Friday was a red-letter day for iPhone enthusiasts. Did you know?
Neither did I, or at least, I had not paid attention well enough, until we arrived at Macarthur Mall for an appointment at the Apple Store. Approaching the vicinity of the store we were confronted by a rather organized mob – a long serpentine line of seemingly hundreds of plugged-in Millennials. And, I quickly began to recall the series of daily emails announcing this earth-changing event: Today was the day the iPhone7 was available for pickup. The outright cost of the iPhone7 is $650; by the time we arrived at mid-day, over 500 had already been sold and the long line out front of the store continued to form.
Now, I remind you, we were there for our own techno support, seeking to untangle some of our baby boomer issues with our own multiple Apple purchases, so I’m not casting judgment. I, too, was taking valuable hours out of my day to devote to costly questionably meaningful electronic communication.
But, as I reflected on this continuously growing line, I began multiplying the hours per person times hundreds of persons times hundreds of dollars. WOW – to be an iPhone7 for just an hour. How would God attract a devoted crowd such as this? What would God do with all these hours and all the dollars? You just can’t help but wonder what life would be like if God was an iPhone7.
Intermingled in that reflection was the pervading awareness of another group from which I had recently departed, another group that was waiting. This group huddled together anxiously at Norfolk General Hospital as a loved one was undergoing major surgery.
In contrast, the serpentine line and my own appointment in this e-world seemed so very superficial. Our Gospel parable spotlights the superficial.
Bible scholars far beyond my scope of interpretation remain stumped by this parable that is the focus of our Gospel lesson. We find it entitled “The Dishonest Manager” or “The Dishonest Steward.”
Of course, Jesus is not encouraging us to be dishonest, even with earthly possessions, which in the end are meaningless. Taken in context, it is obvious that Jesus is condemning the religious leaders in his audience who lord exploitive power over the lower class; Jesus is comparing these religious leaders to the abusive landowners and brutal government officials in this first century society who typically greedily exploit their dependents. These are good and important messages that we take from the parable and that are supported by our other lessons. But, just what point is Jesus making? Is Jesus being flippant in sharing this parable?
Do you sense the shallowness of life for these characters in our parable?
It feels like a game of checkers. This middleman, the manager, is journeying merrily along until he is called to account for mismanagement of his rich boss’ business affairs. Threatened with the loss of his job, the manager fears homelessness. With that legitimate concern, he plots a strategy that will buy his favor with the rich man’s debtors. He presents them with a cut-rate deal to settle their debts, collects the reduced amounts, and presents those payments to the rich man, who for whatever reason is happy with what he gets, heaping accolades on the savvy self-serving middleman.
Everyone seems to have gained something monetarily. The debtors have their debts forgiven at a reduced amount; the rich man gets the debts paid to him, none the wiser of the actual amount he was due; the middleman keeps his lucrative job and is elevated to hero status. Everyone received something in exchange for giving up something.
Yet, no one in the parable is truly credited with being righteous. The debtors knew they owed more, but were delighted in getting by with less; the rich man, we can assume, was charging too much for his goods anyway; and the middle manager was likely skimming off the top, maybe jacking up the price to pad his pocket and keeping poor account of what was due his employer.
It’s all just stuff – stuff that provides tenuous stability in life. It feels like a game of checkers – you king me; I king you. Jesus says we must forego earthly possessions -superficial wealth and stability. Just two weeks ago we read that this dispossession of earthly stuff is the cost of true discipleship. If we are devoted to earthly possessions we cannot also be devoted to God.
Are we dishonest stewards as we stand in line awaiting the latest iPhone? Who am I to judge?
We are called to be honest stewards of all God’s creation. We are called to share our resources and possessions generously and unselfishly. We are called to be spiritually formed representatives of Jesus Christ. We are called to account for our time and talent too often devoted to superficial materialistic trappings and unhealthy behavior. Certainly, we are called to put God ahead of our desire for earthly wealth and security.
If we are dishonest about our obsessions with earthly trappings, how can we be honest about our time and talents devoted to God? God does not make unreasonable requests of us. When we strip away the demands of worldly luxuries and extras that stand in the way of our relationship with God, we find the pure grace of his love and we experience the sincere desire to return a portion of God’s gifts for His use.
Jesus does not tack on exploitive duties that make our debt to him impossible to pay. Jesus, in fact, has paid the price of our sin and death and has won for us everlasting life. All he asks is that we hear his call to stewardship – the giving of our time, talents, and monetary contributions to the glory of God.
Noting the context of our parable, Jesus is, quite realistically, preparing his disciples to go forth into the world as apostles of the Good News. Going forth, they would be confronted by the shrewd “managers” of worldly goods. They would need “street smarts”; like the manager of our parable, they would need to be shrewd. Neither the rich man nor Jesus is complimenting the dishonesty, but both recognize the necessity of shrewdness; both recognize the essence of good stewardship.
As the Church year draws to a close over the next couple of months, our call to stewardship becomes an intentional focus. I invite you to listen, with a renewed sense, to the call to be good stewards of God’s blessings. I’m afraid we, too often, view our stewardship campaigns with the same level of contempt as we view telemarketers. My prayer is that you will open your heart to a new way of thinking.
Like the master in our parable, we all like to get a good return on our money. God is asking us to apply the same shrewd business expertise to our stewardship of His gifts that we apply to our personal worldly investments. There is no better return than seeing our contributions put to use through Christ’s mission within these walls as we care for one another; in this community as we care for the poor, the homeless, and families in distress; and outwardly to this suffering world plagued by hunger and hopelessness. There is no better return than the anticipation of eternal life in Jesus Christ.
Imagine. What would eternal life be like if God were an iPhone7?