15 Pentecost C, 2019: Risky Business

  • Post author:
  • Post category:Sermons

That story from the Gospel of Luke
seems very confusing.

The problem is that Luke
has added a bunch of independent sayings
to Jesus’ original parable,
and in the editing and interpretive process,
whatever the point was,
the punch line got muddled.
Honestly, we do not really know
what the original parable or punch line was.

Here is my own take on the “Dishonest Manager.”

Jesus turns to his friends and says,
“Learn from the shrewd
and dishonest people around you:
they know how to hold onto what they value most.
Watch them:
What they value most
are lots of nice things,
a comfortable life,
and a sense of personal security.

They probably have what they want
but at the same time,
they probably lost what YOU value most.”
In other words, Jesus is saying:
“Learn to handle your money
and possessions
in such a way that you do not gain them
at the expense of what you cherish.”

If we took all the sayings, parables,
and proverbs attributed to Jesus,
and put them in a pile,
the number one subject –
the thing he talks most about –
is not love,
or faith,
or heaven.
It is money.
Jesus has more to say about money
than all those nice cuddly things
we associate with him.

His message about money is simple:
Wealth, power, and money
are not bad, but they are risky.
Jesus does not say
that having lots and lots of money
is wrong, but he does warn it is risky.
To be owners of capital,
share-holders of power, and to live in comfort
is nice if you can get it.
But when we do,
we are dangling from a string.

Now, just to be clear,
we should not be thinking that the only subjects
of this conversation are people like
Donald Trump or Les Wexner.
In relationship to Jesus and his social context,
almost all of us
would be wildly rich.

Those in the 1% are of course
beyond our imagination,
but any of us with moderate income and above
in the United States,
live at a level of comfort and security
unimagined by even the most powerful
in the first century.
King Herod did not live as well as we do.

So even those of us
with the most modest incomes
need to recognize the hazard
Jesus is talking about.

If we use our wealth and power
and all of its associated advantages
to insulateourselves from exposure to suffering, especially the suffering
of those who are marginalized,
then we will experience a gradual, subtle, enveloping drought.
Had we read the next few lines in Amos,
we would have heard about the drought
that awaits us when we live segregated lives –
insulated from those in need
while also contributing to their misery.

Amos says that when we live unto ourselves
and keep our distance
from those pushed to the edges
by economic, political, and social forces,
we will seek God but come up empty.
There will be a famine, Amos warns,
a famine of God awareness –
a deafness to hearing God’s whisper,
a silence of God’s word,
a desert of nothingness
when it comes to knowing God’s presence.

But here is what Jesus makes explicit
and that Christians have so often
misunderstood about the underlying wisdom
of prophetic poetry.

Amos’ words are not a threat of punishment,
but rather, a mere description of fact –
data to consider.
To put it in simple terms,
there is a law of spiritual physics –
a kind of cause-and-effect
that prophets like Amos warn us about it.
As I read it, Jesus’ parable
is an affirmation of Amos.

Jesus tells us that when possessions,
and power,
become ends in themselves–
rather than resources in the service of God’s love –
then we will begin to experience
a spiritual drought or famine.

subtly yet surely and terribly,
it will make itself known.
It will not happen all at once like acute hunger,
and instead be more like a slow, dry thirst.
God doesn’t disappear from our midst
but our vision fails,
and our hearing lessens,
and we enter into a kind of sensory deprivation
as far as the sacred is concerned.
But along with that warning of drought,
Jesus tell us that we have many opportunities
to re-order our lives
and shift our priorities,
and so restore our senses.

Those opportunities
are every-day experiences
that can evoke our compassion.
Exposure to the needs and suffering of others,
and the exposure of our own vulnerabilities,
provide us the way out of a spiritual drought.

Insulation and segregation
keep us at arm’s length from death,
and ordinary hazards
to which most people live in proximity.

We get lulled to rest
by a lack of personal exposure
that naturally comes with wealth and power.
We get insulated and segregated
from the suffering and needs
of those who live at the margins,
and so we are also blinded to how we benefit
from the marginalization of others.

Our very insulation from those in need
becomes the mechanism triggering
spiritual drought and famine.

Think about this in our own lives.

Why is there such a strong relationship
between personal crisisand
spiritual reawakening?
Or conversely, complacency
and spiritual numbness?
Or likewise, denial of crisis
and spiritual shallowness?

For Jesus and the other prophets of Israel,
it is a profoundly eloquent
and yet simple fact of nature:

If we have power and wealth
we need to be careful to use them
on behalf of those who do not.

We need to be careful about avoiding
too much insulation
so that we don’t get amnesia
about what our power and wealth
are to be usefor.
We need to be careful
lest we find ourselves drying out spiritually
because we have allowed good fortune
to insulate us
from those who dangle underneath
our own prosperity.

I am certain there a lot of people
that would get a good laugh
out of what I am saying right now.
Privilege has a strong, fibrous lining
protecting it with cynicism.

But I think you and I might even wince
at the idea that the source of our own healing
is in fact, the woundedness of others
in proximity to our own needs.

Whether socio-economic wounds,
the wounds of injustice and violence,
physical and emotional ailments –
whatever the source – our woundedness
finds its healing
when we enter the wounds of others.
It is that law of spiritual physics I mentioned.
I don’t know why it is true, and
I am not altogether sure I like it,
but like you, I know from experience it istrue.

And this relationship between
the woundedness of others
and our own healing,
is also precisely why
wealth and power are so risky.
It is because they so easily, even unintentionally,
insulate us from an acute sense
of suffering and struggle close at hand.

Wealth and power
increase our ability to deny
and cosmetically hide
our own woundedness,
and that is deadly.

And so, at least according to Jesus
and the ancient prophets,
it is all connected:
Awareness of God’s presence
and the proximity of our own woundedness
with that of others.
It is truly just the opposite of our inclination
to feel no pain,
see no evil,
want no vulnerability.

That dang gospel.