by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The readings for Sunday, September 22, 2013:
First Reading: Amos 8:4-7
First Reading (Semi-cont.): Jeremiah 8:18--9:1
Psalm: Psalm 113
Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 79:1-9
Second Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1-7
Gospel: Luke 16:1-13
What a strange Gospel for this week. Those of us who are inclined to read Jesus' parables as telling us something about God are left scratching our heads. Is God the rich man who rewards the dishonest steward? Surely not? Are we the dishonest steward, who collects less of a debt than his master requires? Maybe. Or maybe Jesus is trying to tell us something else.
Jesus offers many parables that tell us about God and the kingdom of God. But Jesus also gives us parables to teach us about the state of the world as it exists in its broken state, a state far from the Kingdom of God, a state that God would like to heal. This parable is likely a parable about the world, and about the dangers of putting too much store in the values of the world.
This parable tells us something about capitalism, about debt, about money, about riches. This parable warns us that if we let ourselves be bought, we'll find ourselves doing unsavory things (redeemable, sure, but unsavory nonetheless). The parable ends with Jesus giving us a strict lesson, just in case it hasn't been clear: "You cannot serve God and money." Hard to wiggle around that one.
Jesus also offers behavior lessons. We might protest that we understand how to live an ethical life.
But do we? We tell ourselves that small bad behaviors don't matter. We let ourselves get away with the white lie, the little theft. So we take a ream of paper from work--at least we haven't murdered anyone. So we lie about being sick so that we can go shopping--at least we don't cheat on our taxes. So our vacation budget is bigger than our budget for charitable contributions--we still give someting to charity, and that's more than most people do.
At least that's how we rationalize it. We let ourselves, and others, off the hook this way.
But God knows and so do we. More importantly, so do other people. We should remember that other people are always watching--not so that we can avoid punishment, but so we don't miss opportunities to minister and to witness.
Have you ever known a person who's very vocal about being a Christian, but their behavior doesn't match their professed beliefs? As I talk to people, I think that kind of hypocrisy has done more damage to the larger Church than any one big scandal. That kind of hypocrisy makes the unchurched folks resolve never to set foot in a church, no matter how drawn they are to the way of the faithful.
Jesus is clear: ". . . he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much." Jesus calls us to be on our guard, always, against the ways of the world that often rewards bad behavior. Small bad behaviors lead to larger ones, and before we know it, we've sold our very souls.
Christ commands us not to lose sight of the true riches, the riches that our society doesn't comprehend fully (or at all). We are not our paychecks. There's so much more to us than our job titles. We have been entrusted with so much. We will be judged by how well we show stewardship of those resources.