Monday, September 12, 2016

The Power of Compassion – 18 September 2016 – 18th Sunday after Pentecost/ Lectionary 25/ Proper 20

What is Luke suggesting Jesus believed about “dishonest wealth”? Imagine that, in fact, all that we “have” is in some measure dishonestly acquired, and that we are the wicked manager no matter our intention not to cheat anyone or fail in our tasks.

Note that the parable of the prodigal son/father precedes this story. This is significant in that in both stories, the one who has power (the father, the rich man) welcomes and exonerates the one who has been profligate with the riches given to his care. The son lost it in pleasure; the manager, in cooking the books for his own gain.

Is this not the situation we find ourselves in? Try as we might, some aspect of our care of creation, ourselves, our neighbors, our families, and our friends will be always wanting. Yet, God’s compassion rules our lives in the present and in the end.

Luke 16:1-13

The parable of the wicked manager raises many questions but offers few incontestable answers. It is uncertain whether the master discharged the manager for incompetence or dishonesty. Given the cunning the manager displays later in the story, dishonesty seems more likely. When the manager can no longer continue in the service of his master, being unwilling to do manual labor or to beg, he makes a plan to insure he will be well received elsewhere. The manager intends to show favor to his master's debtors so that they will be socially obligated to reciprocate. However, the story does not state exactly what the manager did when he instructed those who owed his master money to reduce the amount of their debt. It is not clear whether the manager sacrificed his own fee, voided the master's unjust interest charges, or canceled a portion of the principal due to the master. The instruction to quickly write a bill for a lower amount suggests some sort of deception. It would seem, then, that the wicked manager has stolen from the master not once but twice.

. . . The master (κυριoς) who commends the manager for being prudent or shrewd could be Jesus, although it seems more likely to be the master in the story. Luke's use in verse 9 of the formula, “And I tell you,” seems to indicate the beginning of Jesus' message for the listener. The instruction to make friends with mammon, together with the declared impossibility of serving God and wealth, suggests using one's wealth to serve the purposes of God's reign rather than caring for one's own social and financial status. Luke appears to have included the remaining sayings concerning faithfulness and dishonesty because of thematic similarity. – Aaron J. Couch

Amos 8:4-7

Amos angrily denounces the greed and hypocrisy of Israel's elites. They employ deceptive and predatory business practices to defraud the poor. They have failed to realize that faith in God cannot be compartmentalized apart from the rest of life. Their religious observances are a sham. Amos declares a devastating word of judgment against them. God will not forget what they have done. They have built an affluent life for themselves, but have caused great suffering to those they exploit. For that reason, God will sweep their comfortable life away. – Aaron J. Couch

1 Timothy 2:1-7

The post-Pauline author offers guidance for the church's prayer practice. When the community addresses its concerns to God, it should pray as broadly as possible for the needs of the world. In particular, the people of God should make sure to remember all rulers. This is both because the well-being of the faith community is connected to the well-being of the society at large (v 2) and because God's concern is for all people (v 4). God's commitment to this world is revealed in the gift of Jesus Christ who, in becoming human, has become the one mediator between God and humanity. – Aaron J. Couch

Aaron J. Couch is a co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon.

Homily Service 40, no. 10 (2007): 41-49.

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