15 Pentecost, Year C: Scandalous Servant?

SUNDAY’S READINGS | September 18, 2022

Jer. 8:18-9:1 or Amos 8:4-7
Ps. 79:1-9 or Ps. 113
1 Tim. 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

It’s been called the most baffling of Jesus’ parables, this tale of the unjust steward. Some New Testament scholars suggest that Luke himself didn’t know what to make of it. Thus, he tacked on to the end of it the assorted and rather contradictory sayings from Jesus about money. Like spare keys in a junk drawer, surely one must fit.

Perhaps Luke is right, and Jesus really is trying to say something about money. Certainly, many devote themselves to it with a breathtaking passion. Mammon is a god well-served, and wisely too. Like the greedy merchants of our Old Testament lesson, many can think of nothing but its claims on their life. Religion, recreation, honesty, self-respect — all must be sacrificed on its altar. “When will the sabbath be over,” they ask, “that we may sell grain?” — and they fail to see a bit of irony or pathos in the question. Would that God be served so carefully, so wisely. If we managed his affairs with the same “shrewd dealing,” think how many more friends there would be to greet us in the age to come.

Perhaps Jesus himself is the scandalous servant, playing fast and loose with the Master’s account book. The Pharisees balked at his open display of mercy. He welcomed the most unsavory of followers, and raced ahead of the customary process for repentance and forgiveness. In short, as William Murdoch has written, this parable is a tale of the “roguery of grace.” Jesus absolved debts that could never be paid. His kingdom is for everybody — short sales left and right. This Messiah never saw a friend he didn’t like. What the Pharisees miss is that the Son is just like that scandalous Father of his, who, as St. Paul tells us, desires “that all should be saved and come to know the truth.”

Look It Up: Read Leviticus 25 and Luke 4:19. If Jesus understood his kingdom as the beginning of an age of jubilee, what might this mean for the forgiveness of debts in this parable?

Think About It: In interpreting this parable, St. Augustine wrote: “We can understand that we have to give alms and that we must not really pick and choose to whom we give them, because we are unable to sift through people’s hearts.” Is his advice reflected in your approach to giving?

 

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