Pentecost 15, Sept. 18, 2022

I. Theme –  Using our resources—financial and otherwise—for justice and compassion

  
 

“Parable of the Shrewd Manager – Coptic (Egypt) ” 

The lectionary readings are here or individually:  

First Reading – Amos 8:4-7
Psalm – Psalm 113
Epistle – 1 Timothy 2:1-7
Gospel – Luke 16:1-13 

Today’s readings call us to use our resources—financial and otherwise—for justice and compassion. They reflect on the social consequences of turning away from God and the possibility that prayer and God-centered values can be a source of health in our personal and corporate lives. A transformed mind may lead over the long haul to transformed social systems.

Amos condemns the callousness of those who observe rituals but set their hearts on greed and dishonesty. Paul urges prayers for peace, godliness and dignity, made possible by Christ, who bridges the gap between God and humanity. In Jesus’ story, the master appreciates the shrewdness of an unfaithful servant.

The parable from the Gospel also presents most congregations with serious challenges in terms of values, ethics, and priorities.  You cannot serve God and money.  One has to come first; one has to be the lens through which you make your personal and corporate decisions.  Studies suggest that great wealth does not lead to greater happiness.  In light of the Hebraic prophetic scriptures, wealth without justice and compassion leads to personal and corporate destruction.  Wealth without consideration of God’s Shalom and purposes beyond our self-interest leads to poverty and pain.

II. Summary

First Reading –  Amos 8:4-7

Amos, a wealthy farmer (sheep and sycamore figs) served as a servant to the word of God, and did most of his work for a limited period of time around 760 BCE not in his native Judea, but north, in the Kingdom of Israel.  It was a time when Israel was enjoying great prosperity under Jeroboam II. Its wealth and power rested, however, upon injustice because the rich and the strong used their power exclusively for their own benefit. False scales made transactions particularly oppressive on the poor, who could eventually be reduced to selling themselves and their families into slavery.

Unlike the prophets who came before him, his word (directed by the word of God) is spoken not to individuals (as was the case with Nathan) but rather to the entire nation.  Earlier prophets were inspired by the Spirit, but Amos receives the word of God. Finally, he is not a professional.  He belongs to no guild or school, nor is he a member of the royal court, called from his daily life to deliver God’s word to a specific time and place.  He is also the first of the so-called classical prophets, those who wrote down their words directed to the nation.  His words are also a departure from what had been spoken before.  He announces total judgment to Israel.  Although he speaks against social ills, he sees them as evidence of Israel’s loss of God and of the covenant with God.

The passage from Amos is a word of warning for those who have left the concerns of the poor behind under the disguise of religious values. In Amos’ day, many of the wealthy elite ruling class were worshipping other gods and having lavish feasts to celebrate the harvest and other seasons, and were taking from the poor to finance these festivals. Amos warns that the people have forgotten the God of creation who does not desire these festivals but rather desires justice for all people. This God has not forgotten the poor and the downtrodden, though the wealthy have. Right worship of God and just treatment of all people go hand in hand with the prophets—forgetting the poor is forgetting the commandments of God.

In this week’s readings it is the merchant class that takes in on the ear.  They do not honor the holy days, or even if they do, they cannot wait until they are over so that they can return to their unjust business practices.  Of special concern are the needy (peasants who live on the land).  They become the focus of the prophet’s concern and the dishonest merchants’ greed.  The issues are dishonest weights and measures, buying people as slaves when they cannot pay their debts, and selling adulterated products.  There will be an end to such practices, but it will be accompanied by an end to the nation as well.  The prophet notes the title “The Pride of Jacob”, namely God who is the pride of Jacob.  I

In a reverse to the phrase “I will not forget…deeds” we see a turnaround.  Usually it is God who pleads with Israel not to forget the deeds – the freedom from Egypt, the Promised Land.  But now it is the reverse.  It is God who will not forget, and the deeds are Israel’s unjust ways. Thus, “the day of the lord” (v. 9) would be Israel’s vindication and God’s punishment of its enemies. But Amos reinterpreted the concept to include judgment upon Israel too

Psalm –  Psalm 113

This psalm is the first of the group known as the Egyptian “Hallel” (Psalms 113–118), from the shout of Hallelujah (“Praise the lord”) with which it begins. Psalm 113 links God’s greatness with God’s care for the poor and weak.   Almost like an antidote to the message in the reading from Amos, this psalm remembers that God is the one who lifts up the poor and the needy and that God will come to deliver them. God will raise up all those who have been trampled upon and have been under the weight of injustice.

