Who, me? Selfish?


Thoughts on lectionary texts for Sept. 19, 2010 Lectionary 25

Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

The parable of the dishonest manager Luke 16:1-13 is complex.

The manager is summoned to his boss and accused of squandering property. Realizing he is about to lose his job, the manager makes a plan.

Who, me? Selfish?

His plan leads to debts being reduced. His plan means many others are now indebted to him. His plan leads him to a sense of security. And his plan results in praise from his boss because of his wise and clever actions. But I still get hung up on his selfish motivation: "I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes" (v. 4).

If we do good deeds for others, but these actions are motivated by selfish interests, are our actions still good?

If we forgive others' debts in order to help our own bottom line, is this really about forgiveness?

It's hard to be honest about our motivations. Looking in the mirror to examine our motivations often reveals more blemishes than we expected to see.

As I hear people reflect on their experiences of community service, for example, I often hear how good the experience has made the one serving feel. Of course there are other outcomes and reactions.

But haven't you had this experience too? Returning from a soup kitchen or a mission trip, dirt up to your elbows, feeling very satisfied? Feeling good about our service is a natural outcome that can motivate future service.

But would I still be inclined to serve my neighbor if I knew it would only bring backbreaking work and no meaningful interaction with another, no tangible signs that food had been shared or shelter had been provided?

Can my sense of satisfaction be held alongside a restless desire to work toward Christ's vision for justice?

The parable ends with this proclamation: "You cannot serve God and wealth" (v. 13).

At the end of the day, as we look in the mirror to examine our motivations and reflect on the good we have been able to do, we are faced with a question: Whom are you serving?

It is a question of loyalty. It is a question that invites an honest look deep into our lives. But more importantly, the question invites us to look outside of ourselves and into the world God has made.

And to trust that, even when our motivations aren't perfect, God can still work good through us.


- How do you sort out the complex mix of motivations for service in we who are wholly saints and sinners?
- How do you make time to discern your motivations and actions?
- How is that discernment supported by the promises of God made to you in baptism?


Callista Isabelle is associate university chaplain of Yale University in New Haven, Conn. She is also associate pastor of the University Church in Yale, an ecumenical congregation. Originally from Iowa, Callista served on the volunteer staff of Holden Village for two years before entering divinity school.

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