Generally, Jesus’ parables begin with expectations followed by surprising twists that help illustrate how God’s priorities contrast with human priorities.  There are lots of familiar examples – a father welcomes his disrespectful son back with open arms (after the son has spent half the family wealth) because the father is so relieved his son has returned.  A despised outsider (from Samaria) goes to great lengths to aid someone who has been attacked after religious leaders passed by and did nothing to help.  A shepherd leaves ninety-nine sheep to go seek just one that is lost.  At times, the familiarity leads us to miss the surprise and absurdity in the stories and we are not shocked as the original audience may have been.

This week’s parable is not one of those well-known and well-loved stories.  It is tricky and confusing, leaving us surprised and confused.  Jesus tells of a rich man who learns that his manager is wasting his money.  The rich man calls the manager to give an account, making it clear his job is ending.  The manager gives a quick thought to his options then tells at least some of the people who owe goods to his boss to reduce their bill, ensuring their good will when he is thrown out of his job.  The surprise comes when the boss commends the dishonest manager for his prudent actions.  Wait. What?

I don’t think Jesus is suggesting that God wants dishonest management.  Since it is likely that the reduction the manager gives the debtors (50% reduction of an oil debt and 20% reduction of a wheat debt) is his own artificially inflated cut of the interest, the boss may not be losing anything.  Perhaps the manager is being commended for giving up the oil and wheat payment (that he won’t get anyway, now that he lost the job) for hospitality from grateful debtors with reduced debts.  It seems that finally, the dishonest manager has realized what actually matters is not the money but the relationships in our lives and the way we care for and honor them.  Perhaps for the first time, as his own future is at risk, this manager sees the plight of the debtors who are struggling to make payments and feed their families.  The parable it is still a bit of a puzzle.  We are not sure which of these characters to connect with or which one seems to stand for God.  There is no reason to think the manager was moved by compassion rather than self-interest, though he certainly had every reason to experience a new empathy for the people now that his power is gone.  Questions and uncertainty still remain.

Perhaps it will take another 2000 years for us to untangle this parable and sort out what it has to say.  At this point, I am struck by the way his loss of power and resources leads the manager to act in compassionate ways towards the people around him.  Yes, his self-interest leads him there, but despite the less-than-ideal motivation, the dishonest manager has at last discovered that power and resources allowed him to overlook the needs around him.  He has also experienced himself that those who have needs and do not have power or resources often reach out and help others. 

God’s economy contrasts starkly with human economy.  God is not moved by profit or the bottom line. God calls us to use the power and resources we have to love and care for each other.  God teaches us to work for justice and inclusion.  God invites us to see one another with compassion . . . with the eyes of God.  In God’s economy, resources are always for caring.  Resources are never for taking advantage of others or the situation.  God’s economy is always about love, generosity and inclusion. 



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