15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 22, 2019
– Luke 16:1-13
– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –
In a speech he delivered on “honesty,” Mark Twain said, “When I was a boy I was walking along a street and spied a cart full of watermelons. I was fond of watermelons,” he said, “so I sneaked quietly up to the cart and snitched one. I then ran to a nearby alley and sank my teeth into it. But no sooner had I done so a strange feeling came over me. Without a moment’s hesitation, I made my decision. I walked back to the cart, replaced the melon, and took a ripe one.”
Now mischievous children will sometimes do bad things, but if such actions are not corrected by moral guidance, then mischievous activity will evolve into juvenile and adult criminal behavior. Such behavior is prevalent in the parable Jesus shares about the rich man and his dishonest manager.
In this parable little is mentioned about the rich man, who was most likely and enslaver who entrusted the management of his financial affairs to one of his servants. And if the other master/servant parables offer any clues (Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:11-27), the rich man was a harsh and ruthless individual, who expected the same of his subordinates to achieve the financial gains he sought.
Now I believe Jesus employed these parables not to affirm the devious dealings of the characters, but rather to underscore the unwavering devotion expected from servants of God to follow their divine Master.
Still, as stated in previous sermons, because the enslaved were compared to servants of God and followers of Christ, it didn’t take much to suspect that wealthy enslavers were likened to God. And since such analogies were more numerous throughout both Old and New testaments than references to liberation in God’s spirit, abolitionists had an uphill battle in using the Bible to support their cause. Even today we are thoroughly convinced that with the variety of biblical perspectives, people with opposing points of view can find passages of scripture to support their opinions.
Let’s face the fact that laws abolishing slavery and other forms of bigotry, such as gender bias and homophobia, did not result from using the Bible as ammunition, but rather by personal encounters with friends and family, loved ones and co-workers who challenged our presumptions by the mere presence of their humanity; who moved us beyond our barricaded ignorance to finally realize the prevailing message God attempts to convey, despite the filters of our social prejudice that prevents us from fully comprehending that God is pure and unconditional love.
Such love extends not just toward each other but toward our planet. You may have heard or read the United Nations report that most of the world’s soil has eroded to the point where, without concerted cooperative measures to counteract this trend, our soil will degrade to the point of being unable to grow and sustain the kind of produce needed to feed our world’s population.
At our church’s first forum on Racism in America, during which elected and criminal justice officials shared what Vermont is doing to combat racism, state Attorney General TJ Donavan said that the law can only do so much in protecting the lives of the nation’s population. And that unless each local community creates a cooperative environment where all of its residents, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical ability or financial condition, feel respected, cared for and secure, no individual is safe.
In other words, the Apostle Paul’s concept of the body of Christ must encompass the entire planet where “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; and if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1st Corinthians 12:26)
What is the moral code and compass that will guide your behavior? We as an entire species have contributed to the fallen condition of humanity and our world in relation to God by investing our welfare in a false sense of security defined by those with material wealth and power, rather than in the spiritual treasures defined by divine compassion for one another. And if hell is separation from God, then we, not God, have created hell.
The parable of the rich man and his servant manager instructs that no one can serve two masters and compels us even now to choose whether to continue along the path of mischievous children motivated by principles of self-survival and greed, or acknowledge our capacity as fallen angels to repair the breach that has separated us from our divine Creator, who looks beyond your outward appearances; who recognizes, embraces and welcomes you home by the compassion of your heart.
Choose this day whom you will serve. Amen.