Sunday 19 September
Trinity XV Proper 20 Year C
Amos 8 1 – 7; I Tim 2: 1 – 7; Luke 16: 1 – 13
This has been a tough week for the “men in tights”. I don’t think it would be sporting for a man in a dress to add to their misery or even that of the men and women in pink hunting attire.
Though I have to say the reactionary in me was riled by the taking up of parliamentary time with a bill which is turning law-abiding honest people into reckless and misguided interlopers, when I am sure they, the police, the parliamentary security people(in tights or not) and everyone else in the sorry tale have better things to be doing with their time.
I really am puzzled about what Jesus would have to say about hunting. It is so much of an anachronistic question it would be tortuous to tease it out and not illuminating as a process, he had better things to do with his time too!
He does however leave us with quite a puzzle in the form of this morning’s gospel to day. It is a strange one, an Edwardian Scholar called Plummer said in 1910 that the writing in the 19th c alone on this parable was “voluminous and unrepaying”.
Well let’s just look at it for a moment. It is about a steward, a factor, an estate manager, call him what you will, perhaps even a huntsman! He had a position of responsibility in a rich man’s household. We hear a certain amount about such people in the parables. Possibly because from what we can tell from other NT writings, stewards or oikonomos were those with some charge in the church.
Our oikonomos had been a rogue. He had not been an effective steward. We do not what he had done, but he had to hand over his stewardship. One of the perks of his position, a bit like being a tax gatherer was that if your master leant money at interest, as the functionary who handled the deal on his behalf, he could add a proportion for himself. Of course the debts are recorded here in terms of oil and wheat, but apparently this was a common practice in those times to cover the fact that money was being leant, against the Jewish custom and law. By cutting the debt owed, he was almost certainly not doing his master out of income but himself.
When the master gets to hear about it, he is not concerned about the reduction and even impressed by the shrewdness of his departing servant.
What we are dealing with is a parable of crisis, judgement. Faced with the complete reversal of his fortunes, the worldly wise manager took vigorous, even violent action. He showed himself more shrewd than the children of light. So Jesus is saying if a self interested rascal like this has been so prepared to lose his own gains so should the children of light. They/we should be prepared to give away everything so that when the great reversal comes and the poor have their privileged places in heaven, the same poor will welcome them into the “eternal habitations” (v9).
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.
Luke is uniquely pre-disposed to the poor. They never need to be deserving or nice or kind, the poor are blessed because they are poor and theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. It is only by grasping this that we get the hang of this gospel and its uncompromising message. Jesus had only recently said “Fear not little flock, it is your father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell all your possessions and give alms, where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
At the end of the parable Jesus puts it very simply: “You cannot serve God and mammon”.
This isn’t the end: the second half of the chapter concludes with the story of Dives and Lazarus. The rich man and the poor man. In life they are divided by an unbridgeable divide. Dives cannot imagine the wretched state his neighbour is in, so Lazarus is left to eats scraps and be licked by passing dogs. In death their respective fortunes are equally unbridgeable. Lazarus is inside, this time the bosom of his father Abraham, Dives is languishing outside in Hades.
The steward took radical action, he could see the impending judgement and was prepared to take the consequences. Dives on the other hand was blind and deaf to the call to turn around, he had the chance and he blew it.
Men in tights, men in dresses, people in the pews: we’re called to a radically new way of life, that is destabilising and not to do the with the status quo, where God rules and not money: are we ready for it?
The Revd. William Gulliford