The Hardest Parable

(1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13)

Sun, Sept 18, 2016 – UBC Digby – J G White

Only our third week on Parables of Jesus in Luke, and we get to what Fr. Richard Capon called ‘The Hardest Parable.’  Jesus’ story of the dishonest manager.  I have spent a week meandering through this parable, and the comments that follow it, here in Luke 16.  I have not been able to sort it out. Jesus confuses me!

Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves.

If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?

You cannot serve both God and money.

After a while I thought of having a dialogue sermon with you… a conversation, questions and answers.  But I realized that was cheating, taking the lazy route.  It would probably be better for me to offer a dialogue sermon some week when I feel I have lots to say, have lots I know, and plenty of answers.  

After a 9 km hike yesterday – along rugged seashore and amid peaceful woods, one acquaintance who met me at the Point Prim lighthouse asked if my sermon today would be about wandering long in the woods and finding one’s way to The Lighthouse? No.

So I have wandered thru the commentaries of many a scholar, explaining this parable.  A few perspectives on the story are appealing.  Yet I still feel unsure which path I want to take, what destination I prefer, what the Spirit is saying to the Churches today with this bit of the Word.  

It has also been a heavy week of pastoral care and concern for me.  Been on the phone a lot with some folks in various messes that are a tangle to sort out.  Not to mention the usual illnesses and losses that are besetting some of our people right now.  Blazing a trail through the woods is ‘a walk in the park’ compared with finding a good path in our lives.  And at least as tricky as this hardest of Jesus’ parables.

What is the point of the parable? We may well ask.  Is the ‘moral’ one of the four or five endings here, in Luke 16?  In this Jesus story, is the point: 1 be more shrewd in your dealings?  Or, 2 make friends of unscrupulous accountants.  Or, 3 be faithful with a little and you can be faithful with a lot.  Or, 4 you can’t serve God and riches.  

There are many lessons here from Jesus, but what comes from the parable itself?  

Yesterday, twenty people starting out to walk from the Point Prim lighthouse could have each asked, ‘why am I setting out on this hike?’  There would be many answers.  None of them started the journey thinking it would be pointless.  

In our day to day lives, there are many times to ask: Why did this happen to me?  To them?  What is the point of this problem that came along?  Or of this opportunity that I took?  Or the decision I made back there?  

If Jesus’ little stories get people wondering, ‘what is the point,’ so He will also come alongside us when we ask about our own life journey.  And when we cannot see the purpose of a certain chapter in life, Christ may speak to us and say, as the people in Jeremiah’s day were told,  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (J 29:11)

The parable of the dishonest manager.  Hmmm…

Who is the good guy in the story? Who is the bad guy?  The rich man – is he good and his manager bad?  Or is the sneaky, shrewd manager the good guy?  Maybe even the debtors and the good folks in the parable?

Robert Capon’s comments on this Jesus’ parable are remarkable.  He goes so far to suggest that this sneaky steward, who gives the debtors big breaks on the bills they owe, is a Christ figure in the story.  It is a parable of grace, for the manager sort-of dies and rises from the dead – he is fired, but then is praised.  In his ‘death’ and ‘resurrection’ he raises others with him – the debtors are blessed.  And the manager is a crook, like Jesus, who did not follow all the rules and died for it.  

Well, who am I to declare this the best interpretation of Luke 16:1-10?  But it would be nice to know… who is a good guy in this parable, and who is bad?

So too in our personal lives.  In many circumstances we put a lot of energy into: Who is to blame?  Who really did what?  Why did he or she do what was done?  What punishment and result?  

I have wondered a lot this past week about two couples I know who are split up and separated at this moment – in very different ways.  In both of the two situations there have been ongoing problems.  The problems are complex.  The stories are long and convoluted.  The upset now is tremendous for these people.  And the future quite uncertain in both cases.  My heart is so concerned for each of these four people.

Who did what?  Where do we pin the blame?  Do we pick sides, and if we don’t how do we bless both?   

Perhaps the words of the apostle Paul to Timothy come into play here.  We let go of judgments and do our best for each person.  Because: God desires that everyone be saved and come to know the truth.  The one to blame God wants to save.  The one who was harmed God wants to save.  The innocent bystanders and the bad betrayers… sometimes there is a bit of both in everyone.  

The parable of the shrewd steward… What is our response to the story?  What do we do now?  Jesus has told us the parable.  Now what?  Is the ball in our court?  And how do we play along now?  

One of the Bible scholars I read talked about this story getting at the urgency of discipleship.  I guess this is about the urgency of having one’s mismanagement of life suddenly found out – and we had better do something about it, quick!  I don’t know.  That idea does not inspire me very much.

How do we respond to our story?  To the real life story around us?  What do I say?  What do I do?  What do I choose?  How do I deal with this?

Changes comes along for us like the thickening plot of a novel.  We turn the page, and must face a new challenge.  Last week, Myra’s mother Edith died, after a time of illness.  Myra and family must enter this new chapter, as they give thanks for their mother and express their sadness.  

Last week, Carolyn’s mother Avis got the call to move from her apartment into Tideview Terrace.   Another big transition for a senior.  Avis seems to have handled it with grace and such a positive attitude.  

Jesus told parables to challenge people to respond.  

And the parable of the dishonest manager gets me wondering… Can we go back and try again?  Figure out another way?  When the steward is caught in his mismanagement, he thinks quickly on his feet, and does something to change the course of his life.  As one Bible study book asked, when he cut people’s bills by 50% or 20%, was he simply giving up his own commission?  Or was he keeping secret from the debtors his being fired by his boss?  Again, I wish some wise book would just come out and tell me what this parable of Jesus means! 🙂

I will simply have to keep going back to Luke 16 for the rest of my life.  Listen to Jesus repeat this story again and again.  Sit with the Holy Spirit, and with my own experience.  And wonder.  

So it is in my life and yours.  We discover, by the grace of Jesus, ways we can go back and revisit, pray, counsel, cope, forgive, and so forth.  The troublesome chapters, the strange stories from our lives… Jesus can go back in time with us and reach into them.  There can be a second chance.  And this blesses our present, and our future days.  

Maybe the ‘hardest parable’ is the story of your life or my life.  

Because we actually live it!  It is not just a tale told to guide us.

Life is complicated; the path is not always clear before us.

Who is right and who is wrong, in all the scenarios of our living?  This ain’t clear…  to us.

What is the meaning of our life story?  

Does it have a happy ending?

If Christ has anything to do with it, He means it for good.  Your life and mine.  And what was failure He can redeem and create success.  

Here is a little story, a parable, by an old preacher, long gone.  A story about an old-fashioned man named Safed, and his wife, Ketura…  (Barton, pp. 139-141)

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