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Ordinary 25

Weekly Bible Study Notes and Worship Resources for Ordinary 25

Year C, Colour = Green

jesus teaches faithfulness in small things

Introduction

Almost everybody says what a difficult parable this one from Luke is. Jesus appears to be commending the behaviour of a dishonest manager, would Jesus really extol the virtues of corrupt business practice? We need to remember that the parables of Jesus do have some fairly horrible people used as examples. It is not that we should copy these people, rather there are lessons to be observed from what they do. In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins for example, the wise virgins tell the foolish ones to go and get their own oil instead of trying to borrow some of theirs. This is quite selfish behaviour, but the point Jesus is making is that we should be prepared, he is not saying we should be selfish and refuse to share with others! Think again about the man who knew that treasure was buried in a field. He said nothing to the owner but went and bought the field. That is not particularly pleasant behaviour, but it does make the point that if something is valuable, then it is worth sacrificing everything to get hold of it.

In the story from Luke this week, we are told about a manger who has been incompetent.... there is a lesson to learn from his behaviour

Opening Verse of Scripture  Psalm 113:4

The Lord is high above all nations and his glory above the heavens
 

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Merciful God, you have prepared for those who love you, such good things as pass our understanding. Pour into our hearts such love towards you that we, loving you above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Methodist Worship

O God, surer that the breaking of the day, in the morning, fill us with your love, and in the evening, as the dew falls, refresh us with your mercy, that we may live according to your promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.   Methodist Worship

O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear the prayers  of your people who call upon you; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill them; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.  Common Worship

Lord of creation, whose glory is around and within us: open our eyes to your wonders, that we may serve you with reverence and know your peace at our lives' end, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  Common Worship Shorter Collect.

First Bible Reading Amos 8:4-7

Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, "When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?"- skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat. The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: 'I will never forget anything they have done.


Second Reading  1 Timothy 2: 1-7

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men--the testimony given in its proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle--I am telling the truth, I am not lying--and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.
 

Gospel Reading   Luke 16: 1-13

Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.' "The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg-- know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.' "So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' " 'Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied. "The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.' "Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?' " 'A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied. "He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.' "The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own? "No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
 

Post Communion Prayer

Almighty God, you have taught us through your Son that love is the fulfilling of the law: grant that we may love you with our whole heart and our neighbours as ourselves; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Commentary

Go and do likewise?
Our gospel reading is taken from Luke, the only gospel writer who was not a Jew and as such was able to stand on the outside and observe what was going on, particularly in Jewish and Roman society. In today’s reading, Luke relays the parable of the shrewd manager who sets up a cosy future for himself by currying favour with those people who own his master money. Is this a parable where Jesus says ‘Now go and do likewise?’ Well curiously I think it is – but only if we interpret it the way Luke did. In this story Jesus Himself observes and comments on what is apparently some sharp business practice, but in so doing He invites us to step back for a moment and look at how people behave in making some apparently easy money.

According to Jewish law, Jews could not make interest from fellow Jews when they lent them money. Wheat and oil were taken as symbols of someone not being destitute. For example, in the story of Elijah the widow of Zarepeth (1 Ki 17). It therefore followed that if you had wheat and oil you could be lent to and interest could also be extracted from you, but only if the deal was transacted in the right way. Typically the transaction would be in the form of a bond. You would lend say 4 jugs of olive oil but on the written bond it would be indicated that you owed 8 (4, plus 2 for the lender and 2 for his manager/steward). Or you would lend 8 bushels of wheat but the written bond would indicate 10 were owed. You can’t be accused of usury as the bond only indicates what is owed back, not what was originally lent. The master commends the steward because he has no option – the steward has used the system to his advantage. The master can’t say the he was owed more because truly he knows he was not, and even if he says he is he’ll be accused of exacting usury.

Seen in this context Jesus is saying many different things. First - He’s saying to those who have resources – don’t play with the things that make people destitute, and certainly don’t make them pay over the odds for precious resources and then appease your conscience by playing with words (How often do we see governments do that – how often do we do it ourselves). It’s also a comment about the steward giving away His wealth (margin or profit) to be aligned to God’s teaching and will. But perhaps most importantly He’s saying to the Pharisees, teachers and followers of the law ‘Your action needs to match your words’ They say one thing about interest and then set about getting round the system with little thought or respect for those who are less fortunate than themselves. That’s why Jesus closes this parable by talking about money – and attitude to wealth. The whole parable is about the abuse of wealth and the wealth creating system, about exploitation, and it’s pointed directly at the Jews – and to you and me. It’s about putting the importance of people and friendships in front of the importance of money – get your act together!

