Reading the Gospel text for today (Luke 16:1-13) may very well leave us feeling as flabbergasted as ripping up money. I felt appalled for the implication that we ought to be as dishonest as the shrewd manager who swindled profits from his master. I admit at first I felt offended that the manager wasn’t playing by the rules. And he’s commended for this unruly behavior!
If anything is clear in this text – is that the Christian life and the nature of the God we follow in Jesus Christ are not bound and contained by the rules of our economy. Value, truth and righteousness are not dictated by the dollar, nor by any worldly measure for that matter.
What God is about here is not adherence to any theory – whether that theory is about how the economy works, or following any laws. What God is about, is something far more precious to living.
Let’s see the principle characters in this parable – the master, the manager and the debtors – in a different light. Let’s substitute them for God the Father, Jesus, and all of us. That is, the master is God the Father, the manager is Jesus, and the debtors are you and I.
And I want to focus on the main character here – the manager from whose perspective we read most of this story. Jesus, like the manager, has a higher purpose for doing what he’s doing. On the surface, his actions don’t make sense.
God doesn’t play by the rules. Just look at the Christmas story: Jesus was conceived in a girl who was not yet married. The good news of Jesus’ birth was first announced to the low-life shepherds occupying the bottom rung of first-century Palestine’s economic and social order.
If Jesus claims he is the Son of God, the Messiah, it doesn’t make sense that in order to fulfill his destiny, he must die a criminal of the state on the cross. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t fit the expectations, the formulas, for success that any aspiring leader would meet. God doesn’t play by the rules.
There’s something here way more important for us to pay attention to, than ‘the rules’. The manager understood how to use what was entrusted to him to serve a larger purpose. Jesus, the Son of God, was given human life – a life he knew would serve a larger purpose by his sacrifice of love.
The manager forgave part of the debt owed to the master. We, as the debtors, owe God so much for our life on earth and eternal life. But we can’t do it all by ourselves. We cannot pay back to God what God did for us. We cannot earn our salvation by our good works. That is why Jesus, for our salvation, forgave us – and as a result opened to us the way of eternal life.
The master saw what his manager had done, and forgave him. Following his resurrection and ascension, Jesus returns home to sit at his Father’s right hand. Jesus is reconciled to his Father, as the manager is commended and presumably keeps his position working for the master.
What motivates the manager more than following the rules, is his relationships with the debtors. Anticipating the end of his career, he would do anything for the sake of establishing good rapport with the debtors. His motive is not snow-white, because it comes from self-interest, for sure. Yet, other options were open to him that did not involve his friendships as much. Instead, he valued his relationships, above all else.
Jesus values his relationship with you. More than making sure the rule-book is complied with. More than being a law-abiding citizen who is ‘nice’ and meets all the expectations. He is shrewd, in the sense that his passion for us will take him to the most extreme expression of absolute love and forgiveness of us.
Martin Luther regarded the Holy Communion as a most profound expression of God’s forgiveness of us in the real, true presence of Jesus. Again, Communion is not theory. It is experiencing God’s forgiveness in the love of Jesus. It is tasting, feeling, digesting. It is a most unremarkable yet remarkable meal, to which we come forward – as is the only thing we can do in response to God’s loving offer – we come forward.
That is why Martin Luther advised congregations to celebrate God’s action of forgiveness each time the assembly gathers. Who are we, to deny this wondrous act of love from anyone? – to withhold this gift anytime we meet to connect ourselves to a forgiving and gracious God? – A God who loves, forgives, believes in us and sees in each of us priceless worth?
Praise be to God!