22 September 2013
One thing we need to say about Jesus is that he knows how to get our attention. His parables often surprise and upset us. But he teaches in this way not to confuse us but to engage us, to involve us in the process of discerning what a particular parable might mean for our own lives. Consider the parable we just heard today. Its central character is a dishonest steward who first cheats his master then gets into trouble for doing so and then cheats him again to get out of trouble. Jesus presents this dishonest steward as an example to us of how to act prudently.
Really? Couldn’t Jesus have found another character more suitable as an example of prudence than this crooked manager? But the minute we ask ourselves that question, it leads us to an answer. There is a reason that this dishonest steward is the central character of the parable. This steward made a mess of his life and knew that he was responsible for his own misery. Therefore, this parable is addressed to us, when we find our own lives in disarray and realize that we are the ones to blame.
We might have lied to our spouse or to a close friend and been found out in that lie. Now relationships that we value have been compromised and endangered. We might find ourselves in the midst of a divorce and, despite the charges and counter-charges, we know that there are things that we have done or should have done that contributed to the break-up. We might have abused drugs or alcohol and now find ourselves broken and alone, because of all the people who we alienated in the process. Like the steward in the parable, we can find our lives damaged by our dishonesty, weakness, and selfishness. It is when we find ourselves in those circumstances that the steward becomes an example to us. That is because this steward does not give up.
He could have easily said, “My life is over. I’m going to throw in the towel. My own bad decisions have finished me.” But he does not quit. He uses his position and the relationships he has made to get himself out of his misery. He is not afraid to use the resources that came to him through his crime to move beyond his crime. He uses the brokenness of his messed-up life to form a better one. That is exactly what we must do when we realize our lives have been damaged by our own selfishness and sin. When our relationships are broken because of our dishonesty, it does us no good to say, “Gee, I wish I had healthy relationships.” We must, instead, pick up the broken pieces of those relationships and try to move to something that is better. When we are in the midst of divorce, it does us no good to say, “If only I had a healthy marriage.” We must claim the fact that we are now a divorced person and try to find a way to move forward. When our lives have been broken by the abuse of alcohol or drugs, it does us no good to say, “I should have remained sober.” Instead, we must take up our life as we find it and use it to build a new life.
Seen from this perspective, the parable is actually a parable of hope. It tells us there is no place we can find ourselves in which God will not be present to us to help us. We believe that God is present to help us when we face an evil that comes to us which is out of our own control: when someone hurts us, when sickness comes, or when we are struck by an accident we could not anticipate. But this parable tells us that God is also with us when the pain we must endure is of our own making.
The dishonest steward is an example to us, not because of his dishonesty but because of his desire to live. Therefore, when we find ourselves damaged and broken by our sin and mistakes, this parable tells us it is not time to give up. It is time to take the broken pieces of our lives and move forward. It is time to believe that God is with us in our worst condition. It is time to trust that the God who is with us will lead us out of the mess we have made into newness of life.