The Parable of the Shrewd Manager

The sermon today is based on the Gospel reading for today (Luke 16:1-13) and in it, Rev Jan takes on a challenging passage to understand.  The full text of the sermon is below.  The other readings for the day are Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1, Psalm 79:1-9 and 1 Timothy 2:1-10.

The parable in the gospel can be called “the parable of the wicked mammon”…. and we do need to remember it is a parable. As Tom Wright comments, it is not advice about financial management: Jesus is not telling people to cheat their bosses. He is certainly teaching that a relationship with God has to be first, and stand alone – otherwise it can’t be true and complete. It is only God we worship.

I acknowledge the Gospel today is really a challenging passage to tussle with; and it seems to me the other strong theme at its heart is about the sin of omission. The understanding of who are the ‘children of light’ is the people of Israel; and Jesus is saying that they have kept the light to themselves, and thus it has become darkness. This connects right into the Jeremiah reading which continues to follow the theme of impending disaster due to the disobedience of God’s people. Not listening to God leads to what sin is all about – turning away from God.

We don’t often think upon, or follow through the thinking and reflection around our “sins of omission”. And yet it has always been a vital part of the corporate confession we say each Eucharist…

“we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed,

and in what we have failed to do:

In the older Prayerbook, 1662, Evening Prayer, it was a bit more dramatic with the things left undone…

Almighty and most merciful Father, We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have offended against thy holy laws, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done, And there is no health in us: But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders; Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults, Restore thou them that are penitent, According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord: And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

Admission of the sin of omission brings not only confession, it brings contrition – contrition by its nature implies a willingness to repair one’s ways; the statement of repentance needs to move into the feeling of contrition, and the willingness to right one’s ways. And so the manager in the parable moves into shrewd contrition – moving away from the building of resource around money and material things, into the investment of relationships, moving into faithfulness even in a small way.

He shifted his life. He changed his habits, his usual practice. This is what is at the heart of contrition, and the response of true repentance – the sacrament of reconciliation. The making of character…

Story page 307 Flor McCarthy Year C

Once a holy man was instructing his disciples as they walked through a wood. He pointed to a small oak sapling, and asked one of his disciples to pull it up. The disciple did so with one hand. Then the master pointed to another oak, a little bigger than the first, and asked the disciple to pull that one up. He did so but had to use both hands. The master pointed to a third and bigger oak, and asked the disciple to pull it up. He could do so only with the help of one of his companions. Finally he pointed to a still larger oak and asked the disciple to pull that one up. Even with the help of all of his companions he was unable to do so.

And the master concluded, ‘That’s how it is with passions and habits. In the beginning, before they have sunk deep roots, it is easy to eradicate them. But if we allow them to sink deep roots, it becomes virtually impossible to rid ourselves of them.’

Changing habits and practices that we know are detrimental to a better way of life is difficult; being proactive around addressing the things we have not done is perhaps even more challenging. As the saying says, ‘for evil to triumph, all that is necessary is that good people do nothing.’

When I was working in Melbourne I was involved in the development of the Diocesan program for the Prevention of Violence Against Women. One of the workshops that was created to take into parishes was “Bystander Intervention Training”. The workshop teaches what behaviour to look out for, and also how to safely intervene in situations you recognise abuse of women and children (and sometimes men) is taking place.

The principle of the training though, of course, is based on your decision to become involved. To choose to become involved. It is about intervention; it is about not doing nothing. It is about addressing the sin of omission. It takes courage; it takes responsibility.

As Christians we believe in sharing the burdens of others, that we are indeed called to love our neighbours as much as self, beyond self. We have a culture of individualism in society; we have a culture of non-interference and privacy. The counter side of that is that we now also have loneliness and social isolation as a chronic state of unhealthiness. We have neighbourhoods where people don’t know each other, who don’t even trust each other ! and are not noticing the needs of each other. To change this, to shift this, we need people to take responsibility for the common good of our common life together. For those of you who came to the Community Forum a few weeks back on ‘Loneliness and Community Engagement’ you know I am quoting myself! And again, I say, the responsibility to take in this means it is about each of us – not the ‘someone else’.

Do you know, it is proven that in the traffic, when a car lets another car come in front of it, an action of kindness really, that person who has received the kindness is now far more likely to do the same thing for someone else. We cannot underestimate the flow on effect of role modelling how to be good neighbours, how to put others first, and those random acts of kindness. It is actually the premise of how the Christian church is called to grow – our own living out of what we believe becomes the drawcard, the attraction of others to inquire and engage with ‘I want what they have’. In the same way a bystander chooses to intervene, we have to choose of course to be a witness for Christ – not a private Christian, not a closet Christian – and not someone who, like the people Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel, hide the light of Christ when it suits them.

Jesus knows how challenging it is to change ourselves into a Christ-self… it’s lots of little actions, little thoughts; it is constant reflection on what we have done and what we have left undone… it is acknowledging our turning away – but it is also about not living in guilt and shame, or denial and false hope. Conversion into Christ is life-long – and every day is a new day with him, because we are a forgiven, loved people.

May we all be each and together a people who can aspire and live to be faithful in even a very little – because we know then that God is trusting us to be faithful also in much.   Amen.