Today’s story is a story of mystery.
A story that defies easy explanation.
The stories of Jesus are like the foggy veils
that I recently saw in La Malbaie, Quebec.
I would squint my eyes and try to see
what lay within the veils.
Likewise, we are trying to peer in
and see what lies within this story.
Today’s puzzling passage is often labeled “The Dishonest Manager.”
Jesus calls the manager dishonest and then says be like that.
What is going on here?
The mysterious fog of this story starts to lift for me
when I hear theologian Brian McLaren’s interpretation.1
It starts with the Romans.
You have to remember that the backdrop of all Gospels
is the occupation of Israel/Palestine by the Romans.
The Romans would come in as occupiers
and do two things:
they would exploit natural resources;
they would exploit the labor of the people.
They did this largely through taxation;
they taxed the people.
A world where rich people get off from paying a lot of taxes
but the poor people have to pay a lot of taxes.
Now, the rich landowners live in south, in the state of Judea,
where the capital Jerusalem is located.
The small farmers live in the north, in the countryside of Galilee.
The Romans need a lot of wine, wheat, and olive oil
from the farm lands of Galilee.
You would think this was an opportunity for the farmers to get rich.
It did not work that way.
The Romans would tax the farmers.
The farmers could not afford to pay their taxes,
and their rich fellow countrymen would say,
“Have we got a deal for you!
We will pay your taxes in exchange for the deed to your property.
Don’t worry, you can stay on as tenant farmers
for the small cost of giving us part
of your wine, wheat, and olive oil each year.”
Then the rich people would sell the wine, wheat, and olive oil
to Rome for a huge profit.
what ends up happening,
is that the rich people from the south got richer
and the poor people in Galilee get poorer.
It is in the context of this story
that the rich landowner, from the south,
hires a manager to go to the north
and collect his goods.
Yet, this landowner is mad
because the manager is squandering his estates.
What does this mean?
The manager is not squeezing the poor farmers enough,
so the rich man says, “I will fire you.”
Suddenly, the manager realizes that he is expendable.
He has worked for this guy all these years,
and his boss doesn’t care about him at all.
He has no value.
And so, he switches his loyalties from the boss to the people.
If I am going to be out of a job, he thinks,
I am going to help the people out.
Thus, he goes through the accounts and lessens what people owe.
He cancels debt. He squanders the estate even more,
because he switched sides and started working for the poor.
There is a revaluation in this.
What has value changes.
First, we think it is the currency of money.
We hear that the manager has squandered money.
However, the manager turns this value on its head.
We learn that what has really been squandered is relationship.
The landowner had squandered his relationship with the manager;
He does not care about him!
In the end, the manage ultimately decides to value
the currency of relationship
as he lessens the debts of the farmers.
Jesus teaches us,
you would do better to use money in service of relationships
rather than relationships in service of money [and profit].2
This emphasis on relationship is why this story
follows the stories of the lost coin,
the lost sheep, and the prodigal child.
In stories of the lost coin, sheep, and child,
the searchers prize them
and seek them out with abandon.
The searchers give up everything
to find the one they love.
Because relationships are what have the best value.
Relationships are our forever home.
Love is our forever home.
This, too, the story gets at.
In the story, the manager decides to change his behavior so that
“people will welcome [him] into their houses.”
The manager initially wants to make sure
that he has a proper house, a proper roof over his head.
The word the manager uses for house here, in Greek, is oikos.
Oikos refers to a physical house.
Yet, later, Jesus refers to a different kind of home.
Jesus says, “You will be welcomed into the eternal homes.”
The word Jesus uses for home, in Greek, is skenas.
Skenas refers to a tent, or a home that moves around.
Jesus is calling us to a home on the go.
What kind of home are we going to have?
Are we going to have a home
where my things are my home, or this building is my home?
Or are we going to have a home on the move?
A home where we move and are moved.
On the move toward the vision that Jesus has for us.
The rich landlord accuses the manager of squandering property.
This is not a crime but a virtue.
He is letting loose, letting go
so that there may be the creation of solidarity,
so that there may be relationships not based on
a foundation of property and possession.
Home is beyond money.
This truth makes me think of a story of Dorothy Day,
the founder of the Catholic Worker movement.3
One day a woman came into the Catholic Worker house in New York City
and gave Day a diamond ring.
Day thanked her for it and put it in her pocket.
Later one of their more irritating guests came in.
Day took the ring out the pocket and gave it to the woman.
Onlookers don’t even recall the woman saying thank you.
One of the staff members later asked,
“Wouldn’t it have been better if we took the ring to the diamond exchange, sold it, and paid that woman’s rent for a year?”
Dorothy replied that the woman had her dignity
and could do what she liked with the ring.
She could sell it for rent money or take a trip to the Bahamas.
Or she could enjoy wearing a diamond ring on her hand
like the woman who gave it away.
“Do you suppose,” Day asked,
“that God created diamonds only for the rich?”
What a waste, the staff member is saying.
The woman is worthy of beauty, too,
What is wasted in life?
Something existed for Day
that outweighed the need
of securing housing.
And that is the currency of relationship.
The currency of mercy, gratuity, and extravagance.
Sometimes, we are so possessive of our things
that it causes us to miss out on the real jewels.
It is better for us to release our physical house and our things
and take on a tent if our things are causing us
to squander love.
If you are lost in your monkey mind about all the stuff
you need to fix or upgrade in your house,
better to release the domicile,
because you are coming possessed by it
We think our domicile is our home.
Become dispossessed from your physical house, Jesus invites.
Become dispossessed from a sense of stability. Equilibrium.
We have the idea that we will have a stable, unchanging
life, community, and church.
Yet our eternal home is on the move toward justice and freedom.
And so are we. Healed and healing. Liberated and liberating.
Ever made into caterpillar soup.
Disassembled and then made into butterflies.
Migrating like monarchs to the kindom come.
THIS is the resurrection life.
We are part of a seasonal process, just like the earth.
We are not exempt. We will make our home portable.
Our home will not be our possessions or money.
Love is our home.
For home is a place where we are not dominated
by our thoughts or possessions,
where we are not possessed by something else.
Home is possession free.
Our home is a place where we are rooted,
rooted in our relationship to God, to other people,
and to our true self.
This is the home God desires for us.
This is the home God wants to give us.
Remember the lost coin and the lost sheep.
In the prior stories of lostness, Jesus is getting at something.
Part of what is lost is our souls;
we have been possessed. We have been mis-focused.
The insight of shrewd manager in the moment of duress
is this: There is no place for me in this establishment.
Where will I go?
Home. Home to love.
Home to freedom.
Home to a better life for the poor.
Come to the homecoming.
1. The interpretation of this parable by Brian McLaren can be found in this video.
2. This paraphrase of Luke 16:9 was articulated by Brian McLaren.
3. This anecdote comes from Tom Cornell. It can be found in this article.