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The parable of the dishonest manager

The parable of the dishonest manager

If you follow a lot of priests on social media, you overhear them talking with one another about the sermons they are preparing. Last week much of the conversation was about how difficult it is to make sense of the parable of the dishonest steward (yesterday’s gospel). I happened to be up late on Saturday when the Rev. David Sibley, of St. John’s Episcopal Church in the Fort Hamilton section of Brooklyn, tweeted that he had suddenly seen something in the parable that he had missed before, that he finally had something to say, but that it would take him longer than usual to say it.

Here is a link to David’s sermon, which includes a self-critical postscript that you won’t want to miss.

He says, in part:

So what is Jesus saying? Jesus is clearly not commending dishonesty in this parable. In fact, he’s very clear about it: “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much; if then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches [of the kingdom of heaven]? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” So at least that moral lesson is clear: honesty is, in fact essential. So what are we to make of the rest of today’s gospel? What is it about the manager’s action is Jesus commending to us?

What Jesus is teaching us is a lesson about economics. Not in our usual sense of profit and loss statements, gross wealth, and fiscal policy – but about the difference between the economics – the oikonomia – of God’s household and God’s kingdom, and of the economy of dishonest wealth, and of mammon. Wealth is not currency in the kingdom of God; it achieves no ends, it is not brought with us; it will always leave us unfulfilled. And in the household of God, wealth doesn’t have currency. But relationships do. And mercy does. The manager shrewdly – and from the debtor’s perspective, mercifully – dealt away something that was of no value in the kingdom of God – temporal wealth – for something of great value – relationship. And the relationships he forms – yes, even, by less than honest means according to the standards of the world’s economy– those relationships will be the way he has life.

He’s changing economies from the economy of wealth, to the economy of God. It’s this jolting turnabout in the parable, where Jesus confounds our mores and expectations, that tells us something about the kingdom of God: that relationship holds currency, and gives us root and security in God’s economy.

What are your thoughts? What sort of sermon did you hear (or preach) yesterday?


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sue sommer

Robert Capon, of blessed memory, had fascinating take on this parable in his book,Parables of Grace. He saw Jesus himself as the dishonest manager, accused of squandering the rich man’s property. This makes some sense if we understand the rich man’s to signify God and the “property” to be Grace. In extending debt forgiveness to his employer’s debtors,Jesus was in a sense playing fast and loose with the “rules” as the Pharisees (as depicted in Luke) understood them. (hence, dishonest.) The parable then becomes another in the series of Lost-Found parables. I was in children’s chapel this past Sunday while my associate preached in the adult service. I talked with the kids about the Lord’s Prayer, and of how the Church has 3 different ways of praying one line: forgive us our sins; forgive us our trespasses; forgive us our debts.

Sue Sommer

Chris Epting

Think I agree with Rudolph Bultmann — “this parable is incomprehensible.”

tobias haller

Actually, I took the opportunity to deconstruct and invert the atonement understood as placating God.

Lionel Deimel

This certainly is a perplexing parable. Perhaps the story just became garbled as it was handed down to us.

Gary Paul Gilbert

I recommend William Herzog’s Parables as Subversie Speech, chapter 13.

Herzog says parables as a genre are not to be read as examples or allegories of the Kingdom of God but rather as conversation- starters about exploitation in everyday life. The dishonest steward learns to navigate an unjust economic system.

Gary Paul Gilbert

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