Proper 20, Year C, 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Luke 16:1-13
In today’s parable, Jesus makes a distinction between “children of this age” and “children of light.” This distinction highlights our struggles of living in the world but not being of the world. As Christians we cannot separate ourselves from the world,
we cannot live lives tucked away, trying to stay safe. Christianity was formed in community and is best lived in community. When we do not have a Christian community to be part of, our faith lives in isolation.
Today’s complicated parable speaks of a dishonest manager. We don’t exactly know how he was dishonest but it is obvious that his dealings have caused problems with his boss. This is why his boss puts him on notice and wants to fire him. The manager seems to know that he has done wrong because he doesn’t dispute the accusations and when he is put on notice he reflects on what he has done.
In his reflections the manager realizes that he has nowhere to turn. When he is thrown out he knows that he is not able to do physical labor and he is too proud to beg. So he act shrewdly to woo people back into his good graces. The manager calls in his bosses debtors and one by one reduces their debt by twenty to fifty percent. By reducing the people’s debts the manager is hoping to get in the good graces of these people, to rebuild community that was lost, so when he is let go he has a place to turn. Amazingly the boss is not upset by the manager’s tactics. He actually congratulates him on his shrewdness as we read, “for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”
So why is Christ telling us a story that praises a man for dealing with people in dishonest ways? I believe the answer comes in this sentence. “If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you [with] the true riches?” The dishonest manager, when pressed, turned and does good. He tries to reconcile with those whom he cheated, by cutting the debts they owed. Some scholars believe that the manager was over charging people possibly taking a larger commission than he should. So when he attempts to make things right the boss is happy because he is not out anything, he is still receiving the proper value for his goods. The traders are happy because their debt was significantly cut. And the manager is happy because he was able to mend the relationships that he put under stress. Jesus is saying that even if you have, in the past, received ill-gotten gains, dishonest wealth, you need to be faithful with it.
We have a spiritual duty to reconcile with those we have hurt. Some say that this is why people who learn of their death usually through illness become more generous to others. They know that they cannot take their wealth with them. They also realize how satisfying generosity is. May this be why the proverbial used car salesmen has such a bad rap? Over the years they have cheated and swindled people and they do not seem to have remorse.
Christ never says this manager was a good person or an example that we should follow, but he alludes to the idea that we know what is right and that it is through tough times that we seem to do what is right. The manager clearly has a change within him, and though the impetus for change, to be faithful in what he was doing, came from an outside force, the actual change or faithfulness came from within himself; a change that he could have always made if he put his heart, mind and spirit to it.
As I move in to the 1st Timothy passage, I want us to keep in our minds this idea of faithfulness. The author of 1st Timothy urges us to make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for everyone. His examples are kings and those in high positions, but it is clear that he means every one beyond these examples. I think he points out these examples because we often find it harder to pray for people we dislike verses those we care about. Generally speaking the people that Paul is talking to would probably have had a similar opinion about their emperors and officials that we have of ours political leaders.
Let’s be honest, in the days when this book was written there was a much greater disparity of money and power between the officials and the average person. Yet in many ways there are similarities with today. Politicians are still known for corruption, dishonesty; for holding their power and authority over others, and for making laws to suit themselves and their cronies. Yet what does Paul asked us to do? We are asked to pray for them. Not just general prayers such as we will do in the prayers of the people today, but very specific types of prayers. He says we should have prayers of intersession - praying for others. In these prayers we can pray for people in many different ways. We can pray that they will change their customs, or become a better person. We can pray that God’s will, will be done in their lives. Our prayers can be very general or very specific. When our prayers are generalized they may be the easiest to achieve.
Now we could also pray that they get hit by a bus or something equally awful. But this is clearly not what the intent for these prayers are. We are told that these prayers are for a “quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” To pray ill for someone is not what we do as Christians. For as Christians we have an interest in the welfare of all people.
Paul mentions more specific prayers, he mentions prayers of supplications. These are prayers in which we ask to receive something. They are sometimes called prayers of petition, or entreaties. We are asking to receive something from that person; something good from one person to be passed on to another person. In those days a person may have prayed that the emperor would spare their life. We might pray that our taxes are lowered or that we have better access to healthcare. My suggestions may be rather broad and I would say that the more specific we can be about our prayers the better. Again, finding words for this type of prayer is usually not too difficult for us.
Prayers of thanksgivings on the other hand may be the hardest for us. Especially if we do not care for the person we are praying for. In this pray we are thanking God for them in our lives. So this means in our heated political times we should be prying for both of the candidates. As difficult as this may be, this is none the less what we are being asked to do. We are asked to thank God as specifically as we can for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in our lives. This can take a certain amount of strength to look within ourselves and find this thanksgiving.
We have 50 days until the election and I wonder if each of us can commit a short moment each day to find something we are thankful for within the candidate we do not support. I’ll be the first to admit that the more passionate we are about our candidate the harder this challenge will be. But this short time frame gives us the opportunity to start a practice of prayer in which our growth in spiritual maturity will flourish. This spiritual struggle will lead us to be more faithful with in the world we live; building community with those who we have hurt or those who we feel have hurt us. Let us take a moment of silent prayer.