Sermon for Proper 20, Year C, September 22, 2019

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1, Psalm 79:1-9, 1Timothy 2:1-7, Luke 16:1-13

        Today’s gospel parable is, to say the least, difficult.  Jesus seems to be advocating dishonest business practices.  The master, who in most parables represents God, hears charges against his manager, summons the manager and says, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.”

          The manager, then, devises a plan to insure those who owe his master, will owe him – so that when he is unemployed, they will take care of him.  Upon learning what his manager has done, the master, Jesus tells us, “commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” 

          To understand this, we must first recognize that the master in this parable does not represent God, he is, himself, a dishonest man who likely made his fortune in a similar fashion and apparently appreciates a clever scam.  Next, we need to look at what Jesus says about why the master commended his dishonest manager, “for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”  Jesus adds, “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.”

          Another word for dishonest is untruthful.   True wealth, we know from other of Jesus’ teachings, is not of this world.  True wealth is spiritual.  Thus, this parable is about what is most important – doing God’s will, rather than accumulating wealth. 

Making friends by means of dishonest wealth refers to using our money to influence others for our own gain.  And the notion that the “children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light,” refers to the amount of energy people spend on acquiring wealth, rather than seeking a closer relationship with God. 

          If we spend 1/10th of our time and money doing God’s work, that still leaves 9/10th of our time and wealth for meeting our earthly needs – food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and entertainment.  Ten percent is a tithe, less than that is considered proportionate giving. 

Not many people today tithe or intentionally give a portion of their income, instead we tend give our leftovers to the church and other chartable causes.  Our time and money go first to seeking a better life for ourselves.  If only we were, Jesus is saying, as shrewd (or devoted) in our efforts to growing in faith as we are in our efforts to eat, drink, and be merry, then our we would experience the peace that God wishes for us to experience.

          Also, when Jesus talks about being unfaithful with another’s property or wealth, he is reminding us that what we have on earth is temporary – we can’t take it with us.  The last verse makes it clear that this parable is about something that I believe we all struggle with, “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” 

          I know I struggle with putting God first and wealth second.  I may not be in a profession where I can accumulate great wealth, but I do make choices daily between serving God or serving myself.  I strive to be generous, but I have to fight my selfish tendencies.  Sometimes, I think, “I’ve given enough, someone else needs to step up and give.”  Other times it is the decision to buy something for myself today, rather than hold off until I really need it.  Delaying purchases is essential for me to have the money to support causes that serve God. 

          “You cannot serve God and wealth,” Jesus says.  I would add, we have a tendency to be selfish and are therefore unable to serve God all the time – be we can strive to do so.  We need only consider the Old Testament reading from Jeremiah to recognize this that selfishness is a problem that humans have been struggling to overcome throughout history.

Jeremiah is grieving as he speaks of how his people treat the poor.  “My joy Is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.  Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the Land; . . . For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.” 

Much later in the Book of Jeremiah, not in today’s reading, the prophet tells of the punishment the people will suffer, their exile in Babylon, and then he tells of their kingdom being restored and the new covenant God will establish with them.   As in the other books of the prophets, God’s chosen people fail to serve God again and again, but God does not give up on them.  They repent and God forgives.

That’s the unspoken good news in today’s gospel reading.  God does not expect or require perfection from us.   Jesus comes at a point in time, much like our own, where people are not serving God, but wealth and power.  And Jesus comes to teach them, and us, the path of love is what leads us to inner peace.  Thus, to find peace in this life, we must serve God, not wealth; we must be motivated by love and service, not selfishness and greed. 

Understanding this parable in this way can help us make better choices each day, the choices that will help us accumulate honest wealth.

Let us pray. 

          Lord Christ, help us daily, that we might make the choice to follow you and use our resources wisely.  Open our eyes that we might serve you and experience true life.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.