The Fourth Parable of the Lost – The dishonest manager

Luke 16:1-13

1Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ (Read the whole thing)

As students walked out of classrooms and businesses shut down on Friday and through the weekend, the issue of climate change is being brought before us. The consumption of the planet, the use of resources in pursuit of profit and wealth, the growth of economies is being contrasted with the future of the planet’s well being. Why go to school, if the planet is on a countdown to irreversible change? The students are asking us. A big and heavy question, one that we certainly don’t have a quick and easy answer for.

And so when we hear the story of land manager squandering property there is a real connection to the present. Squandering the planet’s resources is an accusation that today’s youth have the right to level at older generations in power.

We hear the word squandering and many different images come to mind. The person who fails to take advantage of an opportunity, who doesn’t risk a little bit for a big gain. The one who waits and hesitates, rather than moving quickly and decisively. The person who doesn’t understand the potential of what they can do and be. The person who fails to take hold and earn every ounce of profit and reward of a situation. We hear of a squandering manager and we imagine a weak and feeble, hesitant and uncertain person taking the safe and easy path.

Today, we get this interesting parable from the gospel of Luke that follows right after the three parables of the lost. The parable of lost sheep and lost coin which we heard last week, and the parable of the prodigal son which we know so very well.

These parables come just in advance of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, to the waiting crowds, to the plotting religious authorities, to betrayal, arrest, trial, execution.

And this parable is interesting because we are not quite sure what to do with it. The squandering manager seems to behave in an entirely self interested manner throughout, and yet his master commends his shrewdness.

As the story begins, the manager is accused of squandering his master’s property, yet how he squandered is not mentioned or defined. Remember that.

Regardless, the master fires the manager.

And so the manager does something interesting, he thinks to himself. He doesn’t have other options for work before him, so he will forgive the debts of some of his master’s debtors in order to earn some favours.

Now, as 21st century people living a capitalist individualist society, it is easy for us to get hung up on the fact that the manager uses his masters wealth to earn himself some favours… yet, there is something about this curious situation that is easier for us to miss. Anyone who has lived in a farming community should know that good relationships with neighbours is vital to life on the land. What we really ought to be wondering about is why this land manager doesn’t already have pockets full of favours and good relationships with his community.

In the Hebrew world of 1st century Israel, the land held a central place in life.

The land that the Israelites lived on was literally the promised land, the land promised to Moses and he led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. And the land was not just a resource to be exploited. It was a living thing, a gift from God to be cared for. The land held abundant resources meant to provide for the community. There were laws as to how the land was used to provide for all:

• A certain amount of the harvest was required to be left on the land so that the poor and widows could follow the workers and gather grain for themselves.

• The land did not belong strictly to a single person or family, but rather to the entire tribe.

• Every Jubilee year it was meant to revert to ownership by the tribe.

• The land owner didn’t exploit the produce of the land for his own profit and gain, but cared for and tended in order to feed the community (his extended family).

And yet in this parable, the manager had no favours in his pocket. His master’s debtors received no relief before this manger was fired. Maybe this manager was not the lazy, week, uncertain manager of our imagining, but the cold, hardened, profit focused, entrepreneur that we praise in our world. Someone who exploited the land for every ounce of profit, who squeezed every penny from debtors, who never paid too much and never accepted too little.

So remember that squandering isn’t defined?

Maybe this manager has been squandering the abundance of the land by hoarding it all for his master, by counting every penny away in his master’s store houses instead of caring for this community around him.

Maybe the land manager is the fourth lost thing in this sequence of parables. Lost to himself, lost to hoarding and profiting from an exploited land and community.

And isn’t that our modern problem too?

It’s what the students and their supporters are begging of those in power to do. To see their neighbour, to recognize that the land, the earth is a living thing meant to provide an abundance for us…only if shared and not hoarded, only if cared for and tended to, not exploited and consumed.

To squander in the parable today is to be lost and alone, to put profits before people, to forget that we live in community and what we do affects those around us and those who come after us.

Now, one of the important characteristics of parables is that the subject of a parable is usually the first person mentioned. This parable doesn’t start “There was a land manager.” It begins there was a rich man who had a manager. Just like the prodigal son begins with “There was a man who had two sons.”

It is the rich man who discovers that his manager had lost his way. And it is the rich man who sets out to find him.

When the rich land owner fires his manager, he is pulling the manger out of the store houses and accounting rooms. He is forcing his manager to sit down face to face with his community. And there seeing his neighbour face to face the manager is generous. He forgives debts trusting that he will provided for in return.

Like the shepherd to searches for the lost sheep, the woman who looks for the lost coin, like the father who runs out to meet his lost son on the road… the rich man joins his lost manager back to community. It is not dishonesty that the rich man commends, but connection and relationship, generosity and compassion.

And like the rich man, the teller of this parable is the one who is about to search out humanity in our isolation of sin and death. Jesus is about to find us on the cross… So that we might know the generous abundance of resurrection and new life.

Of course, this is what Jesus has been doing with us all along.

While we are lost and isolated, Jesus does what it takes to joint us back to community, back to the body, back to God.

And Jesus makes us practice being joined every week.

Jesus gathers us here, and plunks us shoulder to shoulder with our siblings in Christ, beside friends and neighbours. Beside those who know our struggles and what it is like to live in this lost world.

And Jesus joins our voices together with the praises of the community of faith, joining us to the choir of saints.

And Jesus forgives us with all these other sinners, restoring the communion of saints to wholeness.

And Jesus speaks in our ears a word of good news for us all, giving us hope in our seemingly hopeless world.

And Jesus washes and feeds at font and table, the gathering places of the faithful.

Shoulder to shoulder, with other washed and fed ones, reminding us that we belong to the Father, and that we belong to each other, no matter how lost we become, no matter how much try to squander the abundant community given to us in creation.

And so today, as we hear the 4th parable of the lost, we discover that we can be lost and not even realize it…

But we also hear of the Christ, who will go to any length, even surprising ones, to find us and join us again, shoulder to shoulder, face to face, to the community we need – the Body of Christ.

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