Prudent uses of wealth?

September 22, 2013
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 20C (RCL)
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
Psalm 79:1-9
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

In the RCL Old Testament track, we’ve been reading passages relating to the history of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel in year C. We are coming to the end of that history. The passage from Jeremiah is God’s response to the siege of Jerusalem. Even after all the warnings of all the prophets, when we would almost expect God to say, “I told you so,” God instead is weeping over the ruin of Jerusalem. The psalm echoes the same events, but as so often happens in the psalms, expressed from the point of view of the people, they begin to seek God’s vengeance on their conquerors. Monotheism requires an answer to the catastrophe of God’s people. If there are many Gods, then catastrophe is easily explained: the God of some other people proved stronger. But if only our God, then why did this happen. The prophets, especially Jeremiah, began groping their way toward a response: God was angry at us because of our sins. The psalms take this a step further and suggest that once we have learned our lesson, and repented of our sins, the God will turn the tables, and punish those whom God used to punish us. Jeremiah, instead, takes the view that God grieves along with God’s people

The Gospel passage is one that people react against. Jesus appears to be approving of dishonesty. It is, however, the master in the story who approves of the steward’s actions. Jesus draws from the story only the moral that we (the disciples, to whom the parable is addressed) should make friends for ourselves by means of unrighteous wealth.

The first thing to notice about the parable is the size of the debts. The first debtor owes about 100 gallons of olive oil. This is a huge debt, not one acquired quickly, but over time. It’s also probably not a single debtor, but someone who has borrowed on behalf of a village perhaps. Same with the grain — a huge debt, probably built up over time, perhaps by share croppers as their portion owed to the landowner. The fact of the matter is, that with debts this large, the landowner is never going to recoup the debts — they are simply too large. All that will happen is driving the village or the share croppers ever deeper into debt. The steward’s move, then, would create a huge amount of good will toward the owner. Even if the owner does dismiss the steward, those who benefited from his actions will see he is taken care of.

The parable suggests we are to use our wealth the same way. The children of this age are wiser concerning their own generation that are the children of light. And the twist is, that everything we have now belongs to another, and what we will receive at some future time is what is truly ours: If you are not faithful with what belongs to another, who will entrust you with what is truly your own. The parable does not answer the question what that might be. That’s left to us to work out.

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