Luke 16.1-13 'The Parable of the Shrewd Manager'
On my recent holiday, I took two real books and one on my Kobo.
On the Kobo I had ‘Soulfulness’ by Brian Draper. Then I had Paula Gooder’s sequel to ‘Heaven’ – ‘body – biblical spirituality for the Whole person’ and finally Tom Wright’s ‘God in Public’ – How the Bible speaks truth to power today.
I read all three books concurrently (not finished them yet) and was delighted with the way all three books coalesced.
Draper’s ‘Soulfulness’ picks up the idea of ‘mindfulness’ which is very much in vogue at the moment. In case you are not familiar, mindfulness is a discipline of being in the moment, being aware of each and everything around you and what you are feeling. Not being distracted by phones or agendas or anything else.
Draper develops this from a Christian perspective and invites us to ‘soulfulness’ – knowing who we are truly are in God and from that place of knowing to be able to engage with others and with all of God’s creation.
Paula Gooder picks something of this up as she explores Paul’s view of the body.
She argues that for the most part in the West we have a Platonic view of the body and the soul or spirit. If we conceive of any existence at all beyond death, it is very often as some sort of real ‘me’ that is defined as soul or perhaps spirit.
This soul/spirit will escape from this nasty world and flesh and blood and will go to live with God in a spiritual realm for all eternity.
We might also add to this the triple decker universe that despite all our science still prevails in the common consciousness.
God and heaven are up there, we are here on earth below and hell is somewhere down below the earth.
Gooder argues powerfully for a better understanding and appreciation of our bodies as they now are and explores what Paul says they will be like as resurrected bodies.
Paul’s famous treatise on this is 1 Corinthians 15 – in verses 42 for example we read…
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable;
In our Creed we say, ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body’
Our bodies are important – and an important part of our identity. What we do with them is important and how we treat other people’s bodies is also important.
This brings in Tom Wright who has written a great deal about an earthed focused reality.
Post-modernist argue against all meta-narratives, all big stories, everything is relevant. That gives rise to that wonderful quote ‘all truths are relevant except that statement that all truths are relevant.’
Wright argues that the Scriptures offer a very important meta-narrative, a big story of how God created this good earth and is bringing it back into good order.
One day it will be redeemed, renewed and reformed and we might say, re-populated with resurrected people.
He argues powerful that whilst the ‘enlightenment’ brought great benefits it has also given us at its outset the guillotine as a clean efficient way of killing your political opponents during the French Revolution. And then those clever Nazi’s scientist who designed and developed an even more efficient way of killing thousands.
Also the great Western democracy that during the recent banking crisis of 2008 managed to find $700 billion dollars to bail out the banks and keep the system afloat. All at the same time as continuing to demand crippling loans debts from poor countries in struggling sub-Saharan Africa.
Wright argues that the Scriptures offer a powerful critique on all power structures and rulers and governments.
The scientific enlightenment and rational thinking pushed God up into the attic like some harmless old man. A few folk may like to go and visit him occasionally, but eventually this will all die away.
Much to the annoyance of many atheists, the rumour of God has not died or gone away. Therefore, they are lashing out and declaring people who believe in God have a deficient gene. For them, there must be a logical and scientific reason people continue to hold onto a belief in God.
The Scriptures give us an overall picture, that this earth is God’s good creation.
That one day it will be redeemed, restored and renewed. We are not going to float away as disembodied spirits to live in some ethereal heaven God knows where.
The Scriptures help us to understand the story of God’s outworking in this enterprise.
And in Jesus we see that matter matters to God.
And although the canon of Scripture is closed its outworking continues for each and every generation and for each and every situation. We are invited into the story as well – we are invited to read our Scriptures not so much as way of developing a personal piety but that we may speak truth into power, that we may offer a prophetic voice to the world as it ‘groans in its birth pangs’ Romans 8.22.
We are not offering an escape plan from earth to heaven aboard the good ship 'The Church’ with Jesus at the helm.
Jesus taught us to pray – Your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it in heaven.’ In your life, in your home, in your family......
Let’s not just pray it – let’s do it…
All of this and I have yet to mention Luke 16 and the parable of the ‘Shrewd Steward’ to which I now want to turn briefly.
This is a problematic parable and there are numerous interpretations and ways of considering it.
However having said all that I have said so far, it is important to allow the idea of God ‘so loving the world’ to inform any reading and reflection on this passage, or indeed any passage of Scripture we may be reading.
Although we may struggle to understand some of the things Jesus says here, one point is very clear.
Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
Standing in the great tradition of the prophets, he announced that God was visiting His people in fulfillment of all the promises they had hoped for, longed for and prayed for over thousands of years.
This was the year of God’s favour; this was the year of Jubilee.
However, He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. John 1.11
In the story Jesus tells of the shrewd steward, the steward can see which way the wind is blowing, he can tell what’s coming up, and he acts, decisively and quickly to ensure he is safe and saved.
The people of God, the Children of Light could learn a lesson here. Jesus is offering them an opportunity – which they are either not seeing or if they do, they are rejecting it.
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Luke 13.34
There is much more that we could tease out of this passage and I do commend it to you for further study. As always, when you are looking at a passage of Scripture do remember to explore it in its context.
Remember that Chapters and verses were only added in the Bible during the 12th & 13th century and whilst helpful for referencing they can isolate passages.
For example, this passage follows on from the stories about ‘lost things’ – a coin, a sheep and finally the Prodigal son. Following on we have the story of a Rich Man and Lazarus, which helpfully reflects back on the story of the shrewd steward.
The rich man had failed to heed the messages of Moses and the prophets and had neglected to care for the poor and weak and vulnerable – he was now paying the price!
Let me offer one more observation of how this passage might speak prophetically today.
The story tells us that shrewd steward got some his master’s debtors together and ‘adjusted’ what they owed. This could have been ‘usury’ – charging interest on money loans, something forbidden and against the Law.
One way around this was to take interest in kind – like oil and grain for example.
Therefore, it may just be that the steward is taking off or reducing the amount of interest.
The Master cannot of course say anything without condemning himself.
It could also be that the ‘extra’ was the steward’s commission on top of the loan.
Think of the loans to poorer countries I mentioned earlier.
Or, think of Pay Day Loans and Archbishops Justine Welby’s ‘War on Wonga.’ Not only did he speak out and draw attention to their malpractices he encouraged an alternative in Credit Unions and set up the Mustard Seed Appeal. The first six months of 2016 saw a total of 313,679 people contact StepChange for debt advice.
We are called as the people of God to be informed by our Scripture.
We are called as the people of God to work towards a realized Lord’s Prayer.
We are called as God’s people to model a different way of ordering affairs.
We are called as God’s people to offer a prophetic voice and a critique to the whole of life, especially and in particular politics and our politicians and leaders.
We need to gain confidence (not arrogance) and proclaim that Jesus is Lord of the Universe and is in the business of redeeming the cosmos and everyone is invited to join in the Divine Dance of Redemption.
Now that is an image to play with as we begin to watch ‘Strictly Come Dancing.’
Consider the discipline and hard work undertaken.
Reflect on the history of a particular dance and about its current interpretation.
Think about the teamwork of all those involved with a whole range of skills and talents.
Above all – without bodies none of this could happen!
‘Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.’
Time to dance…
Let us pray;
Give to your people at this time:
A new vision of your glory;
A new experience of your power
A new faithfulness to your Word
And, a new consecration to your service,
That Your Holy Name may be glorified
and Your Kingdom advanced
Where You live and reign,
forever One God, unto the ages of ages.