“Morning, Slippery Sam’s the name, surviving’s my game! I’m the master of duckin’ and divin’
My Boss, he owns all the land around here. Rich as they come he is! You should see how much money he’s got stashed away… I have, I collected most of it for him. That’s my job you see, I’m his manager, or steward. He’s too rich to do a proper day’s work like what you and me do, so ‘e pays me to do it.
My job is to go around all the folks that live on his land and collect the rent money from them, or those that sell the produce what they grow on his fields. Not always a pleasant job – now I’m not a tax collector, I’m not like them no, but some folk see me like one of them. It probably doesn’t help that sometimes I add a bit to the bill when no one’s looking and keep it for myself!
Of course I have to be careful playing that game. If my Boss sussed, well there’s no doubt that I’d be out of here, and if anyone else sussed, well that would be getting the Boss’s name a bad reputation… Catch is you see, there’s a queue of others waiting to take my place.
Why? Why do they want my job? It’s the money of course. I may not be rolling in it, but I’m a darn sight better than all these pheasants around here you know. A bit of ‘agro’ from the commoners is endurable if you’ve got some cash to spend.
Anyway, the other day I got in trouble, big trouble. Don’t know what it was, but that Mrs Jones, she must have realised that I’d been pulling a fast one on her, asking for too much money. I thought I’d been careful too. Anyways, whatever gave it away, she worked it out. Next thing I know the Boss has called me into his office and demanded to see the books – no not the latest Harry Potter, but the accounts where I record all that is owed to the Boss and all I’ve collected. Of course I take it to him straight away.
Did I know I was in trouble? Immediately. He’s never asked me to hand over the accounts before. Blindingly obvious that he was going to check them, and if he checked them, he would soon know that I’d been tricking him and his tenants, and taking a small share for myself. That was it. I was about to lose my job.
What’s the problem with that? This job is all I know. I couldn’t be a gardener, or a teacher. I can’t fix things. I’m no good with my hands – if you are by the way, don’t forget to sign up for the workday or the set-up teams. No, this is the only job I know, its all I can do. If the Boss sacks me for fiddling the books, then no one else is going to take me on are they? Who’d trust a cheat like me! All that would be left would be to beg. I don’t want to beg money from others…
You know sometimes when you have a problem, you can think about for hours and hours and come up with nothing? Then there are those days when something comes to you in a flash of lightening. This was one of them days.
I ran around those who hadn’t paid up yet and cut their bills…
You see, I wasn’t the only one cheating. Of course my Boss was at it too. Everyone’s doing it! The Bible says that when someone owes us something, we should get them to pay interest, to pay extra because we’ve done them a favour. No, we’re to charge them just what they’ve borrowed. Now of course, everyone ignores that don’t they. This was my plan. I’d run around everyone who hadn’t paid yet, and cancel the extra that my Boss had been demanding. That would make them happy. If they were happy and told everybody how good my Boss was to them – of course they would think my Boss had told me to do this – then my Boss would suddenly become very popular. He’d like that. And because he liked that, he would be pleased with me. If he was pleased with me, then he wouldn’t sack me. To be honest, even if he wasn’t pleased with me, he wouldn’t dare sack me, because everyone now liked me!”
Reading Luke 16:1-9
This is one weird story isn’t it? Everyone in this story is being selfish and devious. What on earth are we to make of it.
Made even more confusing by Jesus’ comments that we should be like this manager. He’s called unrighteous. That’s not normally a good thing to be called, it means that you’re involved in wrong doing, and that spoils your relationship with God.
So why does Jesus say that we should be like him?
One suggestion – he is unrighteous because he is relying on ‘dirty money’ to make a living. He’s caught up in a way of life, a system that is corrupt. Jews weren’t meant to charge interest, or cheat and take money for themselves like he was. But by the end of the story, he’s stared living a different way. He’s cancelled the interest, stopped taking that little extra for himself too. And because of that, the world has become a better place. It’s changed, and those who were poor and being hard done by are being treated better.
Now of course, we know that the manager is still acting if we’re honest, selfishly, he’s only doing it for himself, but it’s a start at least. He’s beginning to leave behind wrong ways of dealing with others, and being to treat others with respect. Because of that, they are beginning to like him, and he keeps his job.
Is this Jesus’ point?
Like the manager, our lives are so intertwinned with the way the world works that no doubt there’s no end of ways in which we’re living a little bit like the manager, doing this wrong, because that’s the way its done around here, and hurting others as a result. It’s so easy just to copy everybody else and not actually stop and think about whether or not God would be pleased with what we’re doing.
The challenge of this story is to stop and think about our lives, how we live. Are there things that we’re involved in maybe deliberately or without realising it, that we need to stop and put right. Ways in which we’re not living out God’s instruction to love him and those around us.
Perhaps its in the way we shop – is what we buy harming others because they aren’t paid enough for what they grow or make for us. Is our trade fair?
What about the banks we use – do they use our money for good things, or bad things – do we even know? Is our banking ethical?
How about the amount of power we use – the more we use our cars, the more we use electricity and so on, the quicker climate change comes about. Who’s that going to affect first and hardest – it’s going to be the poor everytime. They can’t afford to protect themselves like us.
What about the way we join in gossip about celebrities, politicians or even those closer to home?
The message of this parable is that if we step away from these things, and start living fairly and with love and compassion, then the world will begin to change. Not only that, but like the manager we shall receive approval. It might not be from those around us, but God will be pleased with what we do, and what is better than that!