“You’re fired!” Remember those famous words pronounced by Donald Trump in the TV show called “the Apprentice”? Mr. Trump now has bigger fish to fry. But for the person who’s fired, the opportunities are stopped, the plug on the dream is pulled, and the rug is yanked out beneath you.
“You’re fired!” has anyone heard or known someone who’s been told those stinging words? You want to fight back. What do you mean I’m fired?
I gave the best years of my life to this company! Fantasies of revenge start to creep in. Emptying out the supply closet. Leaving condemning comments on Facebook. Slashing the bosses’ tires. However, most of us would rein in our impulses and behave ourselves and, in fact, try to be on our best behavior for one thing only: a good reference.
Today’s gospel lesson is one of Jesus’s most unusual parables. People have tried to make heads and tails of it for centuries. It appears Jesus is applauding the actions of a crooked man who cheats his employer. How can this be?
The story is clear. A rich man, with lot of properties, has an incompetent manager who apparently is squandering his employer’s business. He’s not being a good steward in other terms. He’s mismanaging the business and losing money and resources.
The rich man learns of this, so he calls the manager in on the carpet and reads him the riot act: he calls for an audit and by the way, he says, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. The manager sees the writing on the wall. The boss is going to find out the extent of his sub par work and how he has been slacking on the job all this time.
The manager faces a dilemma: “I got a bad back so I can’t dig ditches, and I’m too proud to beg. I need to keep these business contacts so I can be welcomed, fed and clothed, and can still live comfortably.
So, the manager comes up with an ingenious plan. One by one he goes to each of his employer’s debtors and gives them generous discounts. He reduces their debt by 20 percent, 50 percent. The olive oil guy, the wheat guy, the carpet guy, the grape juice guy, the fig man. All the vendors. He earns their gratitude for the discount so know he can bank on their support in the unforeseen future.
Did the rich man get angry when he found out that his manager had not only been a poor steward but now swindled him out of all this money?
The astute, rich man begrudgingly praises, even commends, his crafty manager for his shrewd, proactive ways, even though it was sinful. Too bad he hadn’t been so industrious like this all along -- he might not have lost his job.
Jesus says something important here: the children of this age are shrewder in dealing with their own generation than are the children of the light.
Does this mean that we are to become like Bernie Madoff, the great fraudster, and rip people off? No, we are to learn to understand the world we live in and see that everything works for the kingdom of God. And we are to get involved in the gospel’s future.
Jesus wants us to see ourselves as managers of God’s wealth – which includes everything – our very bodies, nature, the goods of the earth, our talents, our wealth and money. It all belongs to God.
Will we be good, shrewd managers, or poor managers? To use another parable of Jesus, the poor manager is like the slave who buries the talent in the ground out of fear. The good managers are the slaves who invest their talents in the world and double their return.
God wants us to be good managers. To work hard to get a return on our investment. Managers who are honest, generous, hard workers, even shrewd, clever for the kingdom, willing to invest and keep the kingdom running well. To heal the world; to make it prosper by gospel standards.
So, we take risks and invest in the world – not just here in our church or where it’s safe, but out in the world—in the community – in the homeless shelters, in out neighborhoods in how we advocate for righteousness, mercy, justice and peace.
We reach out to those who are unchurched because God wants us to invest in this way. We take risks with our resources; we don’t hoard on to them. That person on the subway? Help him. That woman with the grocery cart of bottles? Stop and buy her lunch. That hurting, acting out teen? Get involved.
Because the world’s view of riches are self-centered and corrupt.
In 1928 a group of the world's most successful financiers met at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. Collectively, these tycoons controlled more wealth than there was in the U.S. Treasury, and for years newspapers and magazines had been printing their success stories and urging the youth of the nation to follow their examples.
Twenty-five years later, this is what had happened to these men: They ended up broke, in prison or several committed suicide. All these men had learned how to make money, but not one of them had learned how to live.
How do we encounter true riches as we kick off a new season in our church life? How are we to live well, as good managers in the kingdom?
Remember the comments we wrote about goals and visions for the church on Rally Day/Welcome Home Sunday: Please turn to the back of the bulletin/insert to see our collective list. Which ones pop out at you? (Please don’t select the one you wrote!)
What stands out to you? What’s still missing? Don’t be afraid to name it out loud. Our task is to prioritize and embrace the actions that will develop the true riches of the church in this new church year.
We want to be the source of new life, the purveyors of hope, we want to bring forth the wealth of God’s kingdom to God’s people – especially those new to Christ, unknown to Christ, who know nothing of the church.
These are the true riches that all of us, as managers in the kingdom, need to sign up for. It’s either one or the other, Jesus says.
We can’t serve two masters. One will be loved, the other, despised. We cannot serve God and wealth. We must choose the world or the kingdom. Let us choose True Riches.
This is this message underneath it all that Jesus wants to lead us to. The worldly cleverness of the dishonest manager may be admired in the world, but he doesn’t cut it by kingdom standards.
So, God says: You’re hired! To be my servants in the world!
God says: You’re hired! To preach the gospel of Jesus Christ – in your words and deeds.
God says: You’re hired! So be the true riches that proclaim God’s love and the salvation of Jesus Christ in the world. Amen.