Amos 8, 4-7 + Psalm 113 + 1 Timothy 2, 1-8 + Luke 16, 1-13
September 18, 2016 St Peter Church in Naples, FL
This parable is so complicated and complex that skipping over it becomes a great temptation, or at least skipping the first part and diving right into the second part. It is easy and perhaps lazy to just think this is about making a choice between spiritual things and physical things or between God and Money. It might be helpful by the way to know that the word translated here as money is not spot on when it comes to what Luke means in the original text. Luke is not referring to cash. The most accurate translation would say “Mammon” which means much more than money. It means anything of value. It could mean property as in livestock or crops or a home.
To get in touch with what Jesus is praising and with what he encourages here, we must stay with the first part of the parable. This is not simply about priorities in life or about comparative values or about how to win friends. It is not the dishonesty of this manager that gets the attention of Jesus, because some think that this may actually be a real situation that everyone knew about. What Jesus admires here and proposes as appropriate behavior for disciples is this man’s decisiveness and his quick decision to do something about his situation when he realizes that it will not last forever. There is no praise here for dishonesty or cheating. This parable is about taking action without delay when someone realizes that there will come an accounting, a time to settle up with the “rich man.”
Anyone who goes through this life thinking that there will not come a time for accounting and a time to stand before the “rich man” is a fool. The man in this parable is not foolish. For you and me, there will come a time to account for how we have managed what God has given us, not just money, but everything including this earth itself. As Pope Francis has reminded us again and again, how we treat this earth, its water, its air, its soil will be a matter for an accounting just as much as how we use all the other resources with which we have been charged and entrusted. It will not be wise to go for long fooling ourselves into thinking that God or “the rich man”, as this parable calls him, is not coming. “Give an account of your service” says this parable. “It’s going to come to an end.” There is the message, and this crooked manager shows us that a decisive action and a change in the way things are is called for. So Jesus suggests that we become clever and make some decisions quickly and wisely. This is what is praised in this parable: an awareness that an accounting is coming, and the need to change and do something about it.
In a very subtle way, the cleverness of this “manager” goes far beyond just making friends for himself. The consequence of his decision is much more than being liked by those whose debts he adjusted. Those people, especially in that culture and time would have known that such generosity was not his alone to grant. What he really ends up doing is making the “rich man” look really good and really generous, because those people would have thought that this is what the rich man wanted the manager to do. That is clever, and making God look good or look like a generous God is very smart.
So we proclaim today a Gospel that announces an accounting to come. We proclaim a Gospel that proposes a quick change from the way things have been in terms our management style, and some decisive action now on our part, for we are the managers here entrusted with quite a lot, entrusted the poor as well. What we do for them and what we do with them revealing a generous and loving God to them will gain us more in the eyes of that “rich man” than we might ever imagine.