Sunday, September 22, 2013
Year C Proper 20 Track I
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY
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.
Please be seated…
I was fortunate for many years to have a wonderful neighbor, who is still my friend. I met Miss Patery Pennyfeather (we call her Miss Penny) when I was 27 years old and she was just over 50. She came from a large family in Florida and she had relocated to Pennsylvania as a migrant farmworker. She had never finished high school. She worked as a janitor at the Pennsylvania capitol building, bought her home, raised her 5 children as a single parent, sending some to college. Miss Penny was and still is a fabulous cleaner. What a pleasure to walk into the house after Miss Penny has been there to clean.
Most importantly Miss Penny was and still is an amazing neighbor. She looks out for the children in the neighborhood and always asks how they are doing in school. She cooks like her 5 children are still home and then calls you up to tell you to come over and get a plate of food. Then yells at you because you haven’t taken enough.
One day, Miss Penny was part of a large family dinner at our house. My daughter’s piano recital was that evening and 14 of us had gathered for dinner. Miss Penny said she was tired and did not want to go to the recital with us, so we bid her good-bye and rushed off to the recital, leaving all of the dishes to be washed and a messy kitchen. We arrived home after the recital to find our kitchen totally cleaned up from the dinner. Miss Penny had a key to our home and had come in after we left to clean up!
What value would you place on such a neighbor? A neighbor and friend like Miss Penny is priceless. But often Miss Penny did not have enough money to support herself. You see, as a janitor in our society she was never paid what she deserved.
This parable today is very confusing and many commentators truly don’t know what to say. Most of us think God is the Master and Jesus is telling us to be dishonest with what God has given us, for instance. But I would like you to consider another way to look at this…
God is the “dishonest” or “shrewd” manager and we are the master.
Think about it. We are locked into the values of this world. We constantly judge who is deserving of what. We tend to measure people’s worth and value based upon what they earn. If people can’t earn enough to keep even a modest roof over their heads, there is something wrong with them. There are rules about who is deserving and who is not. There are rules that say that women who stay home to raise children do not get paid nor recognized economically for what they contribute to their families, communities and our country. I want to suggest that the Master was tied up in all of these ways of living in the world.
Yet, the manager, “squandered” the Master’s resources. The Manager lived by different rules. Doesn’t God do that with us?
Do we really deserve unlimited forgiveness? Do we really deserve infinite opportunities to repent? Do we really deserve unconditional love – love with no strings attached? Isn’t God squandering resources on us?
And in this parable, we hear more about how God loves us with wild abandon. God is like the manager who says… “How much do you owe?” and then tells us to take our bill and cut it in half!” We owe God EVERYTHING, don’t we? But God tells us it is okay to give some! And why?? Because God wants us to welcome God into our homes…. When we receive such extravagance… such love…such forgiveness…our response is to welcome God into our homes.
And when we welcome God into our homes..into our hearts, the rules we live by are different. We serve God and not money. Yes, a good steward serves God. We use our resources in ways that reflect God’s love..God’s extravagance…God’s way of looking at the world. We use our resources differently.
Some of you know I served as an elected school board member in Harrisburg, PA. Yes, I am one of those politicians. One of the most difficult times for me as a member on that board was when we were asked to give a company that made $29 million in profit each year, even more money. Now Harrisburg School District has some of the poorest children in the nation and a particularly difficult tax base. Yet, we were asked to give up ½ million dollars each year for 20 years in tax benefits to this multi-million dollar company.
As I was trying to reach some compromise or something I could live with a little better – keeping the company in our community, but not hurting the children as much… I was told the company’s first priority was their fiduciary responsibility to the stockholder to get the best deal. In other words, the stockholders trumped the education of children. That corporation ran like many responsible and successful corporations… but it was accountable to money and in the process hurt children.
Thankfully, some companies today are expanding their understanding and looking at the triple bottom line – people, profits, and the planet. Making a profit is important, but how much is enough of a profit? For these companies, making a profit is balanced with being fair to the workers and communities, and doing as little harm as possible to the physical environment. I suggest this is a little closer to serving God and not money.
I don’t always agree with Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California. But I truly admire him. I heard him teach and preach once and he talked about how he and his wife tithed to the church – 10% of their income. Yet, when they started having larger and larger incomes, they lived in the same house AND they did a reverse tithe. They lived on 10% of their income and gave 90% away!
They decided to serve God and not money. So money in and of itself is not evil. It is a tool we use to live with each other. But when we serve money, we get into trouble. When we serve God, we are guided in how to use the tool of money in that service to God.
Miss Penny has never gotten what she deserved in the money economy of this country. She is like so many that we know…vital to the community…visible expressions of God here on earth. Priceless in God’s economy.
And luckily, we never get what we deserve from God, either. While the world’s economy may shower us with money and wealth, God’s economy gives us something more. God asks us “How much do you owe? and then God reduces our debt, showers us with love and forgiveness, and waits at the door to be welcomed into our home.