The collect and readings for the Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 20C, may be found here. The gospel is Luke 16:1-13.
Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’7Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8And his 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. 9And 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.10“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. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Nobody wants to be known as a squanderer but that is exactly what this parable calls us to become. We are to become squanderers of the riches entrusted to us. I know that does not make much sense given the advice most of us have grown up with but that is how parables work. They take the status quo and challenge us to see and live in a new and different way.
That is the challenge set before the rich man in today’s parable. He entrusted to another man the care of his riches. This other man was a manager, a caretaker, a steward for the rich man. Everyday he chose what he would do with those riches; how he would care for and use them, where and with whom he would invest them. Everyday he chose to squander those riches. He scattered, spread, and poured out the riches entrusted to him. That was not what the rich man expected or wanted. That’s just not what you do with your riches. One day the rich man had had enough. Charges were brought against the manager. “What is this I hear of you? Give me an accounting,” he demanded.
Like the rich man we know better. We’ve been counseled to make wise investments. We are to save for a rainy day, to not let that money burn a hole in our pocket, and to not spend it all in one place. We should consider the risk versus the potential return. We weigh the costs and benefits when deciding how to use our riches. Whether our riches are monetary or non-monetary the last thing we want to do is squander them or, even worse, have someone else squander them.
The truth is that every one of us has been entrusted with riches. Money is probably the first one we think of but it is not the only one. Our time, presence, and relationships are riches all of us have. Faith and the Church are riches. Ideas, skills and talents are riches. Love, mercy, compassion, and, forgiveness are among our riches. Who and how much will we love? When and under what conditions do we offer mercy and forgiveness? On whom and how will we spend our money and our time? Everyday we decide how we will use our riches, what we will do with them, who will receive them and from whom they will be withheld.
The rich man in us wants to protect and grow our riches. That is what we have been taught. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this but there is a danger. The danger is that our riches become ends in themselves, power to be wielded and idols to be worshipped, rather than the means to restore life, create new possibilities, and reconcile relationships.
The rich man protects and withholds but the manager squanders. Even when he has been caught and is in trouble he continues to squander. He calls in the master’s debtors and begins to forgive debts. “How much do you owe my master?” he asks. And then he instructs them to reduce the amount. He offers release and freedom from an obligation that could never be repaid. He gives them the opportunity for a new life. He reconciles them and the rich man with a new relationship. That sounds an awful lot like what God is doing in the world. That looks an awful lot like Jesus in the gospel stories.
Even after charges have been brought, an accounting demanded, and he about to be fired the manager’s actions never changed. It is the rich man who changes. He now praises the manager. The rich man aligns himself with and approves of the squanderer and of the squandering. From the beginning of this parable to its end the manager is a squanderer. The manager does this not because of who the debtors are but because of who he is. Our God is the ultimate squanderer.
In just a few moments you will see the actions of our squandering God in the baptism of Raylan. His and every baptism is a sacrament of squandering. The holy water of God’s life, love, and presence will be poured over Raylan’s head and into his life. Mercy and forgiveness will flow. Raylan will be made a new person in Christ. God will do this without concern for what Raylan has done or left undone, regardless of what Raylan believes or understands, and irrespective of what he does or does not deserve. That is how squandering works. That is just who God is and what God does.
While the ritual of baptism will take place only once in our life, God’s squandering of the baptismal waters happens everyday for the rest of our lives. God is always scattering and spreading, squandering, all that he is and all that he has into the lives of his people. That never ends. Every day God squanders the riches of his life on us. We are called to do the same, to become squanderers. We squander in order to be like God.
Squander love on God, your neighbor, your enemies, and yourself. Squander forgiveness and reconciliation on those who have hurt and betrayed you. Squander your prayers for everyone everywhere. Squander compassion on the poor, the sick, the oppressed. Squander your money on those in need and those who work for justice, peace, and human dignity. Squander your life and riches on the world. Hold nothing back. You cannot serve God and wealth. Go live a life well squandered. After all that’s what Jesus did.
I am thankful to hear an interpretation of this scripture passage which makes sense, because I was sure that it was a comment or story by Jesus about the nature of God, yet what I have heard before now is befuddlement and confusion about the commending by the owner of the “dishonest” manager! I truly believe and am grateful that the Holy One is a “squanderer,” since I experience the benefits and grace of that act of squandering. Yea! The generosity of the Great Mystery is counter-cultural and amazing.
This is a clear explanation of gods mercy