Monthly Archives: September 2013
The Hardest Parable
The Unjust Steward
Luke 16: 1-13
Jesus said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property
He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you?
Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’
The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?
I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.
I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’
He called in his master’s debtors one by one.
To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’
He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note.
Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’
Then to another the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’
He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’
The steward said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note, write one for eighty.’
And the master commended the dishonest steward for acting prudently.
“For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.
If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?
If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?
No servant can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
The parable of The Unjust Steward always needs a lengthy explanation for it is not clear right away who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. That is why it was so interesting to go to two Masses and listen to two different interpretations of the same scripture.
At the Roman Catholic Mass Father Danny saw the steward’s doctoring of the books as an attempt to curry favor with those who owed his Master a debt. In this interpretation Father Danny sees the master as commending the steward for his cleverness.
But then he asks, if you can be clever for what is wrong why cannot you be equally clever for good? God gave us wisdom. Instead of abusing that gift cannot we use it for the betterment of humankind?
Do we use our God given wisdom to make bigger and better weapons or for more effective medicine?
In the end Father Danny still saw the steward as the bad guy and the master as blameless in this account.
At the Universal Catholic Church Bishop Tony asks, “Who do we identify with – the steward, the rich man or those who got a huge discount?”
This parable, continued Bishop Tony, is similar to another parable where a large debt is forgiven in the hope that the forgiven would do likewise, forgive the debts of those who owe him. This similar parable is forgiveness from the top down.
But in the case of the Unjust Steward forgiveness comes from the bottom up.
Bishop Tony then introduced us to another book this week – “The Parables of Grace” – reading some of the chapter titled “The Hardest Parable”.
In doing so he pointed out a few of the concepts introduced by its author Robert Farrar Capon.
1) Grace works only on those it finds dead enough to raise.
2) Grace cannot come from respectability
3) The unjust steward can be seen as a Christ figure
Here is a major portion of that chapter “The Hardest Parable” from the book “The Parables Of Grace”.
In any case, it all boils down to the fact that there are basically just two ways of interpreting this parable: you can make the steward out to be a hero or you can make him out to be a villain. Obviously, if you decide to read the parable as verses 1-8, the white-hat interpretation will be your natural choice; but if you read it as verses 1-13, the black hat will seem to fit better. It’s worth noting, though, that each interpretation has a price to pay. If you make the steward a bad guy, several things don’t make sense. In the first place, the heavily moralized parable that that gives you consists ill not only with the preceding parable in Luke but with the entire tone of the final journey to Jerusalem. Jesus has been on a grace trip for seven chapters now: he has been talking lastness, lostness, death, and resurrection, and he has again and again made it clear that the bookkeeping department’s heyday is a thing of the past. Why, then, at this stage of the game, would he poke in a parable that has none of the above as its main point – that amounts to little more than a surgeon general’s warning that “shady dealing is hazardous to your soul’s health”? Above all, why on earth would he put into the parable verse 8 (“And the Lord praised the unjust steward because he had acted shrewdly…”) – a verse which, unless it is taken as pure sarcasm, makes no sense whatsoever if you take the steward as a plain old bounder?
On the other hand, if you make the steward a good guy, verse 8 becomes the principal support for your interpretation – so much so, that you are willing (as I am) to lop off the rest of the passage in order to do justice to its decisiveness. Even at that price, though, the steward-as-hero interpretation seems preferable: it is, as you will see, consonant with the whole thrust of the parables of grace; in particular, it allows the parable to voice once again the theme of forgiveness-by-resurrection-from-the-dead that is the burden of so much of what Jesus has been saying. It even allows you to entertain the most bizarre and fruitful notion of all, namely, that of the unjust steward as Christ-figure. But more of that shortly. time now to expound the parable in order.
It begins with some nameless informant telling a certain rich man that his steward has been wasting (diaskorpizon) his money (hyparchonta, possessions). Score one fascinating point right there for a “grace” rather than a “morality” interpretation of this parable: diaskorpizein is the same verb used in the Prodigal Son to describe the boy’s “wasting” of his substance in the far country. From Jesus’ very choice of words, therefore, we are given a hint of continuity. Next, the master – without any trial or even fair inquiry – simply reads the steward the riot act: “What’s this I hear? You’re a disgrace! Turn in your books! You’re fired!” Score yet another point for continuity: just as with the Prodigal Son, death enters this parable early, and as a pivotal consideration. The son found himself dead in the far country; the steward comes out of his master’s office with none of his old life left at all.
