Dishonest Manager Job Application
One of our presidential candidates used to like to say that on TV, and that’s what the man in our gospel story today is about to hear from his employer.
This story in the Gospel of Luke is known as the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, and it’s honestly a little tricky for us to get our heads around at first.
When I found out this was the text I had drawn for my first sermon at St. Francis, I was afraid “you’re fired” was exactly what I was going to hear as soon as I got out of the pulpit!
But I have faith that we can figure this out.
Let’s review the facts as we know them. We start with two characters: the rich man and his manager.
Word on the street is that the manager has been embezzling funds and taking kickback, and the rich man summons him to his office for a pre-firing dressing down.
In serious hot water, the manager realizes he’s not trained for any other type of job and he’d better lay some groundwork for his future.
So going to his master’s clients, he reduces their bills, thereby earning himself their gratitude and restoring his master’s reputation from someone who employs corrupt officials to someone who is generous with his clients.
We can follow up to this point. The manager is trying to make the best of a bad situation, and since he’s already defrauded his boss, he might as well go whole hog and make himself look good by unethically reducing the amount of money the clients owe.
You would think that when the rich man found out that his manager had again cheated him out of money, he would call for the tar and feathers.
But no. Jesus said that the “master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”
Jesus’ words are completely baffling.
They just don’t seem to match the type of behavior he usually asks us to display.
There’s nothing in the Sermon on the Mount like, “Blessed are the shrewd, for they shall make eternal homes by means of dishonest wealth.”
But what if we looked at this a different way? What if Jesus meant something unexpected by “dishonest wealth”?
What is the most important thing in our entire lives?
What is the most valuable, the most precious, the truth and the reality and the blessing that makes this life worth living?
It is salvation.
It is the knowledge that God’s posture toward us is an unending outpouring of grace.
It is the truth that the thread binding together the fabric of the universe is love, and we have been made of and grown in and called to live this love.
This truth, this knowledge, this salvation—this is our greatest wealth.
And it is dishonest wealth, isn’t it, when you stop to think about it?
Did we earn our salvation by dint of our own hard work? Have we painstakingly built our reserved bunk in heaven by days of careful virtue and years of righteous holiness?
No! We have no right to this wealth! It is not our own!
Salvation, the knowledge of the Good News of Jesus Christ, is our dishonest wealth, and we are dripping with it.
We have been caught with our fingerprints on the safe, with our image on the surveillance camera, with our hands in the cookie jar, if you will.
Kind of puts a different slant on the parable, doesn’t it?
And if we think about it from that slant, we start to hear Jesus’ message a little more clearly.
What was the dishonest manager’s mistake? Hoarding that wealth to himself.
Taking the unearned blessing and keeping it and hiding it.
Do we do that with salvation?
I think maybe we do.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of my top five ministry activities every week, evangelism doesn’t even show up. It might not even make the top ten.
I’m hoarding my dishonest wealth.
We all are, if we’re not sharing our faith with what we say and how we act, with the choices we make and the service we give.
What is it that the dishonest manager does when he tries to fix the mess he’s made for himself?
He goes to the clients and slashes the amount they owe the master.
He forgives them their debts.
Wait a minute, that sounds familiar. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
That rings a bell—it’s another translation of “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
What is the first step to quit hoarding our dishonest wealth, to share it?
Jesus says it is forgiveness. We are to forgive the people we hold grudges against, and we also need to start forgiving ourselves, for hoarding and squandering the master’s gifts as our parable says.
And what does forgiveness require of us? Vulnerability, and boy do we hate that.
Like our friend in the parable, we might find ourselves saying, “I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.”
I am not strong enough or brave enough to really take evangelism seriously as a spiritual discipline.
And I am ashamed and afraid to ask for forgiveness from the people I’ve hurt, and to let go of my ego’s self-righteous indignation long enough to forgive the people who have hurt me.
The great news is that it’s okay that we feel that way.
The dishonest manager, when he goes out and starts forgiving debts, doesn’t know how things are going to turn out.
He doesn’t know what the consequences will be, he just grasps the courage within himself to stop hoarding the wealth and start forgiving debts.
We can do the same thing.
We don’t have to see far into the future and anticipate what will happen, or get it right every time, or never backslide into fear and self-righteousness, because we will.
We just keep trying.
We just open our tightly clenched fists a little more every day, and let go.
We let go of the pain of withholding forgiveness, and we let go of the fear of sharing the good news of Jesus.
And when we do that, we’re also letting go of our death grip on salvation and security and comfort, and setting free the grace in our lives to enter someone else’s life.
And grace shared is always grace multiplied.
Jesus says to us today: “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.”
Sometimes the grace of our salvation feels like very little in our lives.
Sometimes we struggle to take comfort or strength in the big beautiful truths of the universe, because they can seem abstract and far away from the painful small realities of our lives.
When your co-worker is spreading ugly gossip about you behind your back, when your child comes home from soccer practice or dance class crushed from having made a mistake in front of everyone, when your spouse never seems to notice how the silence between you aches more every day, it’s hard to connect with ideas like eternal salvation and universal forgiveness.
When the cancer comes back, when the job is lost, when the liquor cabinet seems to empty faster every month—where is grace then?
Where is love?
Where is the strength to be faithful as Jesus asks us?
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.”
When the reasons to think about eternal salvation or evangelism or any of the rest of it seem very far away, go small.
Look for the tiniest, most insignificant presence of grace.
The sunlight through the leaves. A cup of hot coffee or tea. A smile from a friend or the laughter of your child.
Those moments are love letters from God, God trying to reach through your pain and warm your lonely heart.
And be faithful there.
Bring small faithfulness to small moments.
Just give thanks for the grace, and forgive that day for being so hard. And you have been faithful to Jesus in that moment.
He sees it, and he knows it, and he cherishes you for it.
And small faithfulness in small moments leads to great faithfulness in great moments.
Suddenly you are finding the courage to forgive the deepest hurts you’ve ever experienced, and the courage to quit hoarding grace and ask a friend who God is in their lives.
You are serving in our community in a new and different role than you’ve ever tried before, and coming to love and respect people you thought you’d never be able to stand.
These are the riches of investing our dishonest wealth back into God and into the people around us.
These are the blessings of seeing Paul’s words come true, realizing as he says 2 Corinthians that “now is the day of salvation!”
Not in some far off metaphysical future that only exists after death.
When we talk about eternal salvation, we’re not talking about making it past St. Peter at the pearly gates and receiving a harp and wings.
We’re talking about love permeating and transforming our lives every single day on this earth, right now.
That is eternal salvation, the dishonest wealth that is God’s gift to us with every breath we take.
And we should seize it. We should take our ill-gotten gains and run with them, not to hide them but to spread them around to everyone around us.
I promise you, you will find gratitude and joy starting to pour out of you as you see that giving yourself away is living out eternal salvation.
At the end of our parable today, Jesus paints a picture of what we will see when this earthly life does run its course and we cross over into the next world.
“And I tell you,” Jesus says, “Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”
Sharing the good news, sharing forgiveness, sharing love, taking our dishonest wealth of salvation and giving it away whenever we can—this is the task of our lives.
And what joy we will know when we cross over and we are greeted by the people we gave to, the people we loved, the people we forgave and who forgave us, for whom we risked and cried and laughed and struggled to be faithful every day.
They will welcome us into the eternal homes, and we will know that our lifelong careers as dishonest managers of dishonest wealth delighted the heart of God.
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