a homily based on Luke
by Rev. Thomas N. Hall
Recently, at least twice a month it seems I get a letter that has on the
envelope in thick block letters, "URGENT! - OPEN IMMEDIATELY!" So I rip the
envelope open and read . . .
"MR. THOMAS HALL of _____________,
if youre standing up, you may want to sit down
because you may just have won $10,000,000,000."
Last count, I had won six Mazda Miatas, three Caribbean cruises, one in-ground
swimming pool, $14,000,000 (to be paid in $1,000 monthly allotments for the rest of my
life) and a lifetime supply of cat food. These letters are personal, too. They actually
know my name and its spelled correctly in bold-faced, capital letters. And it sounds so
official. "Mr. Hall, congratulations! You have made it into the final sweepstakes
drawing for $1,000,000,000! Yes, Mr. Hall, this may be your lucky day! And then comes the
"imagine-with-me type questions: "Have you ever wondered how you would spend
that kind of money?" Must be something to this because as I scan the page I see color
photos of boats, motorhomes, cape cods, beaches, and pictures of smiling winners--one from
Cincinnati, another from New Mexico, and would you believe it, one even from my town!
Yet, sadly, nothing has arrived on my door step except the magazines to which I
subscribed in order to enhance my chances of winning. Scam artists who know the legal loop
holes are pretty slick.
A couple of summers ago, my wifes father and his wife from Montana were
visiting us eastern seaboarders and so we spent one day in New York City. There, during a
traffic jam, our Montana couple came upon the buy of a lifetime. Someone on the corner was
selling an expensive CD/Radio boom box that retailed for over $250.00 in their home town
in Montana, but at streetside in NYC is was going for only $70.00. Such a buy! Back at our
home they opened their treasure. What had they paid seventy bucks to buy? Why, three of
the nicest red bricks youd ever want to see wrapped in a New York Times and stuffed
inside a boom box package! Montanans are so trusting.
I'm sure you could tell me of your own experiences of being swindled. Your used
car flat lines four days after the ninety day warranty runs out. Your timeshare dream
turns into a nightmare. That pocket trumpet you won on Ebay cant even stay in tune
with itself. A credit card arrives in your mailbox and promises you $5,000 instant cash at
any ATM machine, but you miss the fine print that says that a 24% interest fee will be
tacked on. An ad in the tabloid at the grocery checkout line wants to sell you
"cancer insurance" at a ridiculously low price. (What they neglect to tell you
is that no one has ever been able to collect on their policy because technically, no one
ever dies of cancer, but of organ failure.) Yes, we all have our stories about being
ripped off by dishonest people and organizations.
Well, the opportunity has finally arrived for us to vent all of our anger and
frustrations, for we have in our gospel lesson today a two timing, chiseling rat fink.
Like our prodigal son character who blows his wads on tail-gate parties, cruises, and
penthouses, so our little business manager squanders his boss's resources. The good part
of this story, though, is that this guy gets caught. The boss catches wind of his
dishonest scheme and Fed Exs the pink slip with the words, "You're fired, you
little weasel. Get the books in order and turn them over. You're through with this
Now the conniving business manager is caught by surprise and faces a dilemma, a
no-win situation. He's a white collar worker. No calluses. Probably a pale, sickly little
fellow. But he still has his dignity. In the Greek text we see an intrapersonal
conversation going on: "To dig, I am not able, to beg, I am ashamed." He can't
work construction, but he refuses welfare. What to do? And then he hits upon brainy idea:
"I'll play with the debit ledger and tilt my boss's debtors in their favor, then,
when I am thrown out of the company, at least Ill find favor with these debtors;
they'll be grateful for cutting their bill.
So he gets his eraser out and begins to juggle the numbers on the accounts. Those
who owe 600 gallons of costly olive oil he cuts in half; those who owe I ,500 bushels of
wheat he cuts 150 bushels. You can well imagine what might happen when the boss finds out
the newest the shenanigans of his crooked business manager.