So perhaps Jesus would say ‘Now go and do likewise’. Perhaps He’d say ‘Ensure your actions match your words, don’t play with destiny, that’s my job, keep money and possessions in perspective and use the things of this world, the things that God has given us, to form bridges with those currently outside of the kingdom’. Sometimes it can seem tempting to compromise our faith in order to fit in better with others, to appear one of the in crowd. Yet it is often the honesty and integrity of the people of the Christian faith that draws others to it and our honesty and integrity, rather than being a barrier to dialogue is a facilitator and enabler for it. And it’s that dialogue with the world that Jesus encourages us to have as we serve Him.
As we watch some of the events that are taking place around the world we see the tragic consequences of what happens when dialogue breaks down. Perhaps now, more than ever, we need to be relating to a broken world in the same way as Christ came to relate our broken world. Using the material things which God has given us with integrity to communicate God’s restoring and redeeming love, matching our actions to our words.

These two parables remind us that Luke’s key focus is on how wealth is distributed rather than how it is accumulated. It is the distribution of wealth that concerns Luke here, not the fact that the rich master seems to have accumulated a vast amount of it.

We need to understand too that the apparent reduction in what is owed to the master probably comes from the servant’s own split of the deal, rather than the master’s. The servant is not necessarily taking anything from the master in reducing the bill, merely writing off his own cut. Indeed the phrase ‘dishonest manager’ can be taken as a rather loose translation for the words the master uses of him. Deceitful, unjust, crafty, scheming are words that could also be used.

It seems that Luke is saying that the servant is trying to put right previous injustices as far as he is able from his own income on the deal. It could be that Luke is implying that the rich master should take the same course of action but we see no evidence that he did! Indeed, the whole situation seems to have arisen because the master questions if the steward is getting the right returns for him on his property – is he making enough money. Perhaps the master was concerned that the servant was making more than his fair share and not enough for the master himself It would not be the first time that someone was more interested in what was happening to someone else’s apparent wealth and what they thought they should or should not be doing with it, rather than focusing on their own relative wealth and the responsibilities that brought to make sure it is stewarded according to God’s economics. Sam Cappleman

 

Mother TeresaMeditation

Since the death of Mother Teresa of Calcutta a publication of a book of her letters shows that for nearly the last fifty years of her life she felt no experience of the presence of God. Time Magazine printed an article analysing her experience. Christianity is not about seeking spiritual experiences. Mother Teresa's is an example to us all and an encouragement of all who struggle and doubt. In a culture which is all too obsessed with feelings, the value of commitment is shown by this saint .

 

 


Hymns

  1. Take my life and let it be (Tune Nottingham)
  2. Restore O Lord
  3. As the deer
  4. Love divine (Tune Blaenwern)
  5. Thou who wast rich (Tune Fragrance)
     

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

representation of prayer as seed growing

"Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian.
If it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die."

 

O Father of lights, with whom there is no variation nor shadow of turning, who abidest steadfast as the stars of heaven: give us grace to rest upon thy eternal changelessness, and in thy faithfulness find peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. George W. Briggs 1875—1959

In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love. Mother Teresa

O God, may I find and praise your goodness dwelling within every human being. May I be a living sign of your generous love, and help everyone to live more intimately with you. May we respect the evolving nature of all creation, and grow to our fullness of life with you. Guide our search into our entire human nature, and into all creation, to know what you want us to do. Amen

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offence. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me. A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me. Cast me not out from your presence, and your holy spirit take not from me. Cleanse me of sin with hyssop, that I may be purified; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear the sounds of joy and gladness; the bones you have crushed shall rejoice. Psalm 51

Blessed Lord Jesus, I believe that You are present in the most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Come into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.
 

Additional Resources

Meditation

A while back a TV programme was on that was discussing honesty and trustworthiness. One of the key points the presenter made was that dishonesty doesn’t pay. But the reason it doesn’t pay is that so many people are doing it (being dishonest) that unless you’re really good at it (and the majority of us aren’t) we don’t gain any advantage. Perhaps more seriously, the major effect of dishonesty and untrustworthiness is that they destroy relationships. Think of how you’ve felt when someone has lied or been underhand with you, how long did it take to get over it and trust the person again – if we ever feel we can? Given that our faith, and our witness to the community around us is based on relationships its clear why Jesus encourages us to be honest and trustworthy, encourages us to ensure our actions match our words. Because without that inner honesty and trustworthiness our relationships suffer, first with God and then with each other and then with those we seek to serve. And often our attitude to money is a good benchmark to use. We need to relate to the world but not conform to it. Sam Cappleman

Commentary

Almost everybody says what a difficult parable this one from Luke is. Jesus appears to be commending the behaviour of a dishonest manager, would Jesus really extol the virtues of corrupt business practice? We need to remember that the parables of Jesus do have some fairly horrible people used as examples. It is not that we should copy these people, rather there are lessons to be observed from what they do. In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins for example, the wise virgins tell the foolish ones to go and get their own oil instead of trying to borrow some of theirs. This is quite selfish behaviour, but the point Jesus is making is that we should be prepared, he is not saying we should be selfish and refuse to share with others! Think again about the man who knew that treasure was buried in a field. He said nothing to the owner but went and bought the field. That is not particularly pleasant behaviour, but it does make the point that if something is valuable, then it is worth sacrificing everything to get hold of it.

