Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Sneaky Steward

Last Sunday's lectionary gave us the parable of the "dishonest manager" in Luke 16:1-13  It's a notoriously confusing passage to interpret - is Jesus really recommending dishonesty? what kind of financial arrangements are going on here? - but it should also come home with some force to believers who, like me, think of the language of "stewardship" as appropriate for delegated, human authority over the earth's resources - "What is this that I hear? You have been squandering my possessions! Turn in the account of your stewardship, for you can be steward no longer!"

John de Graaf and David Batker wrote a book called What is the Economy For, Anyway?  The idea of the title is, of course, that if  you think the answer is obvious, you might just need to stop and think!  In the same way, Jesus' steward has his attention called to the question "what is wealth for"?  The resources he has been entrusted with will not be his for long; will it be possible for him, while the opportunity lasts, to negotiate an exchange for something of more enduring value - in fact, for some relationships that will support him even when this former wealth has faded to ashes.  The steward is shrewd because he appreciates the fading nature of wealth and acts promptly to secure something of more lasting value.  Just as de Graff and Batker advise that "it's time to stop chasing growth and start pursuing happiness" - or as any number of articles these days will tell you, buy experiences not things - the experiences will last longer.

But Jesus will have his disciples take this a step further.  What are the most lasting things they can "buy" with their wealth?  According to the parable, there are experiences, friendships, connections that can be secured which lead to being welcomed into "eternal dwellings" (aoinios - that is, dwellings that belong to the Age to Come, to the kingdom).  Who are the proprietors of these residences, which if the smart steward had only been a little smarter he would have recognized to be the most desirable of all?  We have to look elsewhere in Jesus' teaching for the answer.  In verses 19-31 of the current chapter, as well as in chapter 12  (especially verse 33), we see that building connection with the poor, the needy, is the way to provide yourself with "moneybags that don't waer out, and treasure that does not fail."   In the end, "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also".

In my understanding, then, the "dishonest manager" is commended for his smarts in getting out of the financial "sinking ship" and investing in relationships instead - but the "children of light" should be smarter than he because they should recognize the unlikely kind of relationships that are really worth investing in; the ones where there is in fact no "earthly" prospect of return.  How does this circle back to the environmental stewardship question?  By asking me once again whether my concern for stewardship is truly a concern for the flourishing of creation - especially, for the flourishing of future generations who "desire to be fed" (verse 21).  Am I just offering leftovers?

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