At the CLAY gathering this past August (Canadian Lutheran-Anglican Youth gathering), we did a certain exercise in the large group gathering that unnerved me. It `hit me right here.’
At one point, all 900 of us were asked to find someone we did not know; and then, to go over to that person, sit next to them; and then turn to look directly into their eyes…. and keep looking into their eyes for as long as possible, without turning away.
Believe me…. It’s hard enough to do this sort of thing with someone you know well… let alone a complete stranger!!
I found a young person I didn’t know.
And so we - complete strangers - began to look into each other’s eyes.
It was unnerving! You feel vulnerable. Exposed.
While this was happening, the leader at the front was saying something like:
“The person before you has a story, and has experienced happiness, as well as sadness, perhaps even deep hurt and pain. Who knows? Life may’ve been very hard on the person in front of you.”
As these words were being said, I noticed the slightest hint of tears welling up in my partner’s eyes.
And I wondered…. I wondered …. What’s your story?
It’s said that the eyes are the `window into the soul.’
In a sense, were peering into `each other’s souls’.
A natural connection is formed.
Two people, connecting on a human level, affirming the fact that we’re all united in our common humanity and life’s experiences – of sadness and laughter and humour - which we all go through at some point in our lives … no matter our differences in age, ethnicity, language, or religion.
It might seem at first glance, that the Gospel text today has absolutely nothing to do with what I’ve been saying about relationship and connection with others -- but, in reality, after a closer look, it actually does.
In the parable, the boss has just fired his manager for mishandling money.
And so the manager is without a job, without income, on the verge of being thrown out onto the street, penniless.
He is in a desperate situation.
In searching for a way forward, what dawns on him is the importance of his relationships with his business clients, and keeping in favour with them, not only for future job prospects, but also for the sake of life satisfaction and happiness…. So that they “may welcome” him “into their homes…”
And so he decides to do something shrewd and creative – in order to protect his relationships, and gain favour with his clients, even if it means “adjusting” some of the numbers to favour his clients.
Some interpreters of this parable remind us that in Jesus’ day under the Roman occupation in Palestine, there were essentially two classes of people: the very rich, and the very poor.
And the poor were always at the mercy of rich landlords who demanded the lion’s share of their crops, and the Roman government, who exacted exorbitant taxes from them at every turn.
The economic system therefore, was already skewed excessively and unjustly in favour of the rich.
And so, this manager, in reducing the debts of his debtors, was working positively within an overall unjust system, merely reducing an already exorbitantly, excessively high debt, making it slightly easier for the poorer debtors.
So, he was actually doing a good thing, for which, he is commended … commended for placing relationships and nurturing connections with others above squeezing as much as possible out of the poor.
Jesus tells this parable, I believe, to underscore that in the Judeo-Christian religion, loving people is the bottom line.
Quality of relationship, and caring for others, nurturing healthy connections, is the Number One priority, energy, impulse, that arises out of our love and worship of God … God whose heart is bursting with compassionate love for us.
Author and theologian Diana Butler Bass tells the touching story of what happened in an airport when she was flying from Albany, New York, to Washington D.C.
As you know, typically airports can be cold, heartless places, where everyone seems absorbed in their own rushing around, wrapped up in their private worries, nerves or plans, ignoring others around them.
This time, as passengers milled around in the gate area before boarding the plane, there sat alone at the far end of the row of seats, a middle-aged man.
He looked distraught, perhaps ill. Maybe, he needed help.
His whole demeanor was one of sorrow, and he was bent over, slumped in his chair as if falling toward the ground.
Diana walked over to him, and asking him questions and listening to him.
With deep, heavy sobs, he told her how he buried his wife that morning, and now he was going home. To nothing.
For the next half hour, he told Diana about his wife, her illness and untimely death.
The man and his wife had no children.
She had been his best friend since high school.
Their parents had all passed away.
He had taken her to be buried where they had grown up in New York State, a place they both loved.
Most of their childhood friends had moved away.
There had been no funeral, just him and a priest at a graveside to say a few prayers and good-bye.
Now, he was going home, back to work. Other than a few friends, he was alone.
Diana listened, and then went to get him some water.
On the way back, she found a flight attendant, and told her about the man and his wife, how he had buried her that day.
The flight attendant thanked her for sharing, and said `they’d take care of him.’
There were only about fifteen people on the flight that day on that small plane.
Somehow word got around, and soon everyone knew about their fellow passenger in mourning.
By the time everyone was boarding the plane, people were going out of their way to be kind to the man.
A crewmember escorted him aboard.
With courtesy and attention, they seated him at the back of the plane to be alone with this thoughts and whatever tears might come.
When they landed, some silent agreement formed between the passengers to let him exit first.
Instead of the usual rush and urgent calls on cell phones, everyone stood silently, forming two lines of respect, as he walked down the aisle toward the cabin door…
Some nodded respectfully as he passed.
One woman reached out and touched his shoulder.
When he reached the front of the plane, he turned back, and looked at everyone, to acknowledge the sympathy offered.
The pilot came out of the cockpit, and took the man’s hand, and together they descended the steps to the tarmac.
All the passengers followed in silence.
A private car, dispatched by the airline, waited there beside the plane, to deliver him home.
Relationships. Loving well. Caring well.
Jesus doesn’t want, or care about, or need us, to chase after, and have as much money as possible, as the be-all and end-all to life’s purpose.
Jesus only wants us to love well.
Not only in response to God’s deep, self-giving love for us and the world, but also because our loving has more profound, far-reaching, and positive affects in the world around us, than anyone can imagine.