Last week, it was to the Pharisees and Scribes that Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin.
But today in the Gospel, there are no Pharisees and Scribes. There aren’t any sinners or tax collectors around. Not even any great crowds. Today the scene is more intimate. Jesus is alone with his friends, with those that he called so many months ago and who have been doing their best to faithfully walk with him and to learn from him. It is to them, his disciples, that Jesus speaks this morning.
Now, I bet that when Jesus came into the room that morning as they were all having breakfast and said, “I have something to tell you.” I bet they immediately put down their spoons and stopped buttering their toast and I bet they were rapt with attention, waiting eagerly for what it was Jesus had to say.
For at this midway point in the Gospel of Luke, the disciples must have been feeling pretty confident in and rather proud even, of their relationship with this great teacher that was changing so many lives. It must have felt good for them to be with Jesus, to be his right hand women and men, those that he relied on, those with whom he shared his ministry.
And though they probably would not have wanted to admit it, I bet it also felt pretty good to see how the crowd looked at them with a bit of envy perhaps for getting to be among those Jesus trusted most. And I bet it felt pretty good to see how the Pharisees and Scribes looked at them with the same wariness and curiosity that they had when they looked upon Jesus.
So I imagine the disciples, that morning, were feeling pretty good, when Jesus told them that he had something to say.
But even a quick read of the Gospel accounts will tell that one had better be ready for anything when Jesus shows up. Jesus you see, has a real knack for shaking things up, a real knack for keeping one from getting too comfortable. And that morning, this morning is no different. For this parable of the “dishonest manager,” as it is sometimes called, was not at all, I bet, what those disciples were expecting that day, not at all perhaps what we may be expecting.
Jesus said to the disciples “There was a rich man who had a manager,” — so far so good. Jesus was certainly a rich man, rich in God’s grace and abundant love and it was an honor to be Jesus’ managers if that is what it was he was saying.
But then Jesus continues, “charges were brought to the rich man that his manager was squandering the rich man’s property.”
Ouch! Not so good. Just yesterday, the disciples had just heard Jesus tell the Pharisees and Scribes and the others a parable about another man who had squandered property. They had just heard about the prodigal son who had squandered his property in dissolute living. Is Jesus pairing the self centered, self indulgent, irresponsible, and wastefulness of the prodigal son with that now of the manager, with that now of them? I bet those disciples started to sit up just a bit straighter and I bet the smiles started to slip from their faces as they wondered:
“Why is he telling us this?” Does he think we are going to run off and use all that has been entrusted to us for our own enjoyment and gain? Is he warning us not to squander the riches of God’s love and grace — Riches of forgiveness, compassion, of healing, wholeness, hope, vision, promise, reconciliation, renewal – all that have been entrusted to us?
To squander is a scary thing for it means to spend away until there is nothing left, and nothing to show for all that was. Nothing left, but — as the prodigal son knew so well – nothing but emptiness and need. Is Jesus warning us in this parable that if we use what we have been given just for our own benefit and enjoyment that we too may run the risk of losing it all? Is this the teaching for us today?
I’ll never forget that day. I was well into my second semester of my first year at college. I remember as I walked to the bank with bank card in hand, I remember feeling pretty good. I felt that I was finally in charge of my own life. I had freedom, control and power and agency. I remember putting in my card in the ATM machine, punching in my PIN, then withdraw, then $60 dollars, and then waiting for that humming signature sound right before the machine spits out the cash. But that sound, that lovely sound, did not come. Instead a message on the screen flashed “insufficient funds”.
I was puzzled and so I punched in a lower number $40 maybe and waited but again, no satisfying money spitting sound – instead once again “insufficient funds.” Now my heart was beating fast at this point and I punched in $20. And once again “insufficient funds”
And so with cheeks burning, I cancelled my transaction and went into the bank office to speak to the manager. I said “I think there is a problem with my account because the screen keeps telling me that there are insufficient funds.”
The bank manager who was probably used to this scenario, being a bank manager in a college town after all, she was probably not nearly as harsh with me as she could have been. But none the less she said quite pointedly “No, there is no problem with your account. The problem is with you. You have spent — all of the money – that you had.”
I stumbled out that encounter with her shocked and embarrassed. Where had all of my summer earnings gone? Had I really squandered it all? Could I have really emptied my account? And worse still, did I really have nothing to show for it?
So if squandering looks like the manager in the parable Jesus told his disciples that day; if squandering looks like the prodigal son who lost all he had on dissolute living; if squandering looks like me in my freshman year, the question on the table is what does not squandering look like? What does it look like to be prudent, wise, shrewd even in our care of that which has been entrusted to us?