I sure know what Id do. Id call the police. And while they're on their
way to make the arrest, I would speed dial the attorney general. Then Id contact my
own lawyer and draw up the charges and indictment against my former employee. That's
what's supposed to happen.
But it doesn't work out that way. Jesus instead throws an unexpected twist in the
story. Jesus has the boss applauding the little chiseler! Rather than throwing the book at
the manager, the boss tears the pink slip into shreds and throws confetti! The swindler is
not fired after all, but promoted to Executive Vice President of Accounting instead! We
don't know for sure, but I suspect he even ends up marrying the boss's daughter and is
given a free, life-time subscription to Forbes Magazine. And all this is due to his
dishonest bill-shaving! Wheres the justice?
We can now understand why most of us preachers prefer to spend time in the parable
that precedes this parable-the Prodigal Son. At least we can understand the thing. But
this parable! Whats the point here? Why would Jesus use a two-timing, chiseling
cheater in this parable to be the hero of his story? And what is true about this little
business manager that is also true about the kingdom of God?
Jesus points out that the manager was a shrewd character and that those of this
age are shrewder in dealing with their own than those who belong to God's Kingdom. Though
evil, though conniving, though dishonest, the manager was shrewd when it came to using the
resources of this life to ensure his future. And that is the question the parable asks of
us: do we use our resources to ensure our future life? Have we planned for our long
journey into eternity? We can pile up impressive portfolios of dollars and honors, get our
name in Who's Who, and yet wake up one morning asking, "Is it worth it?" When we
become aware that we have only a limited amount of time left to accomplish the things
really important to us-what really counts?
There was once a king who ruled a vast territory. When the affairs of state became
particularly unbearable, he would call for a little court jester to come and make him
laugh. The jester never failed to take the king's mind off his troubles. The king
affectionately referred to the jester as his little fool. On one occasion when the jester
had returned the king to good spirits, the king gave the jester his scepter and said,
"Here, take this scepter and scour the land for anyone as great a jester as you, my
The court jester traveled the vast kingdom for another jester but while on his
search one day, a messenger of the king met the jester. "The king is very ill and
requests that you return immediately." Inside the royal bedchamber, the jester once
again stood before the king.
"Well, my little fool, my little jester, I am about to take a long
"My king," said the little fool, "have you prepared for that
"Sadly, no," replied the king, "no I havent."
Handing the scepter back to the king, the jester said, "Then take this with
you, O King, for you are the biggest fool in your kingdom."
Our lesson today, challenges us to take our shrewd friend seriously.
I can still see the little framed poem that was tacked to the bare wall of my
bedroom in my grandma's farmhouse in Minnesota. I slept in a cozy little room with peeling
wallpaper; I can still hear the howling winter wind. A forty watt bulb would cast large
shadows on the walls giving this framed poem even greater influence over me. The farmhouse
has long since been sold; my grandfather and grandmother live on only in my memory. But
with each passing year I think more deeply about the implications of that little poem:
"Only one life, twill soon be past,
only what's done for Christ will last."
How are you managing your life and resources? That's what our parable asks of us.
This morning we have the most valuable asset possible. We have our life. Our bodies may be
a bit stiff maybe, a bit unresponsive, but life we have. Our life may lack the streamlined
look of fashion models or the bronze tan of youth, but we have our life. And we have our
memory. And we have friends. And we have opportunities.
Most of us this week will not have the opportunity to christen a ship, write a
book, end a war, appoint a cabinet, dine with the queen, convert a nation, or be burned at
the stake. But we will have the opportunity to give a cup of water, write a note, visit a
nursing home, vote for a county commissioner, teach a Sunday school class, share a meal,
tell a child a story, smile, and feed the neighbor's cat. When it comes to life, resources
and planning for the future, remember Jesus' clever little manager, for because of his
shrewdness, his master applauded him.
May God be pleased with the management of our lives, too. Amen.