Pay attention to the small stuff
Lectionary blog for Sept. 22, 2013
Pentecost 18 — Proper 20
Text: Luke 16:1-13
By Delmer Chilton
Once in a worship planning meeting, the longtime church organist and Christian educator, with master’s level training, took one look at this Gospel lesson and said, “I have never understood this text. Why don’t we just skip it this year?”
It is a strange story. A business owner finds out that his office manager is guilty of mismanagement. He calls in the manager and says, “You’ve got two weeks to get ready for an audit. Now get out of here.”
The manager knows he’s in deep trouble. Too proud to beg; too weak to work; what to do? What to do? Suddenly, he has an idea. He calls in some of the company’s biggest customers. “Have I got a deal for you,” he says. The plan is simple. He cuts their bills in half, destroys the paper trail and writes new invoices.
Now when the audit happens, no one can prove that he cheated and all the richest men in town will owe him a favor. His future is secure. Of course, when the owner looks at the doctored books he knows what has happened but there is nothing he can do about it. He knows he has been conned. And here’s the surprise. He says to the man: “I have to admit it. You were pretty smart. You got me. Now get out of here.”
Up to this point the story makes perfect sense to us, maybe even more so in these years after the Wall Street crash involving loan schemes that nobody understood, financial sleight of hand that caught everybody off guard. What doesn’t make sense to us is the fact that Jesus seems to join the owner in praising the manager for his dishonesty.
But a careful reading of the text shows that Jesus is not praising the man for being dishonest. Rather, he is pointing to the man as an example of someone with single-minded devotion to a cause, which in this case, happens to be himself. Jesus’ point here turns out to be pretty simple. Here, he says, is someone who knows how to give his entire heart, mind and soul, to the service of his god, the thing he values most. “Hey,” Jesus says, “what if we, the citizens of the kingdom of God, were to give such single-minded and complete devotion to the cause of the one and only true God!”
Martin Luther, in the Small Catechism, says: “That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.” This story of the unjust steward confronts us with some serious questions we have to ask ourselves. The first one being “What really is my God?” Is it my No. 1 concern in life to preach good news to the poor? To heal the sick? To give sight to the blind? How much of my valuable time do I spend each week in prayer and Bible study? In visiting the sick and lonely? How much of my time and money is given pursuing help and justice for the poor of the world? These are the questions Jesus is asking us in his story of the con-man office manager. He’s smart and devoted to serving his god. Are we smart and devoted in serving ours?
Fred Craddock , a New Testament scholar and preaching professor, said:
“The life of a disciple is one of faithful attention to the frequent and familiar tasks of each day, however small and insignificant they may seem. The one faithful in today’s nickels and dimes is the one to be trusted with the big account, but it is easy to be indifferent toward small obligations while quite sincerely believing oneself fully trustworthy in major matters. The realism of these sayings is simply that life consists of a series of seemingly small opportunities.
“Most of us will not this week christen a ship, write a book, end a war, appoint a cabinet, dine with the queen, convert a nation, or be burned at the stake. More likely the week will present no more than [a] chance to give a cup of water, write a note, visit a nursing home, vote for a county commissioner, teach a Sunday school class, share a meal, tell a child a story, go to choir practice, and feed the neighbor’s cat.” [“Luke: Interpretation Commentaries” pp. 191-192]
God’s call to us today is to be single-minded in our devotion to the kingdom — every minute of every day. But it is not a devotion that calls for us to walk around as “holier-than-thou,” overly pious, religious fanatics. Rather, it is a call to pay attention to and give service to the holiness of the ordinary, the sacred within the people and problems of our daily existence.
We are invited to realize that the genuinely important things in our life do not have price tags and dollar signs attached. Once we realize that, we are free to turn our hearts, souls, minds and bodies — and our wealth and resources — to the task of serving God by serving one another.
Amen and amen.
- Do you pay attention to the small obligations or just the “big” ones?
- Would you consider yourself smart and devoted in serving God?
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.
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Who, me? Selfish?
The worst parable ever
A living parable