This sermon comes from Luke 16:1-13, the parable of the dishonest manager. In this sermon I tackle the difficult teaching of Jesus and acknowledge the fact that sometimes we just don’t understand.
Hear the sermon here:
Here’s the sermon in text form. As usual, disregard the odd punctuation and indications to pause. I’ve gotta remember to do them somehow.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
One of the highlights of my day actually occurs twice. About 8am and about 3pm. It involves a walk of about ¾ of a mile to the school and back. First taking the kids to school and then bringing them home from school. Right now, while the weather is nice, it’s a wonderful way to spend a few minutes with my kids. I never know what we’re going to talk about, but it’s a great way to have a couple of minutes of undivided attention.
Earlier this week, we were walking along when one of Underwood’s all black squirrels darted across the road in front of us. My daughter Ava, ever inquisitive with her 7-year old mind, asked the inevitable question… “What makes that squirrel black? They’re usually grey or brown.” (pause)
My first thought was that it was an excellent and very valid question. I thought about for a moment, and I was instantly transplanted back to my sophomore year of high school. The words chromosome, and genetic traits, and punit square flashed across my mind. You see, all through school, I was a math and science guy. I loved that stuff, and still do, and I knew…at least at a bachelor’s degree level, how a squirrel could be born with the genetic code to be black rather than the normal coloration.
But I knew that if I tried to explain all that to my daughter, she would simply stare at me with a slightly glazed expression that I see on some of your faces right now…and so I had to try to explain, carefully, how the mommy squirrel and the daddy squirrel each passed on a code for black, even if they weren’t that color. She told me that she understood, though I’m not 100% sure that she really did…and parents of youngsters out there, my apologies if I just opened a can of worms that you have to deal with later on today.
But isn’t that what teaching is all about? Trying to help someone understand a concept or an idea? Explaining it in a way that they can comprehend…even if it isn’t covering every single nuance and detail? It’s this very notion of teaching that causes me to fell massive amounts of respect for individuals that choose teaching as their profession. While I have the ability to understand a lot of scientific or mathematical stuff…I don’t always feel confident in my ability to simplify that understanding to help someone learn it for the first time…and sometimes I have to think REALLY hard about how to do it. Sometimes I pull it off…and other times…I just get the blank stares.
Sometimes I wonder about the mind of Jesus…he was a teacher…after all, countless people called him Rabbi, which literally means teacher. He had disciples that followed him around…crowds that pressed in on him hoping to learn something…and he had countless experiences with opposition that tried to test and trick him into teaching the wrong thing.
Jesus was…in every way…a teacher. And his classroom was very similar to the one that I was in earlier this week. Real life, just out walking around…that was Jesus’ classroom. And while he utilized many different teaching methods…one of the most common, especially here in Luke’s gospel…was the parable.
Now we’ve been hearing a lot of different parables lately…I preached on two different one’s last week alone. Truly, we can see from the gospels that Jesus was fond of this style. And to a certain extent, it makes sense. Take a concept, and give an illustration from regular life that helps to make that point…obviously I like it, if you’ve noticed I pretty much do that sort of thing every week. (pause)
But sometimes when I think about parables…I find myself thinking about the people that hear it…just like I often find myself thinking about how you will hear the words that I speak. I think about them…the audience of Jesus…and I wonder if the parables always worked.
At first glance…maybe that’s a silly question. Jesus was God…he knew everything so of course his parables always worked right…he knew what the people needed to hear…but is that the way it worked out? I’m don’t think so…not really.
Many different times we see that Jesus has to explain himself to the crowds…he has to explain what he’s talking about in the parable…and its not limited to the crowds, but even the disciples seem to miss out on his message and have to ask him what he’s talking about.
My guess is that Jesus was no stranger to blank stares…blank stares that indicate a total lack of understanding of what he’s talking about…and I wonder if that ever got frustrating for Jesus. He was fully human after all…certainly he felt the same emotions that we feel. Frustration…anger…sadness…and when I think about that I also ask myself…do you suppose Jesus was ever sarcastic? Do you think he ever got snarky?
Today’s story might just be an answer to that question. The parable of the dishonest manager…I’ll let you in on a little bit of a pastor secret. None of us really like this parable…because none of us can make any sense out of it…me included. I have read this parable many times in the past and this week, I read it countless times…and I kinda wish that I had set up a video camera to record myself because I think that my blank stare…my utterly confused reaction to the story…probably would have been hilarious to see.
I thought a lot about this parable…about this guy who is fired for being a poor manager…this guy who then proceeds to continue doing the exact same thing that he was fired for…poor management of his master’s property…this guy who is commended for being crafty and outsmarting other people to benefit himself…and I can’t make head’s or tails of it…and apparently neither can anyone else.
I read a lot of different commentaries on this passage and they pretty much all say the same thing. We hate this parable and we really don’t know what Jesus is saying here.
Who knows…maybe Jesus is being snarky…maybe he’s being sarcastic with this lesson…maybe he’s speaking tongue in cheek…but the more I read it…the more confused I get…and I’ve found myself asking over and over again “Lord…what are you trying to say?” (pause) and I find myself staring…with that blank stare.
I don’t know about you…but I find myself a little irritated by that…and maybe you find it a little frustrating too. After all…isn’t that why I went to seminary…to be able to interpret the Bible…to be able to understand what God is telling us through the scripture and then to be able to relate that on to others? So what’s going on here? Am I just dropping the ball this week or what? (pause)
Or maybe…just maybe…God is intending a little different lesson this week. We have trouble understanding this passage…this particular teaching of Jesus…and you know what…this isn’t the other one. The Bible is chock full of stuff that I struggle to understand. Passages that are difficult…verses that seem to contradict each other. Stories that eat away at my conscience…the Bible…is a tough book…and the word of God, while wonderful…is also maddening at times isn’t it? (pause)
And I think when we are honest with ourselves…we find ourselves in the same boat as the individuals that were sitting there that day…listening to Jesus speak and wondering just what the heck he’s talking about. Even the 12 disciples experienced it.
They experienced the confusion because of 2 things…the first is that God goes WAY beyond our limited understanding. WAY BEYOND…God’s not unlike the game of golf in that respect…the second you think you’ve got something figured out…you don’t…and that frustrating truth is simply an symptom of the second reason that we get confused…because life…life as we know it…life tainted and warped by the sinful reality that we live in…is quite literally…one giant mess.
Life is messy. Because there are no rules to life. The second we think that there’s a rule to adheres to every aspect of life universally…we’re wrong. There are no certainties…although if you’re anything like me, when I say that your mind instantly goes to that old saying the only sure things in life are death and taxes. Well…sorry…not even those work. You don’t have to pay your taxes. It’s unwise not to…but you don’t have to…there’s always prison. And death…well…the good news is…that Jesus changed that one too. (pause)
So my friends…I stand before you today…and I wish I had some miraculous insight into today’s story…some way to explain why Jesus tells this parable…about what it means…but I don’t. I find it just as confusing as you do…and if you have any insight then I’d love to hear it.
But I will tell you this…if you hear today’s story and you find yourself confused…staring blankly…well…you’re in good company…because even Jesus’ closest followers had to ask him what he was talking about pretty regularly.
And even though Jesus, in his full humanity…might have found himself frustrated with the lack of understanding…and maybe, just maybe got a little snarky from time to time…we can still take joy in knowing that God loves us enough to break into this messy reality we call life…and we can take joy in knowing that NOTHING in all creation can separate us from that amazing Love of God in Christ Jesus…even in those times when we don’t understand it. Amen.