Sermon preached by The Reverend Charles Royden
19 September 2010 Ordinary 25 Year C
Luke 16: The Dishonest Steward
The parable which we have mentioned today of the dishonest steward has raised all manner of questions. Jesus appears to be commending a dishonest manager who realising that he has been caught out and his number is up, embarks upon an ingenius plan to ensure that after he is sacked he will be well placed to benefit from having defrauded his boss. Some people have concluded that this is such an extraordinary parable that jesus could not have taught it. At first glance it appears as though the lesson to be learned is that as soon as you make up your mind to fire somebody, make them clear their desk and leave the premises. In this case the dishonest worker is able to use his last days at his desk to sabotage on his company and his boss. This is an excellent reason why gardening leave is a good idea. There are however some really important lessons which Jesus was seeking make.
1. First point - The dishonest steward sees what is about to happen and as a result he takes decisive action to prepare for what is about to happen
Now the lesson which I would take from this is that we should be looking to the future - and what we consider lies in the future should have a solid impact upon what we are doing now. The vision we have of the future should influence us mightily in the present moment.
In the light of the Pope's visit this week, various statements have been made from the vatican. One statement concerned the judgement that Britain was a very secular country. Now this is of course a reasonable analysis. Surely however, the church must carry
a considerable responsibility for the fact that many people have rejected spiritual values. I say that because when I look at the church
I can see clearly that the church has lost it's own spiritual focus. The church has been preoccupied with all manner of side issues, it has been slow to lead and lacking in urgency. Have we as a church
nationally been preparing in a focussed manner for the return of our master? The answer must surely be no, we have been found indulging in in-fighting, we have cherished denominational structures which have hampered our mission. We have done so because we are concerned with defending our little corners of power in Christendom. We have been wedded to our own ideologies and we have lost touch with generations of people.
Equally it must be said that our secular society has been responsible for highlighting extrem lapses in the church itself. It was out of securlar society that the recent child sex abuse scandlas have been brought forward, the church has been slow to recognise the failures of the past and has been woefully lacking in a forthright admission and apology for the institutional cover up of sex crimes.
So the Church needs to take the message to heart today, and we as individuals need to consider whether we are really being committed in our faith. Do we have focus of the dishonest steward who realised that the gane was up and he needed to take drastic action? Or do we think that we can just muddle along and it will all work out in the end?
2. The second point is the importance of how we treat the poor
Now often we spiritualise the words of Jesus when he speaks of money and debt and in so doing we sanitise them and make them less challenging. More than any other gospel, Luke confronts the issue of money and wealth. Take for example the Lord's Prayer. We are to ask God to release us from our sins as we release the debts of those who owe to us.
Jesus intended his words to refer to suffering and injustice in his own society. His prayer for bread and debts referred to real bread and forgiveness of real debts.When Jesus taught his followers to pray for daily bread and forgiveness of debts, it was more than a prayer for spiritual sustenance and forgiveness of sins. He was first of all referring to real bread and real debts. The most basic meaning of the Greek word for "debts" is financial.
This meaning is consistent with the approach of Jesus to the social and ethical injustices of his society against the poor and dispossessed. In the prayer, he makes explicit the need for real bread and for payment of debt. The prayer cannot be understood without also seeing it in terms of the Kingdom of God, which does not refer to an afterlife in Heaven. It refers to the expectation of the rule of God, in which God will end oppression, poverty, and suffering on earth. "Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
A prayer with the words: "Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" loses the economic foundation of the prayer when "bread" and "debt" become spiritual metaphors, with no connection to real food and economic debt.
For Jesus's audience, bread and debt were much more than metaphors. Hunger and debt were constant realities of life for an underfed, overtaxed population. Much of the misery of the peasants and beggars in Palestine resulted from debt. The peasants had to turn over much of what they grew to the king or other members of the urban elite class who claimed proprietary rights to whatever the peasants grew on the land. As a result, many of the peasant farmers were hopelessly in debt. Many of the beggars had been forced off their land by failure to pay their debts. Throughout the gospels, Jesus spoke about the real human needs of people in a society divided between the haves and the have-nots. He saw the vast gap between the rich and the poor, and criticized the rich for their exploitation and oppression of the poor.
