SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
September 23, 2007 (Lectionary 25)
Psalm 113 (Ps. 113:7)
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Psalm 79:1-9 (Ps. 79:9)
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Michael and All Angels | September 29, 2007
Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3 | Psalm 103:1-5, 20-22 (Ps. 103:20, 21)
Revelation 12:7-12 | Luke 10:17-20
1. CONTEXT: Luke 16:1-13
The general theme of the two volume work of Luke-Acts relates to beneficial actions of God in the lives of people in this world. The theme is developed in the meaning of what God has done, first in the servant, Jesus, and then in the servant, the church. In volume one, the Gospel, after introducing Jesus, the work of Jesus is described in two stages. This is followed by a report of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
This lection is a portion of the second stage of the description of the work of Jesus. The format for this stage is a journey toward Jerusalem. During the journey, Jesus both teaches and does the works of God. This lection is one of the lessons of Jesus. It is introduced with the formula: "And he also said to his disciples..." This formula serves two roles. One, it marks the transition from one segment in the stage to the next. Second, it indicates audience. "Disciple" can refer, however, to the inner band or to the larger public crowd. In this instance, the audience seems more likely to be the public crowd than the inner band.
1b. TEXT: Luke 16:1-13
Lk. 16:1 Then 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.
Lk. 16:2 So 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.'
Lk. 16:3 Then the manager said to himself, `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.
Lk. 16:4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.'
Lk. 16:5 So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, `How much do you owe my master?'
Lk. 16:6 He answered, `A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, `Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.'
Lk. 16:7 Then he asked another, `And how much do you owe?' He replied, `A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, `Take your bill and make it eighty.'
Lk. 16:8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
Lk. 16:9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
Lk. 16:10 "Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.
Lk. 16:11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?
Lk. 16:12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?
Lk. 16:13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
2. ANALYSIS: Luke 16: 1-13
Notes from the English Text:
Jesus told a parable. This parable is the kind of story one can hear traveling around. It has the feel of a "community gossip" account of a manager who got into trouble with his employer. The lection includes in 16: 1-8 the story followed by a lesson from the story, almost in an Aesop's Fable fashion. Then in 16: 9-13, a second teaching is attached. It seems related only by the theme of the use of possessions.
Notes on Greek words and phrases:
Lk. 16: 1 - [oikonomon] "manager," "house steward;" The word originally meant one who supervised the affairs of the house of another. In time, it came to refer to one who managed the business affairs of another. It appears to be used in this latter sense here.
Lk. 16:1 - [diaskorpizon] "waste;" From scatter, it is sometimes used to mean lose or waste.
Lk.16: 2 - [apodos tou logou] "render an account;" The manager was required to give an accounting of his management of the finances of his employer.
Lk. 16: 8 - [oikonomon teis adikias] "worldly manager;" The emphasis for the word, "unrighteous," is more on one who acts in the way of the world than on dishonesty or evil. The manager of the story is described as worldly, not dishonest.
Lk. 16:8 - [phronimos epoieisen] "act prudently;" or "act shrewdly;" Both are included here. The manager was prudent in the sense of acting quickly in a time of crisis; shrewd in finding a way to use for his own advantage options still available to him.
Lk. 16: 13 - [mamona] "possessions;" The word can refer to wealth or property. In this case it seems more likely that it means no more than possessions.
Notes from commentaries:
This parable typically causes Christian readers some discomfort. This is unnecessary. The story is told for the lesson - not as an example of behavior. The Lord's approval reveals the point of the lesson. The manager faced a crisis. About to lose his job, he faced embarrassment by working at menial jobs or loss of income by going without a job. He wanted neither. He wanted to provide for his financial needs. One need not approve his methods to realize he recognized his crisis situation and acted to prevent personal disaster.
The problem for the manager probably was not dishonesty. The story implies more carelessness or incompetence than dishonesty. His poor performance had cost his employer money. The implication is that the employer wanted to replace him with a more effective manager.
Using the legal powers he still had before being relieved of his duties, he reduced the amount owed his employer by all of his debtors. This built gratitude which could result in his getting help after losing his job.
Jesus drew a "lesson" from this gossip story. The manager recognized the crisis that threatened his personal well-being. He used what was available to him to protect his future.
The very presence of Jesus presented a crisis to those in the crowds who listened to him. The Son of God had come to "seek and to save the lost." Participation in the Kingdom of God (Salvation, fellowship with God) was an issue for them. Their crisis was how to respond to Jesus. If they responded with faith in Jesus, they would be forgiven and receive welcome into the Kingdom. If they rejected Jesus, they would exclude themselves from participation in the Kingdom.
3. STRATEGY: Luke 16: 1-13
Perhaps the primary issue addressed by this lection is the need to entrust one's life to Jesus. In our country, the thin "veneer" of religious respectability that covers society obscures the fact that a shrinking percentage of people are related to God through faith in Jesus. While that fact may be cause for concern, lifting our eyes to include the rest of the world should prompt recognition of crisis. We believe that God has come into human life in Jesus, the Son. Our faith teaches us all must respond to Jesus. Yet most have not. Crisis is a combination of the elements of danger and opportunity. The text presents the coming of Jesus into the world as a crisis. The danger is found in rejecting, or even ignoring Jesus. To reject faith in Jesus is to reject relationship to God. That is serious! The opportunity is to accept the freely offered forgiveness of God and welcome into the fellowship of God who loves us. This text highlights the urgency of the crisis.
A second issue addressed by this text is the matter of facing reality. There are those who quickly accuse Christians and the Church of living in the world of illusion. While we cannot agree that faith is illusion, we may recognize that we are not always realistic. The church can too easily become a "protective womb" in which we are isolated from the real world around us. The Lord we follow would have none of that. Jesus interacted with those around him - on the basis of reality not illusion. The Christian faith does not call for us to run from the world and unpleasant realities we encounter there. It calls for us to live in the world and redeem the world. This text may encourage us to some "clear-eyed realism" in the church.
A third issue we could consider in light of this text is action. There is some truth to the saw about the church: "When all was said and done, more was said than done." Admittedly, study and discussion are important. But there comes a time when Christians and the church must act. There are people hurting. There are issues of life being decided without effective input from the Christian faith. There are wars, oppression, and injustice. In the face of such matters, action is required (A golfer had a bad day. It started at the first tee. He took a vicious swing at the ball with his driver - and missed. The club head hit the ground and dirt flew in every direction. His partner looked down and noticed the other golfer had hit an ant hill. He reported that he must have killed at least a hundred ants. The golfer made another attempt. His adjustments in his swing only lowered the arc, and he hit the ground again. His partner's casualty report was about a thousand ants. Switching to an iron, the golfer blasted the dirt again, but left the ball unmoved. At that point, one dazed ant staggered past another and said: "Our only chance for survival is to get on the ball!")
Exegete: Rev. Dr. Brian A. Nelson, D. Min., is a retired pastor of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). His most recent parish was in West Lafayette, IN, on the campus of Purdue University.
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