22 September 2019
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
Then 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.’
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.
“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.”
I don’t know about you,
But I like the older language
Found in the King James and Revised Standard versions that reads:
“Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.”
Mammon serves as a personification for the acquisition of wealth,
Or, as Martin Luther called it,
The “most common god on earth.”
Bob Dylan sings, everybody’s “gotta serve somebody.”
You cannot serve God and Mammon, Jesus concludes.
Our Gospel from Luke today is especially difficult to understand.
It is hard for us to know
HOW Jesus wants us
To judge any of the characters in his story.
It is almost as if understanding Jesus’ intent
Requires us to take a mini course in ancient Biblical economics.
(Much of today’s insight comes from the excellent work of Barbara Rossing, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Chicago, Ill. As found at workingpreacher.org)
Most people will look at this unusual passage
Only found in the Gospel of Luke,
Reel in bewilderment,
And toss up their hands, saying,
“Why should I even bother
To try to make heads or tails of this complex mess?”
“It’s too complicated!”
(Remember: Church is a “No Complaint Zone”)
It’s worth the effort.
It’s worth the effort to dig deeply
To uncover Jesus’ intended message and essential truth.
In Biblical Judaism,
It is forbidden to charge interest on a loan.
These prohibitions are listed exhaustively in
Exodus 22, Leviticus 25, and Deuteronomy 15.
(This, of course, makes it impossible today
For Bankers, or any lender, mortgage or bond holders,
To believe in a
Literal, word-for-word translation of the Bible).
The Bible forbids interest because it exploits the vulnerable and poor.
In the time of Jesus,
This prohibition was being ignored.
God’s people fail to heed God’s Word.
There is nothing new under the sun.
The vulnerable poor were being exploited.
They were being gouged.
How bad were the poor being exploited? You ask …
Scholars suggest the real interest rate would have been
25 percent per year for borrowing money, and
50 percent per year for borrowing goods.
The manager? You ask, “How does he make his money?
By charging his fee on top of everything else.
So, after twelve months, a $1,000 loan of grain
Will now cost the borrower $1,500 to pay back,
Plus an additional $150 fee for the debt collector.
The sum total for a thousand dollar loan would be $1,650.
You can see why the poor were being crushed by debt.
The poor were attracted to Jesus
Like new college graduates heavily encumbered with student debt
Are attracted to a politician promising the sun, the moon, and the stars.
The shrewd manager
Quickly writes down everyone’s debt
So they will treat him well after he is fired.
Let me be clear:
He is only writing off the debt that was unjust interest and, possibly, his fee.
He was only writing the debt off
Back to the original principle amount of the loan.
Borrowers had been pounded for years
Under the exploitative debt of both
The rich man and his manager.
Both the rich man and his manager were rascals of the worst kind.
They exploited the poor.
Now the manager
Who had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar
Was simply doing what was right,
What was according to Law,
What he should have been doing in the first place.
Throughout the Gospel of Luke,
Jesus calls for another Biblical directive: Jubilee.
What is Jubilee? You ask …
Leviticus 25:8-15 states
“You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.
It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces. In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property.”
Every 49 years
Liberty is to be proclaimed throughout the land.
Slaves and prisoners would be freed.
Debts would be forgiven.
The mercies of God would be manifest.
You heard me right.
All debts shall be forgiven.
Jesus cracks the Jubilee whip throughout the Gospel of Luke.
In the Magnificat,
Luke reports (1:53) that God
“Has filled the hungry with good things,
And sent the rich away empty.”
When Jesus encounters Zacchaeus,
Zacchaeus restores to the borrowers
That which he had defrauded four-fold.
As a result
Jesus restores Zacchaeus to community and proclaims,
“Today salvation has come to this house.” (19:18).
Because of this generational reset
Of everyone’s accumulated assets to zero,
There would be no way to accumulate massive wealth,
Unless, of course,
You had the financial ability and the sinful disdain
To defy the law regarding lending and debt.
All massive wealth was the result of
Biblically prohibited financial exploitation.
Massive wealth was the result of
Biblically prohibited financial exploitation.