But at this point, the parable of the Unjust Steward diverges from the Prodiagal Son and begins to look more like an upside-down version of the Unforgiving Servant. Watch “So the steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do now that my master has taken away my manager ship? I’m not strong enough to work as a laborer. I’m too proud to be a beggar. Aha! I’ve got it! I’ll use my brains and ace out that unforgiving tyrant. So he wants to play letter-of-the-law games, does he? He would like me to turn in my books, eh? Well, I’ll do just that – after I’ve made a few … adjustments.'”
What he does, of course, is call in his master’s debtors and settle accounts with them at considerable write-offs: he knocks the bill of one of them down by half, the bill of another by a fifth. all of which might produce a number of different results, depending on how you estimate it. On the one hand, it might at one and the same time make him look bad to his master and good to the debtors. If the master ever remembers any of the originally owed amounts he could be so furious over being gypped that the presence of cash in the till would hardly be enough to mollify him. But then, if the debtors thought kindly of the steward’s write-offs, they might, as he hooped, “receive him into their houses” after he was officially fired. On the other hand, his sharp dealing could, with even more logic, be read as making him look good to his master and bad to his debtors. For all we know, the master may have been overjoyed to get even fifty cents on the dollar from deadbeats like those. Likewise, for all we know, deadbeats like those could very likely have spotted the steward as no better than themselves and refused to give him office space.
But whichever of those readings or combination of them you decide to go with, the deciding factor remains verse 8. “And the Lord praised the unjust steward, for the children of this age are wiser in their generation than the children of light.” Somehow, between verse 2 (“What’s this? You’re fired”) and verse 8 (“My beamish boy! You’re a genius! I never thought I’d see even a nickel from those accounts!”), the master of the steward has turned from an unforgiving bookkeeper to a happy-go-lucky celebrator of any new interest that comes along. And what happened to him, can, as I have said, be best understood by comparing this parable with that of the Unforgiving Servant.
In that parable, forgiveness starts from the top down: the Lord, who is owed ten million dollars by one of his servants, simply drops dead to his own claim and absolves the debt. His intention, of course, is that the servant will take the hint and likewise drop dead to the hundred dollars owed to him by a fellow servant. But as Jesus tells the story, things do not work out that way – the forgiven servant chooses a bookkeeper’s life rather than a spendthrift’s death and thus short-circuits the working of forgiveness. Still, the point of the parable remains unchanged: grace works only on those it finds dead enough to raise.
Exactly the same point is made in the parable of the Unjust Steward, but by a reversal of the story’s device: forgiveness in this parable starts from the bottom up. Here, it is the lord of the steward who starts out unwilling to drop dead to any of his bookkeeping: He will not die to the steward’s peculations, and he will not die to the accounts past due that he has never succeeded in collecting. The steward, however, does die; and because he is freed by his death to think things he could not have thought before, he is the one who, from the bottom of the heap, as it were, becomes somehow the sight of a loser bringing off a coup like this in the very thick of his losses finally loosens the old boy up: ‘My God!” the master says, “My whole life has been a joke, and only now I learn to laugh at it!” But the steward is also able to be the resurrection of his lord’s debtors because they wouldn’t consent to deal with anyone but a crook like themselves: they would never have gone near him if they hadn’t been convinced he was dead to all the laws of respectable bookkeeping.
As far as I am concerned, therefore, the unjust steward is nothing less than the Christ-figure in this parable, a dead ringer for Jesus himself. First of all, he dies and rises, like Jesus. Second, by his death and resurrection, he raises others, like Jesus. But third and most important of all, the unjust steward is the Christ-figure because he is a crook, like Jesus. The unique contribution of this parable to our understanding of Jesus is its insistence that grace cannot come to the world through respectability. Respectability regards only life, success, winning; it will have no truck with the grace that works by death and losing – which is the only kind of grace there is.