Not squandering may look a lot like what Jesus told the disciples to do back several chapters in the Gospel of Luke when he first commissioned them to go out and share the Good News. Scripture tell us that Jesus entrusted them with quote “power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” And then he told them that they are not to “take anything for the journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money – not even an extra tunic.” Whatever house you enter, he says. just stay there.
But, as difficult and self sacrificing as his instructions may have been the disciples did it. And in doing so they brought good news and cured diseases everywhere we are told. (see Luke 9:3-6).
So maybe not squandering looks like finding a way to help bring another to healing and wholeness even if that means inconvenience and self sacrifice.
And not squandering may look a lot like being prepared and ready to step into the opportunities of action and care whenever and wherever they may arise. It may look a lot like those prudent ones that we hear about in the Gospel of Matthew who took oil for their lamps when they went out to meet the bridegroom and therefore were ready to receive him when he came. (Matthew 25: 4).
And not squandering may look like having the staying power to hang in there with what is right even in, especially in trying times. Like that wise man, that the Gospel of Matthew tells us, who build his house on a rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house, and yet it did not fall for it had been founded on the rock.” (Matthew 7: 24-25).
I remember as I walked back up the hill to campus on that day terrible day of my accounting, I remember giving myself a bit of a talking to. I told myself that I had better start doing things differently. I had to do a much better job planning how I was going to use the little bit of money I earned each week at my work study job, if I was going to make it through the end of the year without having to resort to hard labor or begging! Even for me, not squandering meant being just a bit more wise, prudent, shrewd even.
And it turns out, in this parable that Jesus tells to the disciples that day, not squandering anymore is exactly in his own rather misguided way exactly what that manager does next. It turns out that he took a hard look at his options and made a plan, best as he could, a plan it turns out that in the end is about sharing the riches of the owner with others thereby relieving their debt, easing their suffering. And he ended up broadcasting to the community through his actions the generosity of his boss. And we are told that in this, he acted shrewdly (the same word by the way that in its original Greek is also translated as prudent, and wise).
And I wonder if his self preserving blunderings may have none-the-less showed his boss that he was not a helpless cause. He was in some small measure, capable of not squandering that which was entrusted to him, of being shrewd, of being wise, of being prudent. For the surprising twist I this parable is that he is ultimately commended.
So I wonder what does “not squandering” look like for us this year? Jesus often uses the rhetorical device of “if even this one who is with sin can do something good, how much more should you be able to do?” So I am, I am quite certain that Jesus in this parable is not instructing the disciples not instructing us to cook the books like the manager did. I think he is asking us to do much better than that!
What does finding a way to help bring another to healing and wholeness look like for us this year? What does being prepared and ready to step into the opportunities of action and care whenever and wherever they may arise look for us this year? What does having the staying power to hang in there with what is right even in, especially in trying times look like for us, what does that look like for us this year?
Now as much as the teaching in this parable may very well be about a warning to not squander the gifts that Jesus entrusts to his disciples, there is another equally important but far more subtle teaching here for us as well, I think.
For I find it very interesting that when the rich man summons the manager, the rich man does not just fire him on the spot. Instead he tells the manager to “give an accounting of himself;” to go back to the office and write up the records and bring it back to him for review. In doing so, the rich man gives the manager time to do something different than what he had been doing. The rich man opens space for redemption of sorts.
We saw this too in the Genesis passage from last week when the Lord God was walking in the cool of the evening breeze and calls out to Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” I don’t think for a moment that the maker of heaven and earth actually did not know where Adam and Eve were hiding that day. I am sure the Lord God knew perfectly well, but that God calls out to them none the less in order, I believe, to give them an opportunity to come out of their hiding and do something different.
And doing something different is exactly what the manager ends up doing in Jesus teaching this day. And I wonder, was this the rich man’s plan all along. And I would not be surprised if this manager after all was said and done didn’t find himself with a job on Monday morning after all.
Yes, we are not to squander all that has been entrusted to us as Jesus disciples. Yes we are to be wise, prudent and shrewd but even when we don’t. Even when we fall down and do that which we ought not to do, even when we end up being called out on our squandering of that which has been entrusted to us, God does not rush to punish but instead gives us time to do something different. Ours is a God of second chances, whose generosity towards us outweighs the judgment against us. And that, I believe is the Good News for us today.
I wasn’t there of course, and can never really know, but somehow I think that when Jesus finished telling this parable to his disciples that morning, when there was silence hanging there in the room, I bet he then smiled a smile that was deep and wide; I bet he clapped those near to him on their backs and then I imagine, he began to whistle as he headed out for a walk to see what it was the day would bring. And the disciples? Well I bet they scrambled out as fast as they could to join him.
 This is the refrain in a Veggie Tales song.