a parable, but the text doesn't call it that. Perhaps it is just a story that says, "Here's some shrewdness that sinful people engage in. We children of light would do well to apply shrewdness to our devotion to God and proclaiming of the Good News."

Then there's the exhortation for us to make friends by means of dishonest wealth. What's that mean? Perhaps Jesus is being sarcastic. It's as if he's saying, "Sure, you go ahead and make friends with your dishonest wealth. See how far that gets you when it comes to God and eternal life. Let me know how that works for you."

Stephen Schuette and guest blogger Rina Terry do a better job of reflecting on this passage than I. Scroll down to sit in the tub with them. I don't really know what to make of this parable. Maybe I'll say that in Sunday's sermon.

What I do know is that we are to do our best to be honest and to be stewards who glorify God, including by serving those in need. The overall message of Jesus' ministry supports such conclusions.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Welcome, Rina Terry!
2010-09-14 by David Howell

A warm welcome to our returning guest blogger, Rev. Rina Terry!

The Reverend Rina Terry is currently pastor of Cape May United Methodist Church in Cape May, New Jersey.  That's Exit Zero on the Garden State Parkway.  She is a published author and former college administrator.

She spent much of her clergy career as Supervisor of Religious Services at Bayside State Prison, an adult male facility with a population of 2,400 men.

Jazz is Rev. Terry's primary spiritual discipline. 



Watch Closely
2010-09-14 by Stephen Schuette

I get the feeling that Jesus’ parable is like a magic act.  “Watch the money,” he says as the magician moves his hands.  Pay attention to the accounts, who’s getting what.  And then he steps back and wonders, “Did you get it?”  He’s trying to teach us things that are hard to simply tell.  He wants us to “discover” it ourselves from that place where wisdom rather than mere facts arise.  And since we’re slow we say, “What did that mean?”  Jesus isn’t going to tell us so we can merely understand it intellectually and then dismiss it.  That’s the power of parable.  The trick here is that it wasn’t about the money at all.  That was just smoke and mirrors.

For if we’re offended by this parable the question is, “Why?”  What is it that hooks us and prevents us from seeing what Jesus is trying to say?  Maybe Jesus is trying to get at some basic blindness and open us to a whole new way of seeing so that we finally come to terms with some of our deepest assumptions about how we value things and people  Maybe he wonders if we’re offended by grace and if so, why?

For in a world where those in power put all the emphasis on the money, making sure wealth is funneled to Rome, Jesus doesn’t fight it.  He’s consistent.  Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.  Welcome tax collectors and sinners, and eat with Zacchaeus (whose converted generosity may be helpful in pointing us to some things in this parable!).  Do not be anxious.  “Make friends,” he says.  He’s suggesting that some are lost in the magic trick and can’t see beyond the smoke and mirrors to what matters.  "Step out of it," he invites.  Their enterprise will fail because there’s no spiritual strength in it.  Their economics are out of tune with the Kingdom of God.

So what of our economics?   It raises challenging questions, doesn’t it?  Is our economic goal to pursue personal wealth with the freedom to accumulate it?  Or is the goal larger, more expansive and inclusive of the well being of all?  And I know Reagan Republicans will say, “Wait, that’s a false dichotomy.”  To which I say, “Maybe.”  Maybe it is in strict economics.  I can’t speak to that, and frankly, don’t want to get into that discussion.  One thing I do know:  I don’t want to get blinded by the smoke just when my vision was beginning to clear.  For attitudinally it is an option.  Spiritually it is a different way of living.

Finally, Luke avoids explaining this parable and thereby diluting it.  In other words he doesn’t turn it into an allegory.  In fact he shows Jesus pressing the irony of the parable further.  In vs. 11, what does it mean to be faithful in “unrighteous wealth?”  Doesn’t faithfulness in unrighteous wealth mean not to value it?   And vs. 12 continues the irony because the question would normally be asked the other way:  “Who’s going to trust you with what belongs to them if you haven’t been responsible with what’s yours?”  Could be that “mine” and “yours” is all mixed up in the Kingdom of God, and economic questions get turned upside down.  Jesus seems to be suggesting you don’t get anything unless you’re first responsible toward your neighbor.

Amazing stuff.  Almost like magic.

Lord, Have Mercy
2010-09-13 by Rina Terry

Luke 16:9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

Well, I've read the verse in several translations.  I have looked at a few sermons on the full passage.  I have consulted the commentaries.  All for naught.  No one has been able to explain away this very strange verse.  It's perverse.  Even if it's not all together criminal, it's grounds for dismissal not commendation.  Don't you want to yell, "Fire the incompetent, dishonest jerk.  File charges against him, fool!  Don't reward him!"               

I did read some thought-provoking things about how the rich man can't possible be God and the conniving manage can't possibly exemplify a Christian.  Then, it became a moral justification of how people not "of the light" admire one another's shrewdness and to be shrewd is a gift of those who live in darkness, not those who live in the light and my head began to ache.   Obviously, that didn't do it for me.   First of all, God is rich--rich in goodness, mercy, knowledge, and God's ways are not our ways--shall I say, etc.  God is so incredibly wealthy in all things that God can and does put us perpetually in the relative position of squandering much that God offers us as we  manage the gifts we receive for service.                                  

There are most likely far more righteous folks than I out there who will differ with this and, perhaps, I should be speaking only of my own pastoral inadequacy. Yet, when I have seen a colleague in real trouble, that person has done something at least related to what this frightened manager has done.  One who is in a moral dilemma with a parishioner or staff person generally seeks advice from one who has faced similar charges.  One who has dealt with the stigma of being labeled "ineffective," calls on another who weathered that accusation.  And, well, you get it, right?  Doesn't that in some ways decrease the weight of the consultant's pastoral indiscretion, or the ineffectiveness of the one accused.  You can now help me ride this out, so that boosts you from where you were. Cancels some of the debt?  

Do we assume those who are consulted have not repented, have not reformed their ways, have not received God's forgiveness.  I often hear colleagues say well, (s)he "beat the rap" and now (s)he is helping someone else "beat the rap."         

Actually, who are we to judge.  Perhaps, this rich man understood something we do not.  We are stumbling, again, over that offending gospel logic that continucally trips us up.  The way we would judge, is not the way God judges.  The way we would write the final chapter, is not the way God would write it.   We put exclamation points at the ends of our sentences and God often puts question marks? and ellipses....  

So, if I cannot be trusted with that dishonest spiritual wealth I garner from my own human shrewdness, my own particular foibles, my personal mortal screw-ups, why should I be trusted with the honest wealth that comes from the Lord of Lords?                                                  

This blog/rumination may be my exegetical/theological Molly Bloom's soliloquy; yet, often I need to get in the mud pit with gospel verses and wallow around a bit.  Fall down gasping.  Pummel the air with my fists.  When I do this with scripture, I always come out messy but smiling.  Call it one of life's strange blessings?

Sunday Sermon
2010-09-13 by Stephanie Sorge Wing

As usual, most of my thoughts ended up getting cut from the sermon, but if any are interested in reading the "final product," you can do so here:


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