Skip to main content

A Crisco Coated Watermelon

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The gospel text is Luke 16:1-13.

Jesus seems to be messing with our minds in today’s parable. It has been likened to a watermelon coated in Crisco being used as a football. It can be played with, but you just can’t get a hold of it. Like that slippery watermelon, parables are meant to keep us on our toes. 

This parable is familiar and puzzling to most of us. What do we do with phrases like, “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.” No matter how we try to look at it, we just can’t get it to make sense.

Society and relationships in Jesus’ day were based on honor and shame. If you had someone over for dinner, you invited someone of a higher rank than yourself, with more honor. This way you were showing honor to your guest and by having him over, you received honor. It would be like us having someone famous come to our house. It’s an honor for us. 

Let’s retell the story from the perspective of first century society in Jesus’ day. A rich man had a manager that was accused of “squandering” his boss’ property. Whether it was true or not, this shamed the rich man. Two scholars explain, “His honor and status in the community are threatened by the public perception that he cannot control his employees, so he resolves to save face by immediately dismissing the employee” (Landry and May, “Honor Restored: New Light on the Parable of the Prudent Steward Luke 16:1-8a”).

The manager is summoned by his boss. Because of these accusations, shame has now fallen upon him. He must act quickly. The boss wants an accounting of everything. The manager is ruined unless he can find a way to restore the master’s property. He won’t be able to get work as a manager anywhere else—not with his bad reputation.

He says he couldn’t dig, which probably referred to digging in the mines, slave work, which was almost always a death sentence. After all, he was educated. He could read and write. He just wasn’t suited to that kind of labor. And begging would just bring him even more shame. What should he do?

He decides to give a deep discount to all the master’s debtors. In that way, they will be indebted to the manager, they will owe him, which restores some honor. One scholar explains:

People would assume that the steward was acting on the master's orders, so these gestures would make the master look generous and charitable in the eyes of society. The prestige and honor gained by such benefaction would far outweigh the monetary loss to the master. (Landry and May, “Honor Restored: New Light on the Parable of the Prudent Steward (Luke 16:1-8a).”

The manager needed a way out of his predicament—a way to have the shame taken away and his honor restored. Then he would be golden. The debtors AND the rich man would all be grateful to him.

The master hears what the manager has done and praises him for his actions. It’s not just about the olive oil or the wheat. The issue is that the manager restored his master’s honor. He actually made the master look good. Honor and prestige outweigh the monetary loss. Now the manager had options. He could work for another master, since his own reputation for loyalty and good service has been restored. Honor trumped wealth.

Perhaps the most puzzling phrase in this parable is, “Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth.” Is Jesus calling us to bribery and dishonesty? We need to understand that for Jews in that day, all wealth beyond one’s needs was considered tainted or dishonest. This is meant to encourage responsibility for those in need. It’s a matter of neighborliness, of being a caring community, like we have here at St. Timothy.

The challenge to us from the parable is who is our boss? Who do we follow? Who is our master? Is it fashion? Food? Drink? Sex? Fear? Are we enslaved to our own desires for recognition and acceptance?   

The bottom line for us is what God is saying to us as the people of God gathered here today around Word and Sacrament. The final verses ring out the message clearly-- “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” (v. 13).

Bob Dylan wrote :

You may be a construction worker working on a home

You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome

You might own guns and you might even own tanks

You might be somebody's landlord you might even own banks.

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes

You're gonna have to serve somebody,

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

Who will we serve?



Popular posts from this blog

Bidden or Not Bidden...

My son and his fiancée were determined to have a secular wedding ceremony in Las Vegas. The phrase that kept going through my mind was, "Bidden or not bidden, God is present." God is with us whether we realize it or not. And of course we kept praying for them. They are a wonderful couple who are very good for each other. We are thrilled to have Marisa in our family. The setting was beautiful: an outdoor patio area with plants around. It was evening and there was a nice breeze. The groom's father and best man told us that when they met with the minister (yes, minister, not justice of the peace) they found out he's a Lutheran minister. Hmm, isn't that interesting? The ceremony used the traditional vows. The minister spoke seriously to Christian and Marisa, charging them that they were in this for the long long as they lived. He did not use the word God , but certainly gave them godly counsel in the ceremony. God was there...bidden or not bidden. God w

Dancing with the Trinity

This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy Lutheran Church on Trinity Sunday, 6/16/19. The text was John 16:12-15. This is Holy Trinity Sunday. What comes to mind when you think of the Trinity—questions, confusion, a puzzle, a mystery? It seems to me that just when you think you have a bit of understanding, it all starts to unravel as you think of something else. This is a difficult concept to wrap our minds around. For centuries, the early church struggled with a right and proper interpretation and understanding as they formulated the doctrine of the Trinity. The more I read, the more I see the wisdom of Dr. Jerry Christianson who taught The Early Church and its Creeds my first year of seminary. He explained the Trinity as a love relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Just as God is all about relationship, so too the Christian life is all about relationship: our relationship with God, our relationship with each other and our relationship with our community.

Centered in the Spirit

This is the sermon I preached last Sunday, 12/27/19 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church . The gospel was Luke 4:14-21 . In the time after Epiphany, we see more revelations of Jesus in the gospel. Today’s is Jesus’ controversial proclamations in his home town. We see the centrality of the life of the Spirit in Jesus’ life of ministry. The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus after his baptism (3:22), then fills Jesus before he was sent out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil and in this passage of Luke the Spirit fills Jesus with power. The role of the Holy Spirit is central in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus’ first public words were “The Spirit of the Lord.” The first three phrases in Jesus’ reading tie his ministry to the work of the Spirit: “The Spirit…is upon me…because [the Spirit] has anointed me…[The Spirit] has sent me.” In Jesus’ repetition of “me,” we hear his claiming of Isaiah’s words for himself. Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit. Anointed is the English word that