A similar action is accorded the “childless woman” who is enthroned in her home as a mother.  We see the inequity of the Ancient Near Eastern society however.  The man (poor) is seated among the princes, and the woman (the barren one) is seated with her sons.

The “name of the lord” sums up all of the self-revelation of Yahweh. The “ash heap” (v. 7) is literally the rubbish heap, where the poor, the outcast and the diseased begged and scrabbled for scraps. Verses 7-8 are from Hannah’s song, found in 1 Samuel 2:8, as they recall the lord’s care for the despised barren wife.

Epistle-  1 Timothy 2:1-7

Today’s reading begins a section on Church order (2:1–3:15), focusing on prayer.

The author of this letter had to remind Timothy (a community leader whose office evolved into the modern office of bishop) and his congregation that God’s concern extends to all people, not just themselves. Some scholars think some early Christians may have refused to pray for pagans, and this passage means to correct that. And the author insists again that he was called to take the gospel to all peoples, so refusing to pray for them is hardly right.

There are 4 parts

1 the first order for prayers for the world

2 backing up that order with a statement about the mission of Jesus

3 a statement about the worldwide character of the apostle’s mission

4 repetition of the order for prayers.

 First, prayer is to be offered for all people. The assertion of the universality of God’s grace may be aimed at those who taught that only the enlightened few would be saved. The prayers themselves can ask and give thanks, speak for the well being of others and give a good word for the stranger.  There is a universalism here

Second, prayer is to be offered for civil leaders. Prayer for pagan authorities was part of Jewish worship and the early Church prayed for the civil authorities as guarantors of the social structure within which the Church’s mission could be pursued in tranquility. Finally, prayer is to be offered as an outgrowth of unity in the community.

In this passage, we see a church concerned with getting along in the larger pagan society.  The earliest Christians expected Jesus to return in glory very soon, and to bring history to its climax. This reading is clearly composed later, after that expectation had changed.

Gospel –  Luke 16:1-13 

Today’s gospel has two parts: first a parable about acting decisively in the face of crisis, meant perhaps to prepare disciples for the coming of the reign of God. Then there is a series of loosely related sayings about the use of wealth.

In a trilogy of parables (The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Prodigal Son) in chapter 15, in an address to the critical Pharisees and Scribes Jesus wants us to examine our value of things, so that we might begin to value God and neighbor as well, and not look at their “lack of value.”  Thus in the sixteenth chapter, Luke continues with two other parables on Value, however this time the teaching is directed at the disciples. 

Today’s reading concerns an unscrupulous manager who yet wins his boss’ praise.  This “dishonest manager” has charges brought against him and it’s not clear if they were true or false, but the manager, who is too ashamed to beg and not strong enough to dig, starts making friends by settling the bills of customers of his master for less than what they owe—so that way when he is out of a job, he has connections of where to go.  He has helped people in need though he has violated the terms of employment with his master

It’s a strange parable—we’re supposed to look at the manager’s response, not the fact that he did this shrewdly and cheated his master out of what was given him—but the fact that he used what resources he had to make friends is how we ought to be faithful with what God gives us—use what we have to do good works and to help those in need, rather than being concerned about pleasing the powers that be.

Recently another approach has been taken, based upon the economics of the time. The bills probably represented goods received by the debtors on credit. The amount by which the steward reduced the bills may have been interest on the cost of the goods. Such interest was illegal, but was common in commercial transactions and justified in such cases by some rabbinic interpreters. Or the amount may have represented the steward’s own commission on the transaction. Thus, the steward gives up the profit (his own or the rich man’s) in return for the debtors’ gratitude.

In verses 10-13, Luke supplies three sayings of Jesus that give clues about how to unravel this parable. These guidelines reflect the attitudes of fidelity and trust that servants ought to display in their commitment to service of their master.

1 “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.

2 “If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? “

3 “And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? “

You cannot serve God and money.  One has to come first; one has to be the lens through which you make your personal and corporate decisions. The values that come from God’s teachings

Can you do both ?

Who will the Christian’s master be, wealth, or godly service?  Does that mean that Christians should eschew wealth?  It does have value in making friends (temporal) and accomplishing good (eternal).  There are other values that are held up as well, “trustworthiness” in all things (both worldly and eternal) and doing things “for the benefit of others.”

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