The Dishonest Steward – Br. Jim Woodrum

Today’s gospel lesson is a rather odd parable that Jesus tells his disciples. For the most part the manager in this story is embezzling his boss’s money and he gets found out. And so his employer fires him and the man then worries about what people will think of him and where he will find a job in the future with this on his record. So far the actions of the employer and the subsequent anxiety of the former manager are no surprise to us. What happens next is probably even LESS surprising: the man, before the news of his unemployment is made known attempts a manipulative cover-up which, if all goes according to his plan, will cast him in a favorable light to those who owe his former employer money, and perhaps secure him a new job. Again….no surprise, it’s as if we could see this story on the front page of the Boston Globe.

What we probably won’t see in the Globe is what happens next. Instead of taking him to the authorities, the employer praises his former manager for his shrewdness. It’s as almost as if the employer is himself a business tycoon and is saying, ‘Wow, I wish I had thought of that!’ Or maybe he did do that on his climb up the business ladder (only without getting caught).

So what do tycoons, embezzlers, and bribe takers have to teach us? Jesus says “And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” What are we to make of this?

I’d like to propose that Jesus is the employer and we are the ones managing his business here on earth. The opening collect we prayed a few moments ago says “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires are known and from you no secrets are hid.” Just like the employer in the parable, Jesus knows what we are up to. Not only does he know the ways we come up short in life: our jealousy, anger, resentment, guilt, fear; he also knows our capacities for love, understanding, forgiveness, compassion, and encouragement. What Jesus is asking us in this parable is: How will we be shrewd or savvy in managing his business here on earth? What is Jesus’ business? Is it jealousy, anger, resentment, guilt, fear? Or does he deal in love, understanding, forgiveness, compassion, and encouragement?

As children of the light we have the opportunity to either squander God’s riches or to capitalize on them by being ministers of God’s light, life, and love for all people. That might begin with forgiving someone we’re angry with or simply saying ‘I’m sorry’ to someone we’ve offended. It could look like a ‘thank-you’ offered to someone doing a thankless job. Maybe it should begin with being a little more forgiving and easy going on ourselves….truth be told, sometimes we are the poorest people we know.

What is Jesus’ business and how are you managing it?

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  1. Jean de Jong on November 13, 2017 at 17:23

    Jim I loved this homily it really spoke to me today >

  2. Cyndy on November 13, 2017 at 12:55

    Thank you for your analysis of this very awkward parable. I thin it is spot on!

  3. margo fletcher on November 13, 2017 at 11:29

    Dear Br. Jim, I love the photograph.
    I’m not so sure about Jesus not being in the anger business! I seem to remember tables being overturned and people being driven from the institutional building. Righteous indignation was still anger and anger has its place in following the Christ. Margo

  4. rev. carol carlson on November 13, 2017 at 11:11

    When I preach on this parable, I’m usually discouraged by the obtuseness of the commentary on it in the ‘resources’ I might consult – as if the idea of Jesus making a GOOD example of a crook is so scandalous that people seem to just refuse to take it in. I think it sounds exactly like Jesus – proposing one more off-the-wall example to shake up our thinking and soften us up for the surprising demands of the Kingdom. Your commentary, Br. Jim, does a lot less violence to the text than most others – thanks. You’ve hit on the key to understanding, it seems to me. The steward has been working with somebody else’s resources all this time, and he’s botched the job. He’s about to come under judgment for those actions. He desperately needs to construct a future for himself with ‘friends’ in the places he’s heading toward. I usually ask a congregation at this point: Who does this remind you of? They almost always are able to answer quickly: US. Where we are heading is a little different from the steward’s destination; but we hope it’s to the ‘heavenly places’ where our ‘friends’ will be (or not be) the Lord, the saints, the angels, whose business we are, indeed, supposed to be about (and so frequently botch the job….)..

  5. Cara on November 13, 2017 at 09:42

    Well said! Great food for thought! Thankyou!

  6. Marta Engdahl on November 13, 2017 at 07:08

    This is a lovely explication of our earthly job, to heal the broken-hearted, comfort the weak, etc. It casts a whole new light on Sunday-morning (and every day and all day) worship. I will take this to heart.

  7. Clarke family on December 12, 2016 at 09:38

    This passage has puzzled me for years, and I am a puzzle and mystery story lover. So thanks for opening the door to this mysterious passage. God help me to do Your business here on earth–love, forgiveness, peacemaking, and so much more–with the wisdom of a serpent as well as gentleness of a dove.

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  9. Marilyn Bergen on November 16, 2016 at 10:22

    As a Vestry member of a declining urban church community in a very large 187 yr old building, I ask this question a lot. How are we managing Jesus’ business in this this day. Thank you for raising it in another context. I don’t have the answer, but I pray we manage Jesus’ business, rather than just a beautiful, old building. Peace! Marilyn

  10. Polly Chatfield on November 16, 2016 at 09:37

    Dear Jim,,Thank you so much for these words. The call for this week ,this month, these coming years is for community. We cannot live in community without working very hard at Jesus’s business of love, understanding, forgiveness, compassion. The daily encouragement from the Brothers is vital.

  11. Marie on November 16, 2016 at 06:34

    “What is Jesus’ business and how are you managing it?”
    Now that is an excellent question and one that I will ponder daily. For me, this question has the power to transform my heart and my daily actions. Thank you for this message!

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