The company was Enron. Its accounting fraud and corruption is legend and has only recently been outdone by the failures at Lehman Brothers. It is easy to hear the words of Jesus, his parable of the dishonest manager in light of such acts. But as Jesus tells us about a dishonest manager in his parable, at first the dishonesty seems to be OK with Jesus. But what is Jesus really getting at in this parable? Isn’t honesty a good thing?
Think about the parable: A manager is summoned to his master who has found out that he is squandering his property. He is fired by the master but first he must make an accounting. The manager then meets with those who owe a debt to the master, he lowers their debt one by one, not because they have been over billed but he is reducing his take in their debts that he legally could take as a manager, a type of service fee. He lowers the costs to get in good with the debtors. And it works. The debtors are happy and so is the master. The master commends the manager for what he has done.
So what are we to make of this parable?
I don’t think the question that Jesus asks and answers in this parable is really about the manager. The manager’s dishonesty is not the point of the parable. Jesus seems to turn everything upside down by having this manager praised for acting shrewdly and commended as something for the children of light (his followers) to do, but there is more to it. The manager acts to save himself, to be welcomed by others after he is thrown out of the master’s house. But he does it by cutting his take, his fee, so others would look upon him favorably. The possessions, the money he could make from the debts are no longer given priority. He has had a change of heart, and I think that is the message within this parable; the change of heart over possessions. He acts shrewdly by changing and making the debtors happy.
As disciples of Jesus we are called to worry less about our possessions and to act more shrewdly with them, for they are mere things. Jesus has talked a lot about possessions in the Gospel of Luke and it is summed up by the last line from today’s Gospel: you cannot serve God and wealth. In fact, it’s hard to love others when the bottom line is to earn yourself as much money as you can without looking around at the needs of others including clients and shareholders.
Sadly, the debris from Enron Lehman Brothers shows us what unbridled love of wealth can do to us. Jesus tells us that we can’t serve two masters because he knows we can’t do it. We will fail at it. However, the parable is not just about such businesses and the mangers of today. If we are honest with ourselves, really honest, we know that is also true of us. We often put our wealth, our possessions, our status, many things in front of our Love of God, and in front of things that really matter in our lives. And we can and do act like the dishonest manager.
But the parable reminds us that what matters, is how we live, our relationships with God and our neighbors, its about “the dash”, which is a beautiful poem read by Katie Fernandes at her grandmother’s funeral (Kathy Sheppard) on Thursday:
I read of a man who stood to speakAre we willing to change, to put our possessions in their proper place so to please and be faithful to our God, the first in our hearts? And when people speak of your dash, will it be your stuff they speak of, or how you gave so much love, so much of your time, talent & treasure to others? For when we place God first in our hearts, when our treasure is not our possessions but our relationship with God and each other, then we will be made complete and everything else in our lives, all of our relationships, will fall into line. Today, let us let go of those possessions and let God lead us on. Amen.
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone,
From the beginning…to the end.
He noted that first came her date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth…
And now only those who loved her,
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own;
The cars…the house…the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard…
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left,
That can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real,
And always try to understand
The way other people feel
And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile.
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy’s being read,
With your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say
‘bout how you spent your dash?
(The Dash (Poem) - by Linda Ellis)