A Reflection for Proper 20, Year C
Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, `What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, `What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, `How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, `A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, `Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, `And how much do you owe?’ He replied, `A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, `Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
A very good friend of mine is going blind. I have known this for some time; in fact, I’ve known it for as long as I have known her. But this week, she wrote an incredibly moving blog post where she openly talked about what it is like slowly but steadily losing her sight. The reality of her vision loss has become more poignant to her in recent weeks, ever since she realized that it is no longer safe for her to drive her car. She made a choice to learn how to take the bus, to trust strangers to help her navigate the system’s unpredictability and route changes and how to manage stops and transfers that rely heavily on sight. My dear friend, Ruth, is a brilliant and heartfelt writer. She also works as a parish administrator at a local church, a church where I served for many years. Most importantly, she is a friend and a group leader and trusted confidant to countless people that she encounters every day on the phone, over email, or walking into the office. She knows, seemingly intuitively, when laughter will diffuse a strained situation or when to offer tissues or a hug to someone who simply needs to be heard. She loves everyone, because she chooses to see God’s love reflected in them. She is not only a person who is going blind, but one who sees…truly sees…more than anyone else I know.
I read Ruth’s blog post this week during time I had set aside to prepare today’s reflection. I had been sitting with, studying, and praying over this week’s Gospel lesson, opening my heart to how this parable of Jesus…which is puzzling, in many ways…breaks open to share Good News with us this week. But, my mind couldn’t settle on a direction for my reflection. You could say I took a break, or perhaps more accurately, I leaned into the nudge of the Holy Spirit that I felt when I saw that Ruth had written a blog post. I read her words, and I began to feel tears of love and joy in my own eyes as I saw her own beautiful spirit reflected in the words and stories she had dictated to her computer so that others could read them. The words that she wrote are what opened my own eyes to this week’s Gospel in a new way. She said:
“If there is one lesson I can teach people from this process that seems to become a new normal each day, it is this: there is a greater purpose in this life than the things that keep us busy in our minds each day. There is a greater purpose in this life than the things that keep us distracted in our minds everyday. There is a greater purpose in the effects of our lives on this world.”
You see, Ruth has been given the gift of seeing clearly in ways that have nothing to do with her eyes. She could choose to be angry, bitter, worried, preoccupied with trying to find ways to “get by” or to disclose from those she loves how she really feels, or what she is experiencing. But, she makes a different, wiser choice. She places her confidence in the greater purpose of living for the common good, of sharing the love of Jesus Christ with the world, instead of trying to grasp for and protect what is her own. She tells beautiful stories in her blog post of the people who recently took the time to help her . She recognizes and thanks them by name because through them she experiences the kindness of strangers in whom she sees…truly and clearly sees…God. I know Ruth, so I have to believe that the life of every person she encounters is equally transformed by her, as she allows the love of Jesus Christ to be present through her in the everyday ups and downs of this journey of life. I know our friendship has transformed me, as the love of God flows through her.
In the Gospel text we read today, Jesus offers up a parable about choosing wisely. He tells a story about living life in selfish shrewdness to try to be sure we get what we believe should be ours, or living life for the greater good where we share in God’s abundance. We all know people and circumstances where taking care of ourselves, “taking what is rightfully ours” or cutting corners to the truth to turn a profit seem like reasonable actions in a dishonest world. And perhaps at face value they are. The wealth and power we acquire through dishonesty may feel good…really good…for a short while. But, the advantages we gain through stepping on others to get ahead doesn’t fill the gaping hole in our souls which is searching for something more real, more meaningful, and more lasting. That is a God-shaped hole that there is only one way to fill: by our earnest desire to open to God and experience the unconditional love and grace that can only come from One who is greater than we are, and greater than the situations that seem to define us.
What Jesus knows is what my friend Ruth knows, too: the wise choice is opening to the possibilities of how our lives can be used for God, rather than taking a path of selfish greed, or pride, or self-pity. Sometimes we are treated unfairly; sometimes the situations in life in which we find ourselves truly aren’t fair, or equitable, or right. Jesus knows this, profoundly. Jesus recognizes that when we are confronted with this very real unfairness in the world, we have a choice. We can manipulate the situation in every way we know how to try to get ahead. That path is chosen by those who are rich and poor alike. Serving wealth is a great temptation at all rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. We might even succeed in our deceptions; we might even get ahead, and earn street cred for being shrewd. But, that path does nothing for the greater good.
Jesus offers up an alternative to being enslaved to this pattern of seeking wealth while turning a blind eye to the world, to the value and belovedness of the people who surround us. Jesus offers us an entirely different route of serving God, where we realize that inequity exists, we understand that life isn’t fair, we speak our truth without deception and we still know that we are beloved of God and we are a part of God’s beloved community with others whose lives touch our own. Living into that God-shaped reality means that the love which fills us connects us to others and allows our lives to be lived out in that heavenly, abundant love echoing into the world where people least expect it. Love can be the active force that changes people, changes policies, changes systems that are enslaved to dishonesty and fear. Loving as we are loved is an active choice. God’s active relationship with God’s people emerges through love. When we serve the God of Love there is, as my friend Ruth says, a greater purpose in the effects of our lives on this world. That wise choice…the choice of who we serve…makes all the difference.
Choose wisely. Choose love. Choose God.
Homily prepared for Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Red Door Service (Friday, September 16, 2016)