Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 20

Track 1: Where Is Our Treasure?

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
Psalm 79:1-9
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

In today’s Gospel from Luke Jesus is telling a parable whose meaning has been disputed by some biblical scholars. Let us take a look at it and consider what Jesus is telling us.

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.’   (Luke 16:1-7)

What is going on here? The manager has been fired. He is afraid of his future. Before he leavers his position he decides to take certain actions, to prepare for what is to come. It appears that he is feathering his nest, so to speak. What he is doing is wrong. It is the rich man’s  property, not his. He has no right to alter any monetary agreements which the owner has made.

Now, here comes the difficulty. It has to do with the way the rich man reacts to what his manager was doing while he was gone:

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.   (Luke 16:8-9)

The interpretation is in question by some scholars. The difficulty is how the master commends his servant for his dishonesty. What is Jesus telling us? That we need to be as shrewd as worldly, dishonest people, That is what some scholars believe.  They Jesus is not commending dishonesty, but shrewdness. 

What may be missing here, bu some, is sarcasm. I do not believe that Jesus is telling us that we need to be shrewd as the world. We are children of the light and have no need for darkness. Jesus is our wisdom. We are guided by the Holy Spirit.

What I believe Jesus is telling us has to do with the phrase “eternal home.” The shrewd servant was concerned about being received in people’s homes if he became broke. Those homes are temporary. What is important is to which eternal home he will be received in when he dies. It is clear from the parable Jesus told of Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) that hell will be the eternal home of the shrewd servant,

In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.   (Matthew 6:19-21)

The shrewd servant did not know the treasures of God. He was relying on worldly treasures to save him. It the end of today’s parable Jesus goes on to say:

“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.”   (Luke 16:10-13)

Where are our treasure stored? And who is our master? Is it Jesus or wealth? Wealth is not necessarily bad, but it cannot be our master. That was the problem of the shrewd servant. How shrewd is anyone who serves the wrong master? Jesus is the only one who provides the way to eternal life in heaven with him. If we have not given our heart to him, now is the time.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.   (Matthew 6:21)



Track 2: False Balances

Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

God spoke through the Prophet Amos:

Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

saying, “When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;

and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?

We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,

buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:

Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.    (Amos 8:4-7)

Greedy people were cheating when selling goods to others. They were using false balances and their lives were out of balance. God was secondary to everything that they did. The people they were cheating were not even part of their lives, except for their moneymaking schemes.

They paid lip service to Judaism, but their interests were in making money anyway they could, including. The Sabbath rest which God provided was just interfering with their business. They were too busy to rest.

How do we stack up against them today? Jesus said:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”   (Matthew 11:28-39)

Those who used false balances in the of Amos did not want to be yoked to God. They wanted no yoke at all, just the freedom to do whatever they pleased without any consequences. They did not want to serve God, only their ill gotten gain.

In today’s Gospel Jesus said:

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.  (Luke 16:13)

There is no rest in the service of wealth. It is all consuming. It impoverishes the soul. Its burden can become overwhelming. Sadly, for many, this lesson is learned too late, when there is little life left.

The psalmist wrote:

The Lord is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens.

Who is like the Lord our God, who sits enthroned on high
but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth?

He takes up the weak out of the dust
and lifts up the poor from the ashes.   (Psalm 113:4-6

God is offering us a taste of his glory through our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Do we want to substitute his heavenly riches with temporal wealth that leads to spiritual poverty and death?

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Filed under homily, Jesus, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, Year C

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