In the story from Luke this week, we are told about a manger who has been incompetent. Faced with the prospect of the sack, he prepares for himself an exit strategy which will be like a golden parachute. From being an incompetent manager he instead is able to act in a very resourceful manner, boosted by an instinct for personal survival. He decides upon a plan which will allow him to ingratiate himself to lots of rich people, before his dismissal becomes public knowledge. As a result the rich people will welcome him into their homes and offer him hospitality, and provide favours when he is ‘in between’ employment.
Perhaps if he ingratiates himself with enough people, someone might even help him to find a better job –– or might hire him.

The first thing to note about the story is that the rich master appears to have been acting in a way which broke the Jewish law. In Deuteronomy 23:19 is says
‘Do not charge your brother interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite, so that the LORD your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess.’

Jewish belief was that righteous lenders should not profit from their neighbours by charging interest. The King James Version of the Bible always used the word ‘usury.’ It is hard for us in today’s society to understand interest as a bad thing, but this is only because we all owe so much! Great philosophers and theologians from Plato and Aristotle to Luther and Zwingli all condemned charging interest.

Jews were forbidden to practice usury (interest charged), but many schemes were devised to get around it, and these are still used by strict Jews. As an example, lending was often done in kind, with oil and wheat being suitable commodities. The rich man had most probably been involved in this practice and so the manager makes changes to the payment accounts, effectively lowering the rate of interest!

The amounts involved were large. A hundred bathous of olive oil, a bath is about nine gallons, so the debtor owes 900 gallons of olive oil. A hundred korous of wheat, a cor is approximately 10-15 bushels, so the debtor owes 1000-1500 bushels of wheat. This is a big banking business and the discounts which the manager offers are fifty percent for one and twenty percent for the other. With such huge savings it is reasonable to assume that the word of the rich man's generosity will soon spread, enhancing his reputation. He will then be faced with two options, either enjoying his newly enhanced reputation and accepting his losses or retracting the discounts at the expense of his reputation and at the risk of permanently damaging the relationship with his debtors. The manager has left the debtors with the impression that he is equally responsible for the reductions thus leaving the rich man's debtors in debt to himself as well. The rich man cannot rescind the discounts without suffering loss of honour and creating bad will among his debtors. The rich man has to concede that the manager has pulled a brilliant stroke!

Jesus notes how children of this age, people who are worldy wise, are focused on the realm of this world. They understand how the world works and they are capable of manipulating it to their benefit. So too children of the kingdom need to be equally savvy in ways to prosper in the kingdom of God.

We need today to hear the parable first of all as if we were the original listeners. The crisis management shown by the manger was excellent. The first hearers of this parable were about to face their own crisis. Jesus will continue to Jerusalem and there will follow turbulent times with the persecutions and the fall of Rome. How will Jesus followers behave? When things get really difficult, will they be prudent and think of their long term future, or will they crumble in the face of adversity and perhaps forsake their convictions? We can ask ourselves the same question when we are faced with crisis. So Jesus is not using this shrewd manger as a role model, but he is drawing attention to how a shrewd, worldy wise man can be empowered by self interest to do some very inventive things to secure future prospects. He does not commend the poor business ethics, but he is encouraging his hearers to be imaginative and focused when it comes to planning for their future and that of the Kingdom. This parable is an encouragement to be single minded, focused and take spiritual provision for the future seriously. It is about our fundamental choices and loyalties, God and his Kingdom values should take centre stage in our lives.

Read through Luke and you will see a great deal of teaching about money, poverty, kindness to the poor. Luke shows us a Jesus who is suspicious of world wealth. Material wealth can become a preoccupation and divert our attention away from the important eternal spiritual values. We have all seen how money can break up personal friendships, families and marriages. So too wars are fought over land and resources. The temptation can be to think that we should just avoid the whole economic system. Jesus doesn’t say that, rather he tells us that we should not try and be pure and uncontaminated by worldly wealth, instead we should use it wisely. We will find it hard to keep our hands clean, but that doesn’t mean we can keep them in our pockets. Charles Royden

 

Commentary

What an amazing parable this is, and no wonder that theologians centuries apart, such as Tomas de Vio Cajetan (1469-1534) and Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) both declared the problems raised by the parable to be insoluble! Whatever is going on in this strange parable of the dishonest manager? Whichever way you read it, it is confusing and many people have written long explanations to try and make sense of it. Inevitably these attempts involve speculation and introducing material which Jesus does not use. The simple facts are spoken in the story by the manager 'My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg-- I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.'