When Jesus begins his narrative about a rich man and a manager,
Everyone to whom he was speaking
… the disciples, sinners, and tax collectors – everyone…
Would have immediately known
That Jesus was
Speaking about not one, but two rascals
Who disobey the Bible and who exploit the poor.
Jesus is condemning both equally;
Both the rich man and his shrewd manager.
It is not okay to exploit the poor.
Financial exploitation of the poor
Is absolutely contrary to the Gospel
And contrary to the teaching of Jesus.
I find it refreshing to learn
That “the Lutheran World Federation
Calls oppressive debt terms
Imposed on Latin American countries
As “illegitimate debt”
And likens such debt itself to “violence,”
Because of its crushing effects on people’s future.”
Some even go so far to
Refer to the international debt system as “modern slavery.”
(Rev. Ángel Furlan, coordinator of the illegitimate debt program for LWF member churches in Latin America, referred to the debt system as “modern slavery.” See the 2013 report at https://www.lutheranworld.org/news/just-and-sustainable-future-without-illegitimate-foreign-debt)
By this Gospel story
Jesus is attempting to dismantle
Human systems of greed;
Greed that disobey God’s Word and God’s Law,
Greed that exploit the vulnerable poor,
And greed that perpetuates an endless cycle of poverty.
Jesus is reviving village life!
Jesus is reviving the call to Biblical behavior!
Jesus is reviving the call for all his followers
To be people in covenant with God and with our neighbors!
Jesus is reviving the call to forgive debts!
(“Forgive us this day our debts,
As we forgive our debtors” – Matthew 6:12)
Jesus is in the business of revival and resurrection baby,
Today he has hit pure gold!
In today’s world
Most people notice the widening gap between the rich and the poor.
The middle class is being squeezed
And most of the pulverized remains are flowing through the grinder
Forging people who are marginalized by
Poverty, unemployment, hunger, and homelessness.
Disciples of Christ
Are being asked to choose
In this important teaching lesson today:
Whom shall we serve?
God or mammon?
Disciples of Jesus are repeatedly warned
That we cannot be disciples while accumulating wealth
At the expense of the poor.
If we choose to serve mammon.
Go ahead and turn your back on those in need.
Remain quiet when injustice is exposed.
Don’t lift a finger to prevent exploitation from taking place.
God bless you.
You’re going to need it.
But Jesus calls his followers to a higher standard.
Jesus calls us to become engaged in the world’s dysfunction.
God wants us to not only reach out to the poor,
But to also take control of the levers that create
An unfair playing field
That favor the rich
At the expense of the poor.
Take control and restore the system
That enslaves people in endless unemployment, homelessness, and hunger.
Jesus is calling us to join him in the business of restoration and resurrection,
Not only individually,
But across all systems, political ideologies, and economic realities.
Might I even go so far as to suggest
That impoverishing future generations
By our mammon imitating consumption
Might also have environmental implications?
Let us not leave the world a toxic waste dump
For our children to inherit
To feed off the piles
Or drink from its runoff.
I’d suggest that when we choose God,
When we choose to intentionally follow Jesus,
We choose to submit ourselves to God’s will
And Biblical justice.
Being faithful to the Word
Is not opposed to working for justice.
The foundation for Divine justice is one of many common threads
That is woven throughout the Biblical text.
Anyone who suggests otherwise
Is presenting to the world a lie,
A false dichotomy.
If one is faithful to the Word,
One must live the Word
with Christ centered conviction and holiness.
Working for Biblical justice
Individually, and collectively as the Church,
Is what building the Kingdom of God is all about.
Signs of Kingdom progress
Come in the form of both
Building houses with Habitat for Humanity
Or in Nicaragua or Guatemala,
But also with legislation
That empowers and resources the poor
To build their own houses and homes.
Kingdom building is setting up and operating food cupboards,
As well as working with community leaders
To ensure free lunches for hungry children in school.
Kingdom building helps give a job
As well as working with the local employment office
To ensure everyone who needs a job can get a job.
The goal of the Kingdom of God
Is to bring healing to the broken,
Restoration to the poor,
And resurrection to the dead.
Today, we are given a choice:
Will we serve God
Or will we serve mammon?
Revive one life.
Resurrect the world.