Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The Manager in our parable inadvertently does some good, godly things. He has been found out for having squandered his boss’ property that he was supposed to be taking care of. This Manager was in trouble and was about to lose his job. Before the paperwork could be signed and his pink slip could be delivered, the Manager decides to try to worm his way into the good graces of the clients he would soon no longer serve. “If I can scratch their back now, maybe they will scratch my back later. Maybe they will do me a solid and give me a place to crash and some food to eat until I can get on my feet again.” So the Manager sets out to visit his clients. He asks each of the clients how much debt they owe the Manager’s boss and methodically cuts it dramatically. 100 jugs of oil get cut to just 50 and 100 containers of wheat get cut to 80.
Imagine being 15 years in on your 30-year home mortgage and a representative from the bank comes to your home and says to you, “You know what? Let’s just forgive the rest of your mortgage payments. Your house is paid in full now. It’s yours.” Or imagine someone offering you or a family member 2 free years of college. Or imagine going to the supermarket and every trip for the next 10 years, every single thing in the store is marked “Buy one, get one free!”
What a deal! Suddenly you are freed up to take care of other debts, to get that surgery or doctor’s visit you’ve been putting off, to go back to school, or to get someone a nice Christmas present. From your perspective, this Manager, extravagantly and generously forgave your debts and freed you from all the worries tied up with that debt.
In a truly odd fashion, the Manager’s boss gets wind of this mass forgiveness and instead of sending him to jail for effectively giving away the money that likely belonged to the boss, he praises the Manager “because he had acted shrewdly.”
The manager had previously been reliant on himself and his ability to get money. He didn’t need the help of another soul when things were going his way. Then, his boss finds out that he’s been squandering his property. The situation changes suddenly. After some shrewd planning, the manager realizes that he needs to form community ASAP. From a purely self-serving motivation, this manager realizes that his only hope of surviving this life is to make some friends.
Politicians are notorious for making friends for their own advantage. Many assume that if they want to get elected or reelected they need to seem like someone your average Joe could befriend and share a beer with. They need to seem compassionate, trustworthy, and hard-working. The voter needs to be convinced that they will scratch your back if you scratch their back.
Often, politicians will publically engage in some sort of kind and/or charitable work. It becomes quite muddy when we try to determine whether the politician actually cares about the people they are serving or if they are just grabbing at a photo op and to coerce a vote out of your heart.
Donald Trump hosted a fundraiser to benefit veterans instead of attending a primary debate in January. Hillary and Bill Clinton lift up the charitable work the Clinton Foundation has done over the years and the millions of dollars it has raised. Bernie Sanders has touted his participation in the Civil Rights movement. In 2012, Cory Booker lived on a food stamp wage for a week and publically documented how that affected his health and lifestyle. Chris Christie played in a celebrity charity softball game that honored and raised money for the NYPD.
Are these politicians genuinely concerned about the objects of their charity or is this simply a way for them to get into the news cycle and win some more votes? Let’s assume the worst and assume that any charitable act done by these high-profile individuals is just a publicity stunt meant to make us and them appear closer to being friends. Even if that is the case (which it probably isn’t. I assume that some people are decent and genuinely want to help others), even if that is the case, what is the result of this pandering and showboating?
Various veteran service providers receive large monetary donations. Money is raised for micro loans, efforts to combat climate change, and global health improvements. The Civil Rights movement added one more person to its ranks. A spotlight is shown on the inadequacies of our country’s welfare programs. Money is raised for the NYPD.
When the Manager of today’s parable makes friends and forgives the debts of his neighbors, he does so out of concern for his own well-being. Regardless of his intentions, however, the result is that debts are forgiven and relationships are made.
Jesus says, “…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.” Honestly, I have had a hard time making heads or tails of this saying of Jesus this week. But what I think he is getting at in light of the manager who shrewdly dealt with his own generation is that we can learn something from those who do good works and make friends- even if they do so with selfish intention. We learn that good works and relationships are good and beneficial for all people. They make the world a better place. People who don’t know the Kingdom of God from a hole in the ground can see that, so why can’t we? Jesus urges us to do as the shrewd manager does, but maybe with different intention. We probably shouldn’t think of friends as commodities whose kindness we can cash in when we hit tough times. But we can see, even through the actions of this selfish manager, that God’s goodness shines bright in acts of bold forgiveness and loving relationships. If the shrewd manager or Trump or Clinton or Sanders or Booker or Christie can see the inherent value in mercy and love, how much more should the people of God?
It is shocking to note how similar the shrewd manager’s actions are to Jesus’ actions. This manager forgives debts on a huge scale with no demands of those whom he forgives. Jesus forgave sins in a similar way to many people and without reservation. The sinful woman who crashes Jesus’ dinner party, the paralyzed man brought in through the roof, the 10 lepers, the woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus the tax collector, and even the thief on the cross next to his own all get their sins forgiven without first being given some task to prove their worthiness or readiness to be forgiven. Jesus simply does it and like the shrewd manager, he does it so that he might be our friend.
Some Christians pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Christ calls us to follow after him and even the shrewd manager so that we might forgive the debts of our neighbors. This is not a conditional prayer. Christ does not hold our forgiveness hostage until we forgive others. Our debts, sins, and trespasses have already been forgiven out of Christ’s great love for us. Knowing the joy of that forgiveness we are empowered and emboldened to forgive others generously and to make friends even as Christ has befriended us.