Thursday, September 23, 2004

Proper 20 C -Sept 23, 2007

Proper 20C-2007
Text: Luke 16:1-13

Outrageous Forgiveness

This morning we hear another parable from Jesus – what has been called the parable of the wicked steward or dishonest manager. It is an odd story and strikes a strange note. Quite truthfully, this particular parable has been subject to more and varied interpretations than any of Jesus’ other parables because it is so difficult to figure out what Jesus was trying to say.
In seminary, I had a New Testament professor who was fond of saying that she would be glad to get to heaven so she could ask Jesus and St. Paul some questions about what they had said. I like to think about her quizzing St. Paul – “Now, exactly what did you mean when you said…?” I suspect this reading from today is one she’d be asking about too. Let’s take a stab at it.
The first thing to look at is where it falls – what teachings of Jesus are on either side – its neighbors, if you will. So notice that it follows the three “Lost” parables and comes right before a discussion with the Pharisees in which he took them to task for their love of money – so we need to bear in mind that this probably has something to do finding that which has been lost and, it may also relate to money, or what it symbolizes, and its place in our lives.
In each of three preceding parables, Jesus has been talking with us about the lengths to which our God goes to find us and to reclaim us, to heal and restore us. He does things, that from a human point of view, make no sense whatsoever…It can help us to remember that comment from God in Isaiah where he says – “Your ways are not my ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts.”
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus must have left his listeners shaking their heads…what father would put up with a son like this - one who had essentially squandered so much of the gain of the father’s life work. This would have been shocking and, in fact, the parable is sometimes called the parable of the Prodigal Father -- because the Father was so outrageously generous and forgiving…..forgiving the debt.
Here I am reminded of the Lord’s prayer…and remember that financial debt is sometimes a metaphor for sin – forgive us our sin, trespasses, debts as we forgive those who sin, trespass, or are indebted to us…So, the second stake we can put into the ground is that of forgiveness of sin…now let’s look at the parable.
We have an estate manager, a steward, who is being fired – perhaps unjustly, perhaps not, and who is scrambling to make the best of the short amount of time he’s got…
A lot of people owe the owner of the estate – and owe him “big”…
Owing a lot of money is fairly typical these days – 2.5 trillion $ in consumer debt as of June this year…The average household owes close to $12,000 in credit card debt.. If you are a homeowner, you will know that signing a home mortgage or big note is sobering…overwhelming if you think about it too much…
In another church I served, I had a couple come for some pastoral counseling…they were fighting like mad…and somewhere along the way I asked them how much debt they were carrying – it was close to $75,000 in credit card debt…their annual income was somewhere around $50,000. They were overcome by debt and could not hope to pay it off…Think how relieved they would have been if someone from Master Card, the person who had been harassing them previously, called out of the blue and said…we’re going to write off that debt. Or, if someone called and said…the bank is going to forgive your home mortgage…or your student loan debts…or your business debt…we’re going to forgive it …you’d probably be thinking…this is too good to be true, no way this is legal…it’s probably a mistake at the bank……and you’d probably wait and then check your balance…..and then the statement arrives in the mail…or better, yet, the deed…free and clear… what a celebration that would be! Wouldn’t you be praising American Express or Visa, or the bank to the high heavens…because debt really is a form of slavery ---
Now, some of you who are practical folks no doubt would be saying – well, that’s nice idea but that can’t work practically because the whole system would fall apart…if everybody’s mortgages were forgiven, the banking system would collapse…someone has to pay…and you are right to think this…back to this in a moment
To become debt free is a wonderful thing --- but more wonderful is to become debt free in a spiritual sense…
How scandalous it must have appeared to the religious authorities of the day that Jesus forgave people’s sins --- “No one but God alone can forgive sins” they buzzed – what does he think he’s doing? I can see Jesus looking up at them, raising his eyebrows as if to say…well? (Take it a step further)..If I am forgiving sins and only God can forgive sins…then…
What if…just what if…Jesus was telling us that God was like that dishonest or tricky steward? What if this is a kingdom parable? What if Jesus is telling us that this is how it is in the Kingdom of Heaven?

We live in a world that wants an eye for an eye – if you owe, you owe…in a world that forgives so little and holds onto injuries for so long…how shocking to have a God who forgives…and forgives much…but the more practical among us would say…that just can’t work…if everyone’s sin or crime is forgiven the whole system of justice would collapse…where there has been injury, someone has to pay…and you would be right..
Like the tricky steward, Our Lord Jesus did not have a long time to walk this earth...but, o, how he used that time – he wrote down and ripped up people’s debts with abandon and then poured out his life so that the debt --- the demand for justice could be met …and the paper could be stamped “Paid in Full” for all people for all time…
Now, here’s the thing….if you are baptized into his death and resurrection, then you are a part of this Christian economy, and we are called to write down the debts of others. This is something we can do because the living presence of Jesus Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit makes it possible. To forgive means to say – you owe me nothing…there is no debt remaining…and this is not something we have the power in us to do on our own…but we can forgive because we have been forgiven…because our spiritual mortgage has been burned…we can have the grace and power to do the same…
Jesus tells this story and then speaks about being faithful in the little things. This is because the practice of forgiveness is not just in the big things…it begins with the smaller hurts, slights, offenses . We learn with the smaller things for, if we can forgive in the smaller things…be faithful in the smaller things…then when the big ones come, through the grace and blood of Jesus Christ, we can forgive the larger ones…Today and in the coming week, I want to challenge, invite and plead with you to pull out your ledger book and have a look at who owes you…and then, like our Lord and Master Jesus, start writing those debts down and off for all eternity. AMEN.

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