This is a confusing story, let’s face it.
The ending is so shocking. So opposite to what we’d naturally expect.
This downright crooked and conniving manager swindles and mis-manages his master’s funds and property.
And, then, what does the master do?
The master “commends” this manager, appearing pleased with him, and holding him up as a praiseworthy example of shrewdness and creativity?
It seems so wrong.
What’s going on here?
And it’s even in the Bible, the Holy Scriptures, would you believe it?!?
The master’s praise of this dishonest manager goes totally against the grain of our expectations and sense of what is right and wrong, what is fair and unfair, what needs to be punished, and not.
We don’t believe this dishonest manager is getting what he deserves.
We wonder why the master is so “nice” to this fraudulent crook.
A larger question might be:
Why did Jesus tell this story in the first place?
What was he hoping to accomplish?
I think this is where the genius of Jesus and his storytelling about the Kingdom of God shows itself.
What we’re seeing here is something of the astonishing, superabundant and boundless love of God – a forgiving love that completely undercuts any typical social expectations, a grace that trumps any notion of retributive, tit-for-tat punishment, a mercy that disarms, shocks, and fills us with awe.
Jesus is using the story to begin to describe what the spiritual life is really all about.
It’s about realizing that we all, at least at one point in our lives, are like that “crooked, dishonest manager”, making mistakes and poor choices; that we’re all vulnerable and wounded in different ways.
But at the same time, it’s about God who nevertheless comes to us in our brokenness and wounded-ness;
God who doesn’t stop loving us, no matter what.
A true story of a young dad, who admitted to his pastor in spiritual direction that he was so consumed with an awareness of his sinfulness – his self-centredness, his desire for financial success, his pride.
He was really burdened by this overwhelming sense of his own weakness and vulnerability, and he wondered out loud how God could ever love him with all his faults.
The pastor knew this man and his family, and so the pastor asked if he loved his young son – a rambunctious, impetuous three-year-old. The father nodded vigorously.
The pastor asked: “Do you love your son with all his imperfections?”
The dad said through sudden tears: “I love him more because of his imperfections.”
The pastor wanted to say, well, that’s exactly the way God loves us.
But he didn’t have to. The pastor could tell that the dad understood, and got it.
Do you remember those first disciples of Jesus?
Their very obvious foibles and imperfections did not chase Jesus away. Peter even denied and betrayed Jesus. James and John had swelled egos, and argued over who was “number one.” Mary Magdalene, Thomas, and the others struggled so openly with their fears and self-doubt.
These human vulnerabilities didn’t put Jesus off, but rather, were occasion and opportunity, a beginning point, for Jesus to bring healing, restoration, and newness of being to his disciples.
Our wounds can be that very gateway through which God comes to us, and by which we’re brought closer to the healing and transformative presence of God.
I like thinking of it as though each one of us is connected to God by a string.
Every time we stop trusting God, or make a poor choice, or succumb to fears or vulnerability, we end up cutting this string, severing our connection to God.
But what does God do?
God takes the two pieces of cut string, and ties a strong knot, so that the connection is re-established.
And in doing so, the length of the string is made shorter, and we are brought a little bit closer to God.
Again and again, our sin cuts the string – but with each further knot, God keeps drawing us closer and closer.
It’s been said, that “God is closer to sinners, than to saints.”
Jesus himself basically says this earlier in Luke’s Gospel (5:31): “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
That’s an amazing reality of God.
And for us today, this reality changes the way we treat, and relate to others.
There’s more peace, understanding, a spirit of mutual care and support in our families, social circles, work places and faith communities.
We realize we’re all on the same level, struggling with our humanity, standing before the amazing healing and transformative love of God.
I just want to finish by sharing with you a true story, an observation by a university student, Robert, who one day, in the 1950s, was visiting in New York City one of the “hospitality houses” set up by Dorothy Day, a well known person of faith, who felt the need at the time to provide safe and decent housing for the unemployed and homeless.
And so Robert walked into one of these “hospitality houses”, excited and eager to meet the famous Dorothy Day.
He found her sitting at a table, talking to an older woman, who was looking dishevelled and unclean.
It sounded like this older woman was angry and ranting about something.
Dorothy Day was listening attentively, calmly, and from time to time, asking a quiet question.
This went on for a bit. Robert was waiting patiently at the side of the room.
Finally, the woman quieted down, and Dorothy got up, walked over to Robert, smiled and asked: “Are you waiting to talk with one of us?”
She didn’t say, “Ah, hello, you must be wanting to see me, the great Dorothy Day, and surely not that person over there.” Instead she said, “Are you wanting to talk with one of us?”
Robert later said, that with those four simple words – “with one of us” – Dorothy Day had cut through layers of self-importance, self-inflated ego and pride, and told him exactly who she was, who everyone is, and what Christianity was all about.
That we’re all children of God. None of us is more important than any other. All of us have equal dignity in the eyes of God, no matter what.
Our prayer is that we translate this amazing awareness to affect and transform the relationships we have with the people in our everyday, ordinary lives.