Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” 3Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” 6He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” 7Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” 8And 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. 9And 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.
10 ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’
This is the Word of the God. Thanks be to God.
The manager stood there, terrified, his heart in his throat. When he’d left his wife and kids at the house on the way to work, he had wondered what this summons was going to be about. He needed this job. Thank God he wasn’t in the position of some of the people who owed his boss money, who he knew he was helping his boss take advantage of by charging them interest on their debts that was not allowed under Jewish law. But what could he do? He was just a working man, trying to feed his family.
His boss cleared his throat, interrupting the manager’s anxious, racing thoughts. “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” The heart in the manager’s throat felt like it fell right out of his body. Fired. Just like that. What was he going to say to his family when he got home? Shame, then rage at the rich man filled his body. He used to admire this guy, his boss. There had always been this lingering hope that maybe, just maybe, if he could hustle hard enough, he could ascend to his boss’ level of wealth too. At the very least, he had hoped his many years of service to his boss would mean that when lean times came, the rich man would take care of him and his family. But it looks like he had been wrong. He realizes now that that hope had been a lie. A lie that had helped him sleep through his guilt at night when he knew he was participating in the oppressive system keeping those in debt from ever getting free. A lie he had relied on to distance himself from those poor folx he visited every month to take money he knew they didn’t have. The lie that the way to true safety and security for himself and those he loved was an upward climb, a ladder he just had to work hard enough to find his place near the top.
So, now that the myth of finding security in climbing that ladder had been debunked, the just-now-fired manager had some choices to make. “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” Those faces of the folx he always collected too much money from – they were coming back to him now. He had thought he would be saved by distancing himself from them and the poverty this system trapped them in. But he realizes now that it is actually solidarity with them that will be his own pathway to freedom. When his boss’ door finally slams shut on him, perhaps it’s the doors of these other neighbors that might welcome him and his family if he can do right now what is in his power to find freedom alongside them. “Those 100 jugs of olive oil you owe?” he says to one, “Cut that bill in half. Those 100 containers of wheat you’re supposed to pay?” He says to another, “Take 20 off the price.” Theologian Nicola Torbett points out that, “The percentages by which the debts are reduced suggests that the steward is eliminating the interest on the debts. Although this does reduce the rich man’s profit, it also brings him into compliance with Jewish law, which forbids the charging of interest to begin with.” (Nicola Torbett, Liturgy that Matters – September 18, 2022 – Luke 16:1-13 – enfleshed: nourishment for collective liberation.) “I’ve got nothing to lose by betraying my boss’ exploitative practices now,” the fired manager thinks to himself as he makes a slashing pencil mark through the original debt and writes in the lower amount. He doesn’t know yet if these people who owe money will become his friends because of this – after all, he was the one staying afloat by participating in their oppression every day until today. But he knows that doing the right thing now, turning around, is a start onto a new path, a path he now believes could lead to the true safety he has been seeking, the safety found in a community of solidarity and trust.
To his surprise, a messenger shows up at his door with a note from his former boss. “Thank you,” the note reads at the top, “I’m impressed.” What on God’s green earth?! He can’t begin to know what’s going on in the rich man’s head, but he does know that his own chest isn’t so tight with the shame of oppressing others now that he has started on this new path. Could it be that his boss is having a change of heart as well, now that the manager has betrayed his quest for maximum profits? Could it be that when those being crushed under oppressive systems get free, the rest of us get free?
It says something about me that I’ve always assumed the rich man, the boss in this parable, is the stand-in character for God. But Jesus’ parables, these stories he tells to challenge and provoke us, are almost never that simple. I wonder if the God we encounter in this parable is found in the whoops of joy that were let loose when folx who owe the boss money heard that the debts that had been crushing their families were being reduced. I wonder if God is in the moment when the rich man says yes to his path being turned away from greed and towards justice, even though he wouldn’t have chosen that path for himself. And I wonder if God is in that moment when the scales tipped for the manager, when the truth that the ladder to wealth was not going to keep him safe became crystal clear and he decided to throw in his lot with the very neighbors he had been oppressing. “Perhaps this is where God is in this parable,” Nicola Torbett says, “not in the rich man but in the spaces between the wealthy, the middle management class, and the poor, who for at least a moment join together in collective liberation.” (Nicola Torbett, ibid.)
Who do you relate to in this story? If you are in the top 10% of wealth-holders in our own community, how might God be inviting you to release practices of wealth-building that oppress and find freedom in the wild joy that comes with redistributing your wealth so that everyone has enough? If you are currently living at the bottom of the oppressive system that takes and takes and takes from you, know that the God in this parable is first and foremost on your side. How might you speak up and speak out, to tell the truth about the ways a community like ours needs to do better and change our ways to show up in solidarity with you? And if you relate to that manager, caught in the middle, with systems above you that feel too big to tackle alone and people you know are being crushed below you as a way to keep you afloat, have you had that moment yet, like the dishonest manager? Where you have realized that protecting your own wealth at the expense of the poorest people in our communities is not going to keep you and your loved ones safe? If not, what’s getting in the way of that ‘come to Jesus’ moment? What are the tangible ways that Jesus is inviting you today to take a bold risk like this manager, to stick your neck out, to stop the upward climb and start the downward descent of solidarity with the very people your community doesn’t give a damn about? Beloved, it is impossible to serve wealth and serve God at the same time. And in this truth, we find God’s invitation into the grand adventure of creating a new world together. So, let’s follow this God all the way to the bottom. The Kin-dom of God is there waiting for us, just a decision away, an eternal home for every, single, last one of us, if we will just take the plunge and say yes.