The Rev. Larry Koger
First Lutheran Church-San Diego
September 18, 2016
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
“Are You Ashamed to Beg?”
After reading today’s lesson, I was reminded of a well-known story of a little boy lost inside a busy shopping mall. He was standing in the aisle of a department store just crying and crying. “I want my mommy, I want my mommy.” People who passed by felt sorry for him and many of them gave him nickels and dimes and quarters, even dollar bills to try to cheer him up. Finally a salesperson from the floor walked up to the distraught little boy and said, “I know where your mommy is, son.” The little boy looked up his tear trenched eyes and said, “Shhh! Keep quiet, I got a good thing going here.” The less-than-honest behavior of the little boy may bring a smile to our face, but the less than honest behavior of the steward in our bible lesson leaves us puzzled and confused. This is one of those passages that makes you go “huh?” We have here an unjust manager. He is a crook, he is dishonest. He gets caught, and when he’s caught, he proceeds to cheat his master even more in order to gain a home after he is kicked out by the master. So he’s a crook to begin with, and he compounds his crime by more thieveries. And the master says, “Way to go, good job.” The manager knows what he has done. So, what is going on here?
To understand this parable we are going to have to take a closer look at the parable. We will begin by looking at some key verses, like verse 3, “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.” Let’s stop there, and let me ask you this question, are you ashamed to beg? Are you ashamed to beg? Keep that question in the back of your minds because I am going to ask you that question again at the end of the message. For now, let’s take a look at another key verse to help us understand this parable verse 8, “[Jesus said] 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.” So what does that mean? Is Jesus really commending thieves and robbers? Here I will go out on a limb and answer that question with one word: No, Jesus is not commending thieves and robbers. What is going on, what I think this parable is about is our very human desire to bargain with God, to try somehow to work our way into God’s good graces, to earn his help now and to win for ourselves a home in heaven. Can we bargain with God? Can we earn a way into an eternal home?
The answer given at first look in our lesson seems to be yes. Look at verse 9, “[Jesus says] make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” But what kind of eternal home will that be? To answer that let’s see if we can find ourselves anywhere in this parable. The manager has squandered and stolen his master’s resources. Have you ever known any one that has squandered and stolen our master’s resources? Do you know someone that has squandered their time in self-centered pursuits? Do you know anyone that squanders their money on goods for themselves, to raise their own standard of living? Do we ever squander our lives in the pursuit of self-centered happiness rather than giving ourselves totally to God and totally to our neighbors? All of us can think of ways in which we have taken the time, money, and lives God has given us and wasted at least parts of them on ourselves and ourselves alone. And God knows that we have done this. So we and the manager are both caught by the master. What do we do?
This servant decides to bargain, not with the master, but with others to help them also rob the master. He thinks to himself, “If I can’t have a home with the master, I’ll bargain with someone else to take me in.” And the master’s praise is, I think, a backhanded compliment. He’s saying, “Well, at least this servant is consistent, and is using what he can to find a home.” But again, what kind of home will he, and we, end up with by doing such bargaining? Sin, death and the devil are always ready to give us a home, to take over our lives. To rob us of joy. To rob us of hope. To rob us of peace. We know from our own experiences how quickly evil can rob us of joy, rob us of hope, rob us of peace. Those forces are ready to take everything we have and are, everything we are willing to bargain with, and make us pay and pay and pay. But that is not the sort of eternal home we would want to live in. The good news is, nor is that the eternal home that God wants us to live in.
No, God has a different kind of eternal home he wants us to live in. There are three points that I want to make about this parable. The first is that God is the one that gives us an eternal home. We do not earn this home, we do not bargain for it, and we certainly do not deserve it. It is simply given to us by Christ, who lived for us, died for us, and rose from the dead for us. He did this not because we earned it or could bargain for it. He did it because he loves us. Our eternal home is given to us out of the love of the God who gave his own self to make us his own.
Second, we are not to be ashamed to beg from God. Everything we have is a gift from God. There is nothing that we have that is not owned by the master. We begin by admitting that we cannot equal what God gives, and continues to give to us. God, who has given us every good gift including the air that we breathe, family and friends to share our lives with, even the brains which allow us to work and to earn an income. We can only give a portion of what God gives to us to do the work of His Kingdom. In other words, we have nothing to offer God that does not already belong to him. Therefore, we are not to bargain or to try to make deals or to try to deceive him. Instead, we are to simply ask; as a child asks a parent for a glass of water or something to wear or for help in learning a new skill, so we are to ask from God. We do not need to bargain or bring anything to the table, with the exception of our love for God. But we are to acknowledge that even our ability to love is a gift from God. We are to trust in God’s love for us, and ask for whatever we need.
Third, though we do not bargain with God, we are not to squander his gifts, as the unjust manager did. Now using our gifts wisely will not gain us an eternal home, but it will help our neighbor to have enough to eat, and it will also help us to grow in trust for God. For God has been at work and continues to be at work here at First Lutheran in some meaningful ways. Yesterday, our new Bishop, Andy Taylor, talked about this congregation, First Lutheran, at the San Diego area Bishop’s Gathering. Bishop Andy retold the story of how this congregation, many years ago, back in the 1970s, noticed that downtown San Diego was beginning to re-gentrify. New businesses and business folks were moving into downtown. The congregation decided to bake bread and invite folks to stop by for some free bread. However, the folks that showed up were not business people; the folks that showed up were the homeless. First Lutheran responded by saying, “this must be the people that God is sending us, so let’s find ways to be of service to the homeless.” All these years later God continues to be at work in meaningful ways. The feeding ministry is still alive and well, feeding the homeless and hungry. The UCSD student-run free medical clinics that serve the poor through general medical care, dentists, acupuncturists, ophthalmologists, and social services that are provided through Third Avenue Charitable Organization. God continue to call to us, to keep our eyes and hearts open to what God is up to next. As we trust God, as we grow in faith we will discover that we can never, and will never out give God. In other words, our parable reminds us that our faith grows by understanding that all we have comes from God and so is not to be squandered, but is to be put to his use. But more than that, this money is used to help us who give it, give thanks to the God who has given us everything – jobs, children, family, forgiveness, even an eternal home
So are you ashamed to beg? I hope not before God. Our lives, the moments we share together, and all of our possessions are precious gifts from God. We are all beggars, in the sense that God gives us more than we can hope for, better than we deserve, and for many of us more than we could ever use. Let us thank God for his grace and gifts on this day.