Old Testament: Jeremiah (8:18-9:1)
My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” (“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”) “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!
The Response: Psalm (79:1-9)
1 O God, the heathen have come into your inheritance;
they have profaned your holy temple; *
they have made Jerusalem a heap of rubble.
2 They have given the bodies of your
servants as food for the birds of the air, *
and the flesh of your faithful ones to the beasts of the field.
3 They have shed their blood like water on every side of Jerusalem, *
and there was no one to bury them.
4 We have become a reproach to our neighbors, *
an object of scorn and derision to those around us.
5 How long will you be angry, O Lord? *
will your fury blaze like fire for ever?
6 Pour out your wrath upon the heathen who have not known you *
and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon your Name.
7 For they have devoured Jacob *
and made his dwelling a ruin.
8 Remember not our past sins;
let your compassion be swift to meet us; *
for we have been brought very low.
9 Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name; *
deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name’s sake.
The Epistle: 1 Timothy (2:1-7)
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
The Gospel: Luke (16:1-13)
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. So 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.’ Then 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. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then 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.’ And 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. And 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. “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. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No 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.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Some of Jesus’ parables are easy to work with, if you are willing to dig into them at a more-than-surface level. Last Sunday’s parables about a shepherd who lost a sheep and a woman who lost a coin can be counted among them.
Then there are others, like the one we heard today: the story of the dishonest manager. What in the world does this have to do with the kingdom of God and the values espoused in the gospel? Why would Jesus seem to commend this man’s conniving and deceitful behavior? Biblical scholars have struggled with those questions for centuries, writing many creative and often fanciful interpretations of it without much success. As parable scholar Klyne Snodgrass (Stories with Intent, page 402) observes: “One feels that the lack of knowledge available to interpret this parable is inversely proportional to the amount written about it.” If you don’t know anything, write more. (I’m sure that teachers who read some student essays have seen that approach used many times!)
In this case, Luke helps us out a bit by appending to the parable itself several sayings of Jesus, probably from other contexts. But there is a tie-in, since all of them deal with our relationship with money. The best known of them is undoubtedly the one with which we ended today’s reading: “You cannot serve God and wealth.” Other translations maintain the term originally used in the maxim: “You cannot serve God and mammon.”
That term, “mammon,” is an obscure one. It is never used in the Old Testament; and, except for Matthew’s parallel of the same saying (6:24), it never appears anywhere else in the New Testament either. The word “mammon” seems to come from the same Aramaic root as the word “Amen.” “Amen,” or “So be it,” conveys the notion of that in which one puts one’s trust or confidence. It is that on which we can depend, on which we base our actions and ultimately our lives. That etymology sheds some light on this saying. It asks us “Where do you put your trust? In what or whom do you put your ultimate confidence?”
In all honesty, most of us try to find some sort of compromise between trusting in God and trusting in money. We affirm that “In God we trust”: our official, national motto, which, somewhat ironically, we print on that back of all of our currency. But we try to hedge our bets. We create our own “God and Mammon Incorporated” and place that fictitious entity at the center of our lives.
Now, it is certainly not the case that the gospel calls us simply to abandon any concern about money and other resources and the way that we use them. On the contrary, if today’s parable has anything to say to us, it encourages us to use whatever we have “shrewdly” (as our translation puts it), or maybe “prudently” or “responsibly.” As with everything else, our Anglican tradition insists that we need to use all the ways of knowing and judging and discerning with which God has blessed us in coming to understand God and the ways of God and in making responsible and faithful decisions in our lives, including decisions about money.
The real issue seems to be the difference between what mammon can give us and what God, and our faith in God and our religion, can give us. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks distinguishes between what other facets of our modern life, including wealth, have to offer us, and what religion alone can provide: namely, meaning in life. He observes (Not in God’s Name, page 13): “Homo sapiens is the meaning-seeking animal. If there is one thing that the great institutions of the modern world do not do, it is to provide meaning. Science tells us how but not why. Technology gives us power but cannot guide us as to how to use that power. The market gives us choices but leaves us uninstructed as to how to make those choices. The liberal democratic state gives us freedom to live as we choose but on principal refuses to guide us as to how to choose.” None of them can, he asserts, “answer the three questions every reflective individual will ask at some time in his or her life: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? …The twenty-first century has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.”
Like the manager in Jesus’ parable, we need to use wisely and creatively and responsibly whatever resources we have at our disposal. As individuals, as families, as a community, and as a church, we need to make the best use possible of whatever money and other assets we happen to have.
But at the same time, and underlying all of our choices, we need to keep before us a sense of the meaning and purpose of our lives: a meaning that money can never give us and the purpose for which money is to be used.
Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? These are the fundamental questions that we all have to face at some point in our lives, maybe at multiple points. And it is these questions with which the many different authors of the bible, spread over thousands of years of human history, have struggled.
They affirm, among other things, that we are part of this earth, made of the very stuff of this world, but, at the same time, that we carry within us the very life of God. They affirm that we, who are made in God’s image and likeness, are here to serve as God’s representatives, God’s stewards, in the world, carrying on and helping to bring to completion God’s work of bringing that world to perfection. And they affirm that we have within us all that we need, working together with one another and with the guidance of God’s Spirit, to make wise, responsible, and life-giving decisions about the world and all those who share this world with us.
Today we begin the 79th program year in the life of St. Mark’s Church. St. Mark’s has never had the monetary wealth that many other churches have. Yet God has blessed us with tremendous wealth in other forms. We have always had what we have really needed. We have a community of generous, faithful people. We have a congregation which is willing to question, to think, to search for the God who is always summoning us forward to new ways of serving the world in Christ’s name. This is who we are. This is why we are here. And this awareness enables us to wrestle effectively with the question of how we are to live, from generation to generation.