A Sermon preached by the Reverend Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, on the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20, September 22, 2019
What WAS that passage that we just heard? The Parable of the Dishonest Steward is a very strange Parable. You may wonder, is it even a Parable? Why does Jesus make this crooked guy the hero of the story?
When Jesus tells us a story, we expect certain things to happen. But this is one of those Parables where Jesus, the master storyteller, does something different. He confuses us.
Confusion makes us stop in our tracks. Confusion can shift us out of auto-pilot and open our eyes to reality. So let’s look for a moment at the confusing Parable before us today.
In Luke’s Gospel, The Parable of the Dishonest Steward comes shortly after the Prodigal Son, and I think the two stories play off of each other. The Manager and the Prodigal Son are both untrustworthy. They have both been given wealth to manage and they both squander it. The Prodigal Son blows his inheritance on dissolute living. The Dishonest Steward gets caught mismanaging the Rich man’s wealth. And once they both “hit bottom,” both of them are forced to pivot in some new direction to survive.
The Prodigal Son has an internal dialogue saying he will work as a hired hand on his father’s farm, and turns towards home. We hear the Dishonest Steward’s internal dialogue as well, “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.” Both of them have the realization that life is deeply relational.
They act upon that in different ways. The Prodigal Son throws himself on his father’s mercy, and the story becomes all about reconciliation and forgiveness, and unconditional love.
The Dishonest Steward is more worldly, and the Parable reveals an uncomfortable truth about the way the world works. The economic system we live in has an enormous hold on all of us. The Dishonest Steward knows that if he cuts the debts of the rich man’s debtors, they will take him in. He becomes a sort of Robin Hood rather than a bill collector. The social contract is suddenly changed in his favor even though, to our eyes, it seems to make him even more dishonest. The rich man applauds what he does. Jesus’ listeners probably did, too.
In Jesus’ time there was enormous income inequality. A few people were rich, like the steward’s boss, and it was way less than 1%, and most of the populace lived in desperate poverty.
That was the reality that Jesus’ listeners lived in. It’s important for us to remember that as we hear the Gospel read in a 21st century context. They lived in a broken system and they knew it. People felt their own brokenness on a daily basis.
Ironically, in the Bay Area of 2019, with income equality becoming more extreme, we may understand the broken world of the Dishonest Steward more than we did in the past.
For most of my life, there was a belief in the American Dream and the promise of the middle class. If you worked hard you could go to college, maybe own a home, and you certainly could rent somewhere to live. Our 20th Century economic assumptions gave us a sense of safety that has wasted away for many of us. As we’ve seen this week with the massive climate strikes around the world, people are concerned that the earth itself will survive. This is the source of enormous unspoken anxiety in our lives.
I don’t want to depress you this morning, but our world is a broken world. We are broken human beings in a broken world. Are you depressed yet?
Jake Owensby, the Bishop of Western Louisiana, writes a blog called, “Looking for God in messy places” on the lectionary readings. His approach to scripture is always illuminating and close to the bone.
Bishop Owensby writes about our passage today:
“For centuries others have been shaping the world’s economies, political systems, social structures, and climate. Apparently, those people never considered consulting us, but we’re left to muddle through the world that they’ve left for us. It is what it is. What remains for us is, “So what are you willing to do?”
Observing the success, prestige, and comfort achieved by the world’s most cunning people, it can be tempting to be what some call realistic. To play the world’s game by the rules of the shadiest and most ruthless among us.
And yet, Jesus urges a different course. Don’t be naive, he says. Acknowledge how this world so often works. But don’t merely accept it. On the contrary, resist it. Resist it with love.“
“It is what it is.” There’s brokenness all around us, and within us. In our disposable society, we reject and throw away anything that is broken. We’ve forgotten that brokenness is an invitation to for mending, healing, and renewal.
I like what Bishop Owensby says, “It is what it is. What remains for us is, “So what are we willing to do about it?”
In this Parable Jesus acknowledges “It is what it is” and says God is even in that messy and anxiety ridden place that we inhabit on a daily basis.
Last Sunday we had our first history day of our interim time together. We put ourselves on the timeline of All Saints’ history, and we had some good conversations at our tables. We asked how you came to All Saints’ and what at All Saints’ has brought you joy.
Today we gather again after the 10:00 Mass for another history day. If you weren’t here last Sunday I’d like you to put yourself on the timeline and address that question about what has brought you joy at All Saints’ with your table mates.
In the email newsletter I asked you all to bring a photo from the past to share. If you brought a photo, I’d like you to share write down what it means to you and who was in the photo. Then share it with your table mates and share what it means to you. I’m going to come around and snap a digital photo of your photos and get prints made so we can put them on the timeline.
We have a rich history together here at All Saints’. There’s joy, and also I’m aware that our history includes deep loss and brokenness. I wonder if some of you today feel safe enough in our loving community to share what that was like here at All Saints’?
I’ve been wondering how that sense of loss has affected our parish? Today I will prayerfully invite you to share some of that history of our brokenness.
The Good News is that Christ has been here with us through all of it. Christ knows our deepest hurts and longings for healing. As we will here in our hymn today, there is a Balm in Gilead. Amen.