The dishonest manager facing the sack quickly realises that he is too old for manual labour and he was probably over qualified for most jobs. He is a clever professional man and he knows that he must quickly make some alternative arrangements. So he takes the shrewdest way to a more comfortable future: he uses what is still in his control, to lay the ground for what was to come. This fellow alters the accounts of his boss's debtors so that they will be grateful and show him hospitality after he gets the sack.

Jesus is encouraging us to do the same. To make use of whatever we have control of, while we have the chance, to ensure our security for the future. Of course Jesus is not concerned with our earthly future, but making preparations so that when we show up before God we will have guaranteed our future. There is much that we can learn from being worldly wise, most certainly we must not be earthly foolish. The main thrust of the parable is clear: Look ahead. Be far sighted. Where are you heading? Well get ready for it. Be as astute about the practice of your faith, as the manager was. And in particular, astutely use whatever worldly possessions you have in the service of and for the glory of God, in the same astute manner as the unscrupulous manager did. As with so much of the teaching of Jesus it is a challenge and we are asked to make up our minds and sort ourselves out whilst we still have time to do so. Charles Royden

Commentary

This is one of the most difficult parables to understand, yet Luke went to the trouble of recording it, so it is clearly worthy of out attention. It is in cases like this that we need the scholarship of archaeologists and historians to help us properly understand our Bible. Otherwise the story seems to suggest that embezzlement is a life choice commended by God. T.W.Manson has pointed put that we either read the moral of the story as “I applaud the dishonest steward because he acted cleverly” or “I applaud the clever steward because he acted dishonestly”! With the help of Bible scholars we see the story in the light of Jewish commercial practises of the day. Jews were forbidden to take interest from other Jews when they lent money (See Exodus 22:25) But humans being what we are, some argued that while the law prohibited charging interest, this was only to protect the very poor and that if considered in the context of business practise it was just good sense to charge. Pious rich men knew that their stewards imposed an illegal levy but pretended not to know. The story is aimed at the disciples who would assume the role of stewards of the church after Jesus’ death. In the parable the steward has to tread a path between ruin and security, he has to choose between serving his master and getting him the most amount of money or cutting his losses and getting what he could out of a situation. It isn’t as straightforward as the saying that follows in verse 13, “You cannot serve both God and money”. In this complex parable, the steward had to rescue a dire situation by thinking quickly and coming up with a creative and effective solution that was also in tune with the spirit of the Mosaic law against money lending. This story speaks to us, as a church, about using our resources wisely, while always asking what God requires us to do. As people of God, we must tread a careful path between care for the things of this world, which must be taken seriously, and serving the Kingdom of Heaven, where different values apply. We must use our minds to reconcile the contradictions between the laws of God and our instincts as humans. Joan Crossley.
 

Meditation

Meditation I am reading a biography of Christopher Wren, chief architect to Charles II, and the designer of St Paul’s cathedral, the Sheldonian theatre, a score of churches, Chelsea Hospital etc. He was also a scientist, inventor and scholar. He is the sort of person who makes you tired just reading about him! His personal life was unfortunate, since both his wives died very shortly after marriage, and several of his children predeceased him. His real emotional life was found in his friendships with other scholarly men and women. Through their love and encouragement his gifts were able to find free expression and full development. Perhaps that is what this strange sentence from Luke means “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings“ . We must be encouragers, feeders of other people, helping them develop their gifts for the glory of God and for the betterment of humankind. Who knows what wonderful things may grow if we provide help and encouragement! Joan Crossley
 

Meditation

If you wake in the morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the millions who will not survive this week. If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million people in the world. If you can attend a church meeting without fear or harassment , arrest, torture or death, you are luckier than three billion people in the world. If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the world. If you have money in the bank, in your purse and spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8% of the world's wealthy.

Prayer

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead. In these extraordinary times our prayers, bible notes and meditations will try to provide helpful material to inform us in our prayers for the world.

Grant to me, O Lord, a humble, lowly and quiet heart. Give to my waking hours patience, kindness and tenderness of soul. Let all my words, my works and my thoughts be overshadowed by the gift of your most Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen. Thomas More, 1478-1535

Holy and loving God, in Jesus you walked the hills of Galilee and the busy streets of Capernaum; you addressed multitudes and had time for individuals. Renew in us each morning the light of your presence, that whatever the day brings we may be channels of your renewing Spirit, and share in your good purposes for the world, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hymns

  1. Through all the changing scenes of life.
  2. God is good
  3. Restore O Lord
  4. God of freedom, God of justice
  5. Lord thy church on earth is seeking
  6. All people that on earth do dwell
  7. I am a new creation
  8. Broken for me broken for you
  9. Now thank we all our God
  10. . Thou art the way,
  11. All people that on earth do dwell
  12. Teach me my God and King
  13. Abide with me
  14. Restore O Lord