The parable, therefore, says in story form what Jesus himself said by his life. He was not respectable. He broke the sabbath. He consorted with crooks. And he died as a criminal. Now at last, in the light of this parable, we see why he refused to be respectable: he did it to catch a world that respectability could only terrify and condemn. He became sin for us sinners, weak for us weaklings, lost for us losers, and dead for us dead. Crux muscipulum diaboli, St Augustine said: the cross is the devil’s mousetrap, baited with Jesus’ disreputable death. And it is a mousetrap for us, too. Jesus baits us criminals with his own criminality: as the shabby debtors in the parable were willing to deal only with the crooked steward and not with the upright lord, so we find ourselves drawn by the bait of a Jesus who winks at iniquity and makes friends of sinners – of us crooks, that is – and of all the losers who would never in a million years go near a God who knew what was expected of himself and insisted on what he expected of others.
You don’t like that? You think it lowers standards and threatens good order? You bet it does! And if you will cast your mind back, you will recall that is exactly why the forces of righteousness got rid of Jesus. Unfortunately, though, the church has never been able for very long to leave Jesus looking like the attractively crummy character he is: it can hardly resist the temptation to gussy him up into a respectable citizen. Even more unfortunately, it can almost never resist the temptation to gussy itself up into a bunch of supposedly perfect peaches, too good for the riffraff to sink their teeth into. But for all that, Jesus remains the only real peach – too fuzzy on the outside, nowhere near as sweet as we expected on the inside, and with the jaw breaking stone of his death right smack in the middle. And therefore he is the only mediator and advocate the likes of us will ever be able to trust, because like the unjust steward, he is the only one who has even a chance of getting the Lord God to give us a kind word.
“And the lord praised the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly”: “This is my beloved Son, Hear him” (Mark 9:7).
“For the children of this world are shrewder in their generation than the children of light”: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth (John 1:14)…and his own people did not receive him (John 1:11). He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant …and finding himself merely human, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death – death on the cross. Therefore God himself exalted him and graced him with a name that is above any other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2: 7-11).
Lucky for us we don’t have to deal with a just steward.
Twelve Year-Old with Atheist Mom Paints Shocking Pictures of Heaven and Jesus and Wins Her to Christ
Last Sunday ‘s Gospel was Luke’s rendition of the prodigal son among other illustrations of forgiveness. Bishop Tony Howard of St. Clement of Alexandria in his homily reminded us that we are already forgiven. You may get a different view down the street at XYZ church, he said. But as for here the emphasis is on repentance. Let me tell you what that means…..
And he proceeded to quote from the book Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power – And How They Can Be Restored by Marcus J. Borg
Below you will find excerpts from a chapter of this book.
Forgiveness In Relation To God
Do we need to be forgiven by God? Well it all depends upon what you mean by that. Do we imagine forgiveness as something God decides to do – that God decides to forgive some people, but not others? If so, what is the basis for being forgiven by God – are some among the elect (chosen by God) and others not?
But is being forgiven by God dependent on something we do? Some believe we can be forgiven only if we earnestly confess our sins, believe in Jesus, and resolve to live differently. But what do we do if we fail again? Seek forgiveness again? If so – and this is a very common way of thinking – then forgiveness is conditional. We can forgive only if…(fill in the rest of the sentence).
Or are we already forgiven – that is, accepted by God, loved by God – whether we know that or not? This has been the radical meaning of forgiveness and grace in the Bible and influential theological voices within the Christian tradition. For Luther , this discovery was the experience that led to his understanding of radical grace and his deliverance from what was for him an agonizing search for God’s approval.
A very powerful expression of this in modern times is in a book of sermons by Paul Tillich, one of the most influential mainline Protestant theologians of the twentieth century. The sermon’s title is “You Are Accepted.” It’s theme, sounded again and again, is we are forgiven, accepted by God, in spite of all that we think separates us from God. God’s love, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s acceptance of us is unconditional. Grace means that God’s love is a given.