This is consistent with the rest of the Gospel. In Luke 6:35 Jesus says to cancel debts "lend, expecting nothing in return" He calls for selling of possessions and giving alms to the poor (12: 33).
We need to remember that later in this chapter Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
To pray as Jesus intended, Christians need to retrieve the original meanings of words that have been treated as spiritual metaphors. The cost of daily bread is especially significant in an era of global food shortages and rising prices for basic staples such as wheat, rice, and corn. And forgiveness of debts has particular meaning for those facing foreclosure and bankruptcy because of debts they cannot repay.
In first century palestine, the people who borrowed money were the poor. The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, which follows in verses 19-31, adds another severe warning about ignoring the poor.
We do well this morning also to listen to the words of Amos.
Amos 8:4–7 speaks of the poor, the needy and the barren.
The poor can be poor for many reasons — laziness, sickness, poor skills, bad luck, economic downturns, lack of educational opportunity, and so on. But Amos employs extraordinarily graphic and harsh language to remind us that some people are poor because rich people exploit them:
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 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.
This text becomes all the more powerful when we remember how often the rich blame the poor for their misfortune, when in fact Amos says that it's the rich who "trample" the needy.
Now all of this is really important for us to remember at a time when our country is going into a time of dramatic cuts and financial constraint. The really rich seem to be doing really well. But there are many people who are just suffering
I typed into google last night pay day loans, these are loans which people take out because they need some money to get them over until the next cheque.
I was bombarded with results and people offering to lend me money. The website had a photo of a lovely smiling lady on the switchboard who was obviously just waiting to take my call.
I checked out the interest rate Typical 1355% APR
There was a note underneath 'The APR% for Payday Loans may seem quite high at first glance. Taking into account that all setup fees and administrative costs are included and since most Payday Loans are paid over a period of no more than 70 days a yearly APR% might be misleading. In most cases taking a payday loan is much cheaper than paying overdraft penalties, bounced cheques or unpaid bill charges'
3. Final point - Jesus says 'He who is faithful in little is faithful in much'
I have put as the meditation today ' Nobody makes a bigger mistake than he who does nothing because he could only do a little,' Edmund Burke 1729-1797
We live in a media age where big is better, and biggest is best. Everybody wants to be famous in five minutes and as a result the ordinary is often disregarded. Jesus is much more realistic and wants us to know that ordinary people doing ordinary things are the ones who really have the X factor. Hardworking parents who keep a roof over the heads of their families are heroes. People who stack the shelves in our supermarkets are just as important as the five minute wonders who go on talent shows and get discovered. News flash for our generation, you don't need to be discovered, God already knows what you are doing. How we handle the little ordinary choices when we are struggling to keep body and soul together matters to God. Those people who have the energy and motivation to say a kind word to somebody who is struggling are the ones who are really loving their neighbour and everytime they do it they do it as if it was to Christ himself, and it makes God happy.
We all lead fairly routine lives and I can understand why children grow up wanting to be famous, it makes them feel as though they are important and their lives matter. The point is that we need to be telling our children that they do matter and only a few out of every million actually gets to be famous and out of them a high percentage will find that it ruins their lives. The really fabulous people are those who mange to get out of bed every morning of their
repetitious lives and still be nice to the postman, their families and colleagues at work. These people who are faithul in the ordinary little things are noticed and loved by God as they keep families together and help build our communities.
Each day every one of us has the chance as Jesus says to be faithful in little things. We need to learn to value these ordinary things as much as God does. People will get on the TV when they do something really dramatic like jumping off a bridge to save a puppy. But every day husbands and wives, children and parents, managers and workers, all have really important oportuinities to show faithfulness in ways not often recognised or valued by anybody but God.