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The Parable of the Daring and Decisive Steward

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Click here for the Gospel Reading

In today’s Gospel reading from Luke, we hear an odd parable about a steward, or estate manager, followed by three challenging sayings about mammon, or wealth. All relate to the topic of money, either directly or indirectly. Now, chances are that Jesus did not deliver all these teachings at the same time. Scholars think it more likely that Luke did a little editing and lumped them all together, since they shared a common thread. But the resulting juxtaposition can be a bit confusing.

Let’s look at the parable first. I have always heard this parable called the Parable of the Dishonest Steward. But the title doesn’t really suit the story, since the dishonesty of the steward isn’t really the point at all. Perhaps a better title would be the Parable of the Daring and Decisive Steward.

The story starts out with a rich absentee landowner acting on a malicious accusation against his estate manager. The English translation doesn’t bring out this nuance of the Greek— that the accusation is, in fact, a slander. The rich man doesn’t wait to investigate the truth of the matter. Instead, he presumptuously fires his manager and demands that the account books be handed over. The estate manager realizes that he is ill-suited for hard labor and that he would be too ashamed to beg in the streets for a living. So he cooks up a little scheme! And ironically, the idea for his little scheme comes right from the malicious accusation that got him fired in the first place. So what does the manager decide to do? He calls in his boss’s debtors and asks them to falsify their bills by lowering the amounts that they owe. In other words, he decides to actually do what he had been falsely accused of—dispersing his boss’s property. The purpose of his scheme was to make friends fast, so that he would have some place to go after he was kicked out onto the streets by his boss. Now, somehow the boss finds out what’s going on. And we might well expect him to be furious and have his manager sent to the pokey. Instead, the rich landowner actually praises his scheming manager for his prudent and sensible action. The parable then finishes with Jesus’ comment that “the children of this age are more clever with regard to their own generation than are the children of light.”

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A sermon preached at the Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco, by Christopher L. Webber on November 8, 2015.

Lectionary Reading (Track 1)

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The last mail about the election on Monday came on Monday: “Vote for Proposition Q; Vote against proposition Q;” and the first Christmas catalogs showed up on Tuesday. It’s that time of year, isn’t it? Who knew there were that many companies selling through catalogs? And you don’t see some of the catalogs I see because I get more Bible-themed, church-oriented catalogs than most people. One catalog I received advertised a “widow’s mite” bracelet – which brings us to today’s gospel and the story of the widow’s mite. To make the widow’s mite bracelet the catalog people take genuine coins and set them in silver and sell them for $99.95. The widow in today’s gospel wouldn’t have been able to afford a “widow’s mite bracelet.” I went online also and found a widow’s mite pendant for $660. Earrings are priced at $485.

But let’s limit ourselves to the bracelet. What occurred to me was this: if every member of this congregation would put just one – not even two – just one of those widow’s mite bracelets in the offering each week, we could almost double our budget and do wonderful things. Is that impossible? Well, $99.95 (call it $100) is a tithe of an income of $1000 a week or $50,000 a year which is slightly less than the average household income in the United States and maybe not everyone here earns that much, and some of those here are couples with only one income between them or maybe married to someone who contributes to another church but some surely earn more. The average household income in San Francisco is $83,000 and I know that includes some very wealthy people – but also some who are homeless and unemployed. We can’t be that much below the average, and the tithe is the officially adopted standard of giving in the Episcopal Church.

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