I find it almost impossible to talk to people when the TV is on. Somehow the television just grabs my attention. Perhaps more amusing is what happens to me at the cinema. I’m one of those people who get completely engrossed in the film, so completely drawn into the story that I’m oblivious to anything else.
I once went with some friends to watch Braveheart (Mel Gibson) – if you’ve seen it you’ll remember that there were lots of graphic battle scenes. I’m told that every time anyone got hit by an axe or a spear my body convulsed in sympathy. After one particularly gruesome bit I glanced along the row and was embarrassed to find all my friends watching me rather than the screen. … As we were leaving the cinema a friend grabbed my arm and said that it was almost as entertaining watching me as watching the film itself.
Films are meant to take a hold of us. Good films draw us into the plot. The skill of a film director is measured by how well s/he is able to draw us into the story. Gifted preachers and story tellers are just the same; they draw us into the plot of their sermon or story.
Do you remember the story in the Old Testament of the prophet Nathan confronting King David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba. He told him a story about a poor man with only one lamb whose rich neighbour took the lamb to feed a guest. David was indignant when he heard the story and shouted, “The man who did this deserves to die”. … And after a long pause, Nathan replied, “You are that man”. … He had trapped David. His skilled storytelling brought David to the point where he couldn’t but admit his guilt.
Jesus was the best story teller of all. His stories interested, gripped and intrigued people. People were drawn to listen and to make judgements on what he said. In our Gospel reading today Jesus tells one of these stories. A story which seems to condone dishonesty. Perhaps you can imagine the possible responses of those who heard the story:
Some might have said, “There you are, I told you there was nothing wrong with the way that I am running the business. If Jesus says its alright that’s good enough for me”.
Others might have sat in the corner shaking their heads and tutting.
Perhaps others wanted to write in and complain about standards. “This Jesus is teaching things that will corrupt our children”.
Some might just have been confused, … “Why is Jesus condoning something that we know is wrong?”
Others, who were well aware of the moral complexities of life might have felt something of the strength of the dilemma the steward in the story faced. For decisions that many people face in their working lives are not black and white issues but are made up of many shades of grey. Perhaps Jesus is letting us know that he understands the difficulty of such decisions.
Whatever response it provoked, J esus’ story would have had everyone gripped and intrigued. Wondering what to make of it.
We are told, specifically, of two groups of people listening to the parable:
• his disciples – who seemed to be the main audience;
• and in the verse immediately after our reading we are told that the Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. The response of the two groups and the message they heard was completely different:
Τhe disciples may have been confused by the story but they listened to the lessons that Jesus had for them.
In the Gospel reading, we heard Jesus challenging his first disciples about their attitude to wealth and responsibility. The same challenges apply to us! ……
First, Jesus challenges us to use what God gives us here on earth (wealth, gifts & time) for his eternal purposes, for the work of his kingdom.
Secondly, Jesus says that God gives us smaller responsibilities through which we can learn faithfulness to him, before he places heavier or bigger burdens on us (at church or in the world).
Thirdly, (in v13), he reminds us that if money & material things become too important to us we’ll lose sight of the God that we worship. In fact we’ll become worshippers of money and possessions.
Τhe Pharisees, on the other hand, sneered at Jesus. They heard the same as the disciples but they chose not to listen. We know from the rest of the NT that the disciples continued to struggle to follow Jesus but that the Pharisees saw themselves as superior to him. They rejected him and his teaching.
These questions or lessons about money and responsibilities are important ones. Many people in business struggle with just the same kind of issues as the steward or manager in the parable. It is so hard to decide where the narrow dividing line falls between dishonesty or sharp practice and a healthy competition for work. It is sometimes difficult to know when we have crossed that fine line. Ultimately, Jesus seems to be making it clear that money and wealth, jobs and security are all intended to be our servants and not our masters.
Don’t worry if you struggle to understand what Jesus is saying. Keep struggling, for in many ways that is the point of the parable. Let the parable worry away at you. For honest doubt, tentative faith and belief are all part of growing as a Christian.
When God speaks we always have a choice – we can respond with faith (struggling faith) like the disciples, honesty admitting our doubts, or we can sneer at what Jesus is saying to us, like the Pharisees did. We can turn away from Jesus. There is always a choice. God draws us into the story and brings us to the point of decision, but the choice is always ours. As disciples, we can trust him, struggling to work out our faith in the midst of a confusing world, or like the Pharisees we can reject him, turn our back on him and walk away.