Jesus says a lot of things that take a lifetime to understand, and perhaps this story can be included in the collection of his sayings that are just a tough nut to crack.
A rich man, Jesus says, receives a report that one of his middle managers is squandering his property, so he calls the manager into his office to hear an account of what has been happening, he relieves the manager of his post, and he demands an audit of his books.
So the manager goes home upset and distressed, trying to think to himself: What in the world can I do to fix this situation?
I have got to figure something out!
Is there some other job I could do?
Is there someone I know who would be willing to employ me?
Perhaps I could go back to school?
But in the pit of his knotted-up stomach he knows that none of that is going to work.
He has got to fix this right now, so he thinks and thinks and he makes a rash decision.
He decides the only thing he can do is to cook the books.
So he goes to the people who are in debt to the rich man, one-by-one, and sits down with them and says, “Okay, what do you owe my boss?”
One person says, “100 containers of wheat,” so the manager says, “Reduce your debt by 20%.”
Another person says, “100 jugs of oil,” so the manager says, “Cut that in half.”
His desperate behavior shows that the manager is hoping that maybe these people will remember the favor he is doing for them and take care of him when he no longer has a job.
NOW JUST IMAGINE for a moment: your cell phone rings. You recognize the number. It’s your mortgage lender calling and a representative says,
“Everything’s legal and on the up and up. Don’t worry about how. You don’t need to know all the details but I’ve moved some things around to work it out. All you need to know is that when you get your next statement in the mail, it will show you owing half of what you currently owe.”
Now, how would you feel?
Do you think that you’d tell anyone?
You might say it in a whisper, afraid that what you’ve been told is too good to be true, waiting anxiously to get that next statement from the bank to see for sure, but if it is true you’d probably couldn’t help yourself from telling people your good news.
And when you hear that this guy has lost his job, and that he did this generous thing for you on the way out the door, might you call ask him if there is anything you could do to help?
BUT NOW imagine this same scenario from the rich man’s perspective.
If you are the boss and this manager comes to show you his accounts and you see what he has done and how he has slashed the amount of money owed to you, how do you think you would respond?
Probably not like this boss!
When the boss in the story calls the manager back into his office and hears what the manager has done with his assets, he throws his head back and laughs. He just shakes it off! In fact, we’re told he congratulates him!
Listen, now, I’ve never had a business class, I’ve never worked in the corporate world, and I relish my role as an associate pastor, who almost never has to weigh in on financial matters concerning our work together, but I do know that the ending of Jesus’ story is NOT the way things work!
We expect the boss to call his lawyers, to bring the hammer and the pain, and to make this manager pay.
But he laughs and gives his manager a pat on the back.
And maybe we can laugh at ourselves a little too.
And ask if we may sometimes take ourselves a little too seriously.
We work so hard.
And we stay so busy, thinking all the while, “What would happen if I wasn’t around to do my job? Everything would fall apart!”
Maybe…for a few weeks…or even for a couple of months, but things would probably straighten out.
This story is tough nut to crack because it’s about grace…
And God’s grace is so hard to really accept.
t’s not so hard to sing about. Last week we sang: Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound! Oh and it does sound sweet, doesn’t it?
But sometimes the tough nut to crack is our hearts.
Our hearts are hard and we don’t want this ‘grace’ business to get too close to the way we really live.
We want people to earn things.
We want people to get what they deserve.
We don’t want people to believe that things should just be handed to them.
And that’s what’s so uncomfortable and frustrating about this story!
These people who were in debt to the rich man haven’t done anything to deserve to have their debt reduced, but the manager did it!
And the manager deserves punishment and hasn’t done anything worthy of reward, but he is commended!
We don’t know for sure because the text doesn’t say:
But I wonder if the way in which the manager was squandering the owner’s money in the first place is that he was keeping it all for himself.
We don’t hear anything explicit about how the manager has squandered the rich man’s property, or what that looks like that he is squandering the rich man’s property…
But what if the rich man was angry with the manager in the first place because of his lack of generosity towards the people whose debt he was managing?
What if the way the manager was squandering the rich man’s property is that he wasn’t relieving the people in debt of their burdens?
And if the rich man in this parable would have the same word for us: That if we keep our money and our things all for ourselves, that they’re as good as squandered.
Christ has made the church the place where we learn grace.
God hands us things that we don’t deserve all the time:
A body and soul, eyes and ears, hands to work, home and children, daily protection and guidance, the gift of reason and mental faculties, shoes and clothing and homes, and food and drink, mercy, forgiveness, and love.
All of this is given as a perfectly free gift…because God loves you.
The meaning of Jesus’ parable, at least in part, is that we are not the owner of our wealth, but the managers, and without God’s generosity toward us we have nothing.
And so God deserves our faithfulness and God desires for us to be good stewards of our blessings…relieving burdens, taking care of those in need, sharing what we’ve have been given to manage.
Our wealth is a blessing and a tremendous responsibility.
How do we do what’s right?
How to keep from having our property and possessions take over our hearts?
When Jesus teaches us to pray, he instructs us to ask God:
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive everyone indebted to us.
You see, that’s really the issue: On the cross Jesus gave up everything he had to free us and he wants us to be free.
He wants us to be free from the burden of our wealth, and the stress it can bring…
He wants us to be free to receive generously from God:
God’s mercy and forgiveness are for you, not because of any good you’ve done but because God is gracious.
And Jesus wants to teach us grace…
Abundant. Surprising. Grace.
Let us pray then, that when God audits our books, he will find much forgiveness, much of us giving to people better than they deserve, and that there will be a lot to laugh about.