Okay, you have just listened to a parable Jesus told to his disciples about a manager who had been taking advantage of his position in order to gain more wealth. You see the owner of the property may have been living in the big city, Jerusalem. That may be the reason he hired someone to oversee the mundane tasks of taking care of the orchards, the fields, and the livestock. He may have owned many such properties and wasn’t able to manage all of them so he hired managers to do that for him.
Because someone brought charges against the manager he decided to have the financial records audited and found to his surprise, or maybe he suspected, things didn’t quite add up. And so he told this dishonest manager to get his affairs in order and prepare to leave because he no longer had the authority to spend the manager’s money caring for the property. His employment was terminated immediately.
Jesus doesn’t explain why but this shrewd manager called in those who were indentured to the property owner and had them creatively change their liens, one was halved, another was reduced 20 percent. Of course that made those who owed the landlord much happier. And they may have assumed that it was the landlord who had authorized this reduction.
How would you feel if the mortgage on your house was reduced by half or your operating note at the bank was cut by 20 percent? You might begin to believe that the banker actually had a heart. You might begin to be happy to see him arrive because now it looks as if you might finally be able to get out from under this debt.
The manager in this parable had definitely been fired but he still had time to call in those who were renting the different parcels of ground and have them adjust their rental contracts. And that is what Jesus said that he did.
So when he took the financial records back to the landowner he knew that the shrewd manager had taken some liberties with the contracts. And he knew that the renters assumed that the manager was making these adjustments with the full authority of the owner.
The owner could have let the renters know that he wasn’t the one who had authorized these changes but then they would have been ready to hang him. And right now they thought he was a pretty decent landlord since he had reduced what they owed him when the harvest came in.
Being the astute businessman that he was he knew better than to get his renters all riled up and so he commended the unjust manager for what he had done.
So what is Jesus saying to us in this parable, that we should be shrewdly dishonest like the manager in this story? What do you think it says?
What was the manager doing exactly when he had the renters make the changes to their contracts? Wasn’t he forgiving them a portion of their debt to the Master? And by being generous in his forgiveness and not expecting anything else from them, at least at the present, he was protecting his position. It was a huge risk because he didn’t really know how the Master would react and if one of the servants had come in while he was transacting this business he could have been found out by the renters and he would have been out on his ear right away.. But it was a chance he was willing to take.
So the question for us is would we be willing to forgive people who owe us, or who we believe owe us, so unconditionally? What would happen to the community in which we live if we could forgive like this without condition? What would the world be like if people could forgive and grant mercy without condition to someone who, say, killed four people because he was four times over the legal limit? What would the world be like if forgiveness could have been given to those who are responsible for the oil spill in the Gulf? What if forgiveness had been offered in response to terrorists acts? What if? How would our world be different today?
Is that what Jesus is saying here? Is it about forgiveness? What does the unjust manager expect to get by being forgiving? He hopes that he doesn’t have to resort to digging or begging. Do you think he succeeded? Jesus doesn’t really tell us. He leaves it to our imagination.
So, do you suppose we could negotiate a deal like this with God? Or maybe it’s already been done for us in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Our debt has been paid and we have been forgiven.
Are we willing to let our Lord do that for us? Are we willing to risk everything to follow the One who paid our debt? What’s more important, our possessions or eternity? Each of us has to answer that question in our own hearts. That’s between us and our God.
Thankfully he is patiently waiting for us to make that decision. Thanks be to God for his patient, compassionate grace. Amen.