This is forgiveness “in spite of” – that is, a sense of being accepted by God in spite of our imperfections and worse. Have I been less than I could be? Less loyal, less committed, less attentive, less generous, less willing than I should be to spend and be spent for the sake of what it means to follow Jesus? Yes. And God’s forgiveness, God’s mercy, means that I am loved by God in spite of that? Yes.
Of course it is vital that we see that, realize that, make it real by internalizing it, or else nothing will change in our lives. If we don’t see that, we will continue to feel guilty and alienated from God. We will continue to focus on what we must do to be saved.
But if we do see that forgiveness is unconditional and realize it by making it real, then the Christian life no longer consists of believing or doing what we must in order to be forgiven. God already accepts us and wills our well-being. See this, believe this, realize this, and your life will change. You will no longer be preoccupied with becoming secure by measuring up.
Some Christians believe that forgiveness doesn’t happen apart from sincere repentance. Without repentance, there is no forgiveness.
Within this framework, repentance means being thoroughly sorry for our sins and earnestly resolving not to continue the behaviors and thoughts understood to be sins. And if our repentance doesn’t contain enough of that remorse and resolve, can we be forgiven?
The biblical meanings of repentance are quite different and much richer. It has two primary meanings. The first flows from the Hebrew word in the Old Testament commonly translated into English as repent or repentance. It means “to turn, to return.” The word directly relates to ancient Israel’s experience of exile in Babylon. To repent meant “to return” – to embark on a journey of return to the “homeland,” the Holy Land, where God is. That is the metaphorical meaning of the Holy Land, Jerusalem, Zion, the Temple – all are symbols for the presence of God. To repent is to embark on a journey of return to God – a journey that is also with God.
It also has a second resonance that flows from the roots of the Greek word in the New Testament commonly translated into English as repent or repentance. Its Greek roots mean “to go beyond the mind we have.” The phrase is both provocative and evocative. This is what repentance means?
And what does it mean to “to go beyond the mind that we have”? This is the evocative part. The mind that we have is the mind acquired by being socialized in our particular place and time. The natural result of growing up is to have an enculturated mind, a way of seeing shaped by what we have learned. Few if any of us escape this. So to go beyond the mind that we have means seeing in a new way – a way shaped by God as known decisively in Jesus. This is repentance.
The Bible does speak of repenting for our sins. But the emphasis is not so much on contrition and sorrow and guilt, but about turning from them and returning to God. Repentance is about change, not primarily a prerequisite for forgiveness. To repent means to turn, return to God and to go beyond the mind that we have and see things in a new way. That’s pretty exciting.
Forgiveness is not dependent upon repentance. We are forgiven already, loved and accepted by God. We don’t need to do anything to warrant God’s love. But repentance – turning and returning to God, going beyond the mind that we have – is the path that leads to transformation.
“I WAS THERE”
You say you will never forget where you were when you heard the news on Sept. 11, 2001.
Neither will I.
I was on the 110th floor in a smoke filled room with a man who called his wife to say “Good-Bye.” I held his fingers steady as he dialed. I gave him the peace to say, “Honey, I am not going to make it, but it is OK…I am ready to go.” I was with his wife when he called as she fed breakfast to their children. I held her up as she tried to understand his words as she realized he wasn’t coming home that night.
I was in the stairwell on the 23rd floor when a women cried out to me for help. “I have been knocking on the door of your heart for 50 years!” I said “Of course I will show you the way home – only believe in Me now.”
I was at the base of the building with the Priest ministering to the injured and devastated souls. I took him home to tend to his Flock in Heaven. He heard my voice and answered.
I was on all four of those planes, in every seat, with every prayer. I was with the crew as they were overtaken. I was in the very hearts of the believers there, Comforting and assuring them that their Faith has saved them.
I was in Texas, Kansas, London. I was standing next to you when you heard the terrible news. Did you sense Me?
I want you to know that I saw every face. I knew every name – though NOT all knew Me. Some met me for the first time on the 86th floor. Some sought me out with their last breath. Some couldn’t hear me calling them through the smoke and flames, “Come to Me…this way…take my hand.”
Some chose, for the final time, to ignore Me.
But, I was there.
I did not place you in the Tower that day – you may not know why, but I DO.
