Reflection September 22, 2019 by Rev Sunny
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1/ 1 Timothy 2:1-7 / Luke 16:1-13
Good Stewards for the Reign of God
Do you like the story of Robin Hood? It has a lot of elements that attract us; action, capable hero fighting evil, and this said hero fighting for the common oppressed people an unconventional way. It’s quite satisfying to see Robin Hood in action. But this attractive story raises a moral question about whether a good purpose justifies theft. Have any of you ever thought, “Although Robin fights evil, and although a lot of rich people are evil, it doesn’t mean he can steal from them.” We know stealing is wrong, but we can’t help rooting for Robin because it’s not like regular stealing; it’s to help the poor. It’s fun to watch Robin in action, but if it happened in real life, it would be debatable whether we would consider him a criminal or not. The one fact about myself today is that I come from an activist background. There was a time, university students in South Korea fought extra hard. I was a part of this student movement. The government would send military forces to break up our peaceful gatherings, so we had to learn to fight back. My brother was even arrested for throwing a Molotov cocktail. Those in power called our actions illegal and violent; we called it defence. Robin Hood and his gang would also have called what they did “defence”. Let’s get something straight here; I’m not promoting stealing from the rich to feed the hungry or using violence to fight the evil of the society. The reason why I started with Robin Hood and the student activist movement in Korea is because today’s gospel story is morally controversial, not to mention confusing. Moral values are not always black and white and require a lot of reflection.
This parable contains the word “dishonest” so we are not going to debate whether the manager was dishonest or not; the story says he was. The manager was accused of squandering the owner’s property, but this is not why he is called dishonest. He is called dishonest because of what he did after realizing that he would soon be fired. He went to his master’s debtors and forged the document about how much they owed him. This parable is very controversial even among the biblical scholars, and some argue that the manager was not really dishonest because what he was doing was to redeem the interest they owed, which was illegal according to the Jewish Law. But since the story calls him a dishonest manager, it is not debatable. There are a lot of different opinions on what this parable says, from which I will spare you (You’re welcome). Instead, let us compare this parable to the Parable of the Foolish Rich. In the parable about the foolish rich, the rich man had more than he could ever consume, so he decided to build bigger barns. He is called foolish by Jesus not because he decided to build bigger barns but because he thinks he can assure his continued well-being by doing so. The dishonest manager in today’s story is different from the foolish rich because he uses the authority he still has in the present order to prepare for the future order, meaning after he is fired. He was not good or honest, but he was wise; he knew that the present order would not last forever. He used what he had to prepare for the future. He was commended for this wisdom, not for his dishonest act.
This is a story of stewardship; how we should use what we have. As God’s stewards, we should acknowledge that what we have in this world doesn’t belong to us, that we are just managers, and use it to prepare for the reign of God that we are called to bring to this world. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the prodigal son used his father’s inheritance money to party and have fun. A wise son would have saved and invested that money instead of squandering it away; that’s what we do if we are future-oriented, isn’t it? Jesus taught us to feed the hungry, welcome strangers, heal the sick, and to speak up for justice. Then that’s what we should be doing with our gifts and possessions. As Spiderman said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” It reminds us that our privileges are to be used for the greater good.
From the Book of Jeremiah, we heard God’s call for healing actions for the cries of suffering. God wants us to be the balm of Gilead and heal the suffering world and its people. God’s people are suffering. God’s creation is suffering. Our greed is hurting animals and plants as well as other humans (the powerless and marginalized ones). There are animals losing their habitat, which threatens their survival. There are animals going extinct. There are a lot of God’s beautifully created people who suffer because we are negligent to their suffering and full of prejudice. Let us listen to God’s call, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” We should stand up and say, “Here I am, God. I will be the balm, the physician healing your creation.”
From First Timothy, we are also called to pray for everyone, especially those who are in high positions, those who are in power. That’s an interesting lesson to learn, with our election coming. We know that a leader can make or break an organization and its people. We saw how because of one president, poor people gained access to health care. We also saw how because of one president, a lot of people have lost their rights, privileges, and have to fear for their safety. Meanwhile, our youths are fighting for the government to act in the climate crisis, and those in power won’t listen. We need to pray for our leaders and make sure to elect a party that cares about the ordinary people, marginalized people, and the environment.
Let us use our material possessions to help those in need. Let’s use our compassionate heart and the gift of the gospel of Jesus to love God’s people and heal their suffering. Let us use our intellect, privileges, and voices to speak out for justice. Our ministry for God’s reign is the stewardship God needs from us. Let us be the good stewards of God who work to bring God’s new world order, God’s reign to our communities.