Sermon, September 22: Forgive

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg. I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ He called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ‘Eight hundred gallons he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

 

Let’s take a closer look at the odd plot of this story. We know he manager oversaw the work of the tenant farmers, right?  We also know the tenant farmers slipped further and further into debt each year, even as they worked harder and harder.

The landowner fired the manager because of rumors that he was squandering the landowner’s resources. But “squandering” isn’t necessarily a bad word in Luke’s gospel – a sower in another parable squandered seed by tossing it on roadways and bird feeders. A shepherd potentially squandered the ninety-nine sheep by running after the lost one. It’s too soon to judge the manager.

So what did the manager do when he thought about his life after employment? He gathered all of the farmers who owed the landowner money, and told them that their debts have been reduced from a gazillion dollars to only half as much. He did not tell the farmers that the landowner never authorized that deal and the farmers must have believed the landowner was more generous than anyone else in the whole Roman empire. And so the landowner became a hero in the farmers’ eyes – and the manager, of course, did also.

Now one thing the landowner could go out is go out to the crowd – those people shouting blessings on him and his family and tell them it was all a terrible mistake. The cheering would stop very quickly. Or, he could go out and take credit for the manager’s actions and be a hero.

Why did Jesus tell this strange story? Did he really mean to suggest that the shrewd manager had something to say to us? Is he a St Francis – giving to the poor from his father’s warehouses? Or a  Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor? Or is there something more here? What, precisely, was it that this manager did, even if it was without authorization and with considerable deception? The simple answer is that the manager forgave – he forgave the farmers’ debts.

The manager forgave. He forgave things he had no right to forgive. He forgave for all the wrong reasons. But that’s what he did – he forgave.

Then what’s the point of the story? Forgive. Forgive whoever injured you in any way. Forgive now. Forgive for any reason you want, or for no reason at all. Forgive because we know how desperately we need forgiveness ourselves.

Forgive because – if a person who was shrewd and dishonest can forgive to find a friend after he’s been fired – then we who have experienced grace, have every reason to forgive. Forgive because God forgives.

Forgiveness is a force, an strength, a power. It can change people. The force of God’s forgiveness is the energy that drives Luke’s whole gospel. From Zechariah’s opening prophecy about the child who would preach salvation through the forgiveness of sin, through the stories found of healings that happened because sins were forgiven, to the gospel’s closing words: “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Only Luke would remember that when a faithful people handed the answer to their prayers over to be crucified, his dying words would be “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The Son’s dying words to the Father flung this force of forgiveness across heaven and earth and time and time to come. Forgiveness is God’s guiding will.    Amen.

 

 

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton

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