However, if you were there in that explosive moment in time, would you have reached for Me? September 11, 2001 was not the end of the journey for you. But someday your journey will end. And I will be there for you as well. Seek Me now while I may be found. Then at any moment, you know you are “ready to go.”
I will be in the stairwell of your final moments.
Remember…I love you.
Written by: Stacey Randall
This short video from Voice of the Martyrs is just another reminder of how bad our brothers and sisters overseas have it! For the most part, they simply desire a bible. But we as the Church, should also provide them with unending prayer and support.
I’d HIGHLY recommend that if you are a true follower of Messiah, you would do well to keep our brethren in prayer.
The video’s original location:
PLEASE KEEP OUR PERSECUTED BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST IN PRAYER!!!!!!!
At Sacred Heart I proclaimed this week’s second reading from the letter of Saint Paul to Philemon, Philemon 9-10, 12-17. Many times I will proclaim a reading in full, forceful style waking up any in the back benches who have dozed off. But this reading required a different style.
“I, Paul, an old man,…”
It necessitated a subdued, gentle demeanor. And so it went through the entire reading. Especially during the highlight:
“no longer as a slave
but more than a slave, a brother
beloved especially to me, but even more to you,
as a man and in the Lord.”
Paul is asking Philemon to accept Onesimus back as a free and equal man because as he has come to Christ so has he came to be one in the same with all humanity. Here we see the true essence of Christianity. We are all brothers and sisters under Christ. Inequality, class structure and slavery do not fit in with Christ’s message. Paul saw this 2000 years ago. Why have we had such trouble seeing it down through the ages?
“So if you regard me as a partner,
Welcome him, as you would me.”
Sunday’s first reading was from Sirach 3:17-18,20,28-29 where we hear, “My child, conduct your affairs with humility.” The Gospel was Luke 14: 1, 7-14 where we hear “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Catholic workbook for readers remarks, “Jesus extends the teaching on humility beyond the mere exchange of places of honor for lower places at the table. In this uniquely Lucan parable , Jesus points out that humility involves not only how we behave as guests at others’ banquets, but whom we invite when we host a gathering….Repayment does not matter… All that we need God will provide…”
One of the unique characteristics of Christianity I have always admired is its emphasis on humility. Oh, I suppose other religions also value this virtue but I am no theologian and have not the education and training to say one way or the other. Yet, whether in religions or just everyday life one can see the tendency to not be humble, to be aggressive.
We must be careful in our definition of humility. For me it is the quality of being willing to listen, to not let your ego overtake your spirit, that everything in the world does not revolve around ME, ME, ME. Humility is the opposite of Narcissism. I am not the center of the universe, God is.
Merriam Webster defines being humble as – “reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission.” And is this not how we come to God in prayer? Do we come before our Creator in full blown aggressive, arrogant and demanding behavior or do we enter into our relationship and discourse with God on our knees, in praise, honor and adoration? Do we not pray, “Thy kingdom come thy will be done?” It is not our will but His. It is not what we want but what He wants and knows what is best for us.
The real test of being humble is not before God but in our daily interaction with humankind. Somehow we seem to have grasped the need to treat God well yet we treat each other with disdain and contempt. It’s not just a matter of Love, although that is central to our translating into human thinking what God is all about. Yet love is a concept while being humble is an application. To be loving is to be humble. It is thinking of the other before yourself, it is letting go all thoughts of exalting yourself and to just be. That’s right just be and be accepting of where God takes you and open to receiving His grace. It is about looking inside instead of outside for what God has placed inside you is very Holy.
Instead of trying to get ahead in life, to get more and more and more try just striving to enjoy the journey as it unfolds and to be thankful for what you have. In the Beatitudes we hear, The meek shall inherit the earth. I rather think that was meant to be the humble shall inherit the earth. It’s not about being timid it’s about being less self centered and more into the oneness of us all. One can be demonstrative without being an ego maniac. One can shout from the rooftops yet still be humble.
Such are the views of a lay person such as I. This view could be challenged by a theologian. So be it. I welcome all who have differing views and who can further open my eyes. Here is one other view by someone much more theologically educated than I.