Pentecost 17 C – Under new management

The whole of my working life has been spent in the “service” industry

where it has been my job to stand between the consumer

and those who offer certain goods and services –

It has always been my goal to offer the customers the best value for their money;

to answer their questions, to offer them fair and honest assessment of their needs,

and to keep them among the ranks of “satisfied customers”.

The most important tool in my repertoire – diplomacy –

for while most companies behave in their advertising as if “the customer is always right”,

anyone who has worked for more than an hour in customer service

knows that the customer only think they are right…

in the end, “right” involves a strange juggling act

between what is necessary and what is appropriate.

Jesus begins his parable with a story of a man who can no longer keep all the balls in the air.

There was a rich man who heard of one of his managers – squandering his property.

Whatever the problem, the reputation of the business –

and that means the reputation of the business owner – is suffering.

“Give me an accounting” – says the boss – “and clean out your desk.

I can’t allow my business to suffer because of you.”

That should be the end – lesson delivered with ruthless efficiency –

you have not been appropriate, so you are no longer necessary.

But our man is clever. He is resourceful.

And he is desperate to have something to fall back on.

He cooks the books and creates his own pension plan –

by making a mess of the accounting,

he has ensured himself friends among his customers

(at the expense of his disgruntled boss).

The boss, who knows clever when he sees it, commends him for his work –

and this is where the parable comes off the rails.

Is Jesus really saying that this is okay?

“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.”

Of course, this is sarcasm of the highest order.

Jesus condemns this with his next breath, as we would expect,

and again we are offered a choice;

you cannot serve God and wealth –

There are two models of success presented – and we need to be clear;

The self-serving model presented by the gentlemen in his parable

give the people what they want – please everybody (no matter that it is impossible) and you will be admired and rewarded – no matter how you get your results –

and one that comes from accepting even the smallest responsibility –

honouring every opportunity that comes your way –

and earning, rather than buying, trust.

Jesus lesson is for those who might be lured by quick success;

the children of this age have shown us shortcuts –

there are those who would have us buy low and sell high no matter what our business – that is the way of the world, isn’t it?

But we are (supposed to be) in, but not of, the world.

We are supposed to see things differently –

we are called to serve God in spite of our knowledge of how to get along

in a world where “resourceful” is often code for “crooked”.

We are careful with our resources – we are aware of those in need.

We support the wider work of the church

and maintain a Christian presence in the community.

But when faced with the business of the church,

we are tempted to view with a cynical eye these are Brutal necessities,

that get in the way of the REAL business of the church:

Can we keep the lights on? Are the salaries paid on time?

How can we reduce our expenses and increase our income?

Would we consider cutting corners –

to ensure our “product” is delivered in a timely, efficient manner?

But no, our product won’t let us.

At every turn, we are confronted with God’s notions of justice.

We conduct our business (or at least, we should)

conscious of our responsibility to honour God with our every action.

The church offers something that cannot be marketed by the regular rules.

you cannot buy low and sell high

when grace, mercy and peace are both the tools of your trade

AND the end product of God’s enterprise.

Whatever we think our business may be –

no matter how often we must deal in the things of the world,

using our knowledge of the ways of the world,

Our real business is to witness to that great enterprise of God.

This parable calls us to remember that we have been entrusted with “true riches” –

we are called to live, work and worship as witnesses to the grace of God

offered freely and abundantly in and through Jesus Christ.

May we manage that trust in faith – always trusting the greater purpose of God.

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