Jesus taught about God and God’s kingdom by telling parables. Many times, we are able to read Jesus’ parables and say, “Thank you, Jesus, for helping me to understand about God and God’s kingdom.” There are some parables, however, that leave us wondering what Jesus was talking about as we pray, “Help me, Jesus, to understand what you are teaching about God and life in God’s kingdom.” For me, the parable that Jesus tells in today’s scripture lesson from Luke 16:1-13 falls into the “Help me, Jesus” category of Jesus’ parables. Help me Jesus to understand what the parable about the dishonest manager teaches about God and God’s kingdom.
Whether it is a “Thank you, Jesus” parable or a “Help me, Jesus” parable, I have found there are three primary questions that help in the consideration of Jesus’ parables:
What is the context of the parable?
Who represents God in the parable?
What does the parable teach about God’s kingdom?
Before we ask these questions about the “Help me, Jesus” parable of the dishonest manager in Luke 16:1-13 I invite us to ask these questions about the three “Thank you, Jesus” parables found in the preceding chapter of Luke 15. Among the best known of Jesus’ parables, these three parables provide the foundation for the lost and found chapter of the Bible. These are the parables about a shepherd who leaves behind 99 sheep in order to search for one lost sheep, a woman turning her house upside down searching for a lost coin, and a father searching for his lost prodigal son. Each of these parables leads to great joy when the shepherd finds the lost sheep, great joy when the woman finds the lost coin, and great joy when the lost son returns home to the father.
With these three parables in mind, I invite us to consider the three primary questions of Jesus’ parables. The first question is what is the context for these parables? The answer is that the context for these parables is verses 1-2 of the 15th chapter of Luke:
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Why were the Pharisees and scribes grumbling? They were grumbling because Jesus was welcoming tax collectors and sinners. This was in direct opposition to what the Pharisees and scribes taught about tax collectors and sinners