Contributed by John B. Hougen, Elkins Park, PA
Do you have a “to do” list? If you had the power to do whatever you want for the next week, what would you add to your list? What would you subtract?
Is God on Your List?
Everybody’s busy. Children are “driven” from one scheduled activity to another. Parents try to balance their responsibilities at work and home. Students are notoriously short of sleep because of all they pack into their lives. Churches and non-profits struggle to find people with time to volunteer. Retired people say, “I’m busier now than when I was working.”
Many of us feel that we’ve lost control over our lives. We are frustrated that we don’t have enough time for what would make our lives vibrant and marvelous. What we want to do and what is important to do get lost as we try to keep up with what we have to do.
Where is God in our busyness?
It is possible to raise our awareness of God’s presence when we are not being “religious,” even within the routine and mundane. (Monks learn to transform gardening, wine-making and other everyday work into prayer.) But, a healthy relationship with God also requires us to give God our full attention for some of our moments, some of our hours.
Today’s gospel reading (Luke 16: 1-13) challenges us to reassess our priorities. It challenges us to make our relationship with God our top priority, echoing the first of the Ten Commandments: “I am the Lord your God; … you shall have no other gods before me.”
- Are you able to devote moments or hours to “giving full attention to God” in the midst of your busy schedule? If so, how?
- How would your days and weeks be different if you put as much energy, time, and thought into your relationship with God as you put into your favorite “discretionary time” activity or your relationship with your best friend?
- In the process of challenging us to reassess our priorities, today’s Bible readings suggest that for many the pursuit of “mammon” (financial security, wealth, money, property, or profit) can distract us from the pursuit of “spiritual riches.” Discuss the pressures present in our society pushing us to prioritize getting rich. Consider advertizing, America’s obsession with competition (with its prizes of fame and fortune), society’s definition of success, and others. Does the lure of getting rich seduce Christians away from faithfulness to God?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, September 22, 2013 (Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost)
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
After reading Luke 16: 1 – 13 and before reading my reflection, discuss how this text is different from other teachings of Jesus and how it is similar….
I’m guessing you will agree with many scholars who claim that among all Jesus’ parables, this one is the most difficult to understand. It seems out of character for Jesus to praise a dishonest rascal who will do anything to “look out for number one.”
But, consider this: Jesus is talking to people of faith (in 16:1 his disciples) who would try to find a deeper meaning in Jesus’ praise of the dishonest manager. Through the Bible, Jesus speaks to all his followers including you and me. To get to the deeper meaning of the parable for us, it is helpful to identify with the characters in the story, to see where their lives connect with ours.
We can identify with the dishonest manager because we, too, are managers. God has entrusted us with the “management” of our time, our personal gifts and talents, our relationships, and – indeed – the created world. As fallible humans, we “squander” some, perhaps even most, of what God has given us. Like the manager called to give an accounting to the rich man, we stand guilty before God, charged with incompetence and carelessness in the stewardship of God’s gifts. Like the manager [and like the Prodigal Son in Luke’s previous chapter (15:21)], we can offer no excuses, and must throw ourselves on the mercy of our Judge.
It might not be obvious that, in the parable, the dishonest manager throws himself on the mercy of the landowner; but he does. If the landowner found out, as he surely would, about the manager’s criminal actions (after the landowner fired him – see verse 2), the landowner could send his disgraced employee to jail. The dishonest manager trusted that his boss would be merciful and not send him to jail, so he went ahead with his scheme to make friends and ensure he would be taken care of after his dismissal. He proceeded to cheat his employer by lowering the amounts owed to him. Those who owed money to the landowner then were indebted to the manager, and could “pay up” by giving him food and shelter when he became unemployed. (See Kenneth Bailey, Poet and Peasant, Eerdmans, 1976, 99 – 102.)
As people of faith, we know that we must rely on God’s mercy. We know that neither honest striving nor cheating the system will keep us from falling short of God’s hopes for us. We’ll never qualify on our own for intimacy with God. To enter God’s presence, we must receive God’s love poured out for us. We must first receive God’s mercy and inspiration if we are to give up self-destructive, harmful thoughts and behavior in order to “see Jesus more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly” (from “Day by Day” in Godspell). Also, we depend on God’s mercy to open the doors of an “eternal home” for us after God’s final judgment (see Luke 16:9).
So, Jesus told the parable to provoke his followers into being as concerned about their future with God as the dishonest manager was about his future after getting fired. Jesus wanted his followers to be as “creative” finding ways to be faithful to God as the manager was in ensuring he would have food and shelter.
Biblical scholars agree that Jesus’ parable ends with verse 8 in Luke 16. Verses 9 – 13 were added to clarify for later readers (including us) that Jesus did not tell the story to praise the manager’s dishonesty.
- Verse 9 is a hint that, instead, the parable has been about “eternal homes:” “life with God that begins now and is brought to perfection in the life to come.” (This phrase is from the marriage service in Evangelical Lutheran Worship; Leaders Desk Edition, p. 676.)
- Verses 10 – 13 are proverbs teaching that honesty in worldly matters is good practice for doing the right thing in our relationship with God.
- Do you agree that all of Jesus followers (including you and I) are guilty of poor stewardship of the gifts God has placed in our care?
- Share examples of when you felt drawn closer to God (forgiven, loved, and welcomed into God’s presence) in spite of your unworthiness to be there.
- What are some “shrewd and clever” ways you could manipulate your schedule in order to give more time toward the goal of “loving God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself?” (See Mark 12: 28 – 31)
Getting into the parable:
To help this passage come alive, act it out. First use a narrator and actors for each speaking part: Jesus, the rich man, the manager, two debtors, and a “wise one” to read the proverbs in verses 10 – 13. Act it out a second time using one person to read the text. Require the actors to use mime (gestures and movement) to communicate what is happening. This is a fun way to make the parable stick in your memory!
Is it a sin to be rich?
Luke 16: 1 – 13 ends with the statement that we cannot serve both God and wealth. Make a list of the temptations to stray from God’s way that confront someone striving to become rich. Make a second list of the ways a rich person can use wealth to serve God. Then compare what is on your lists with what the Bible says in 1st Timothy 6: 7 – 17. It warns Christians about the temptations of wealth, but also provides a “code of ethics” for the wealthy.
Mark your calendar:
Create a symbol that you can put on your daily calendar to remind you to give time to God.
Merciful God, help us to be good managers of our time, talents, and possessions. Forgive us when we fail. Inspire us to put You at the top of our lists. Open our eyes to your presence with us in all we do, and guide us to make time in our busy schedules for worship and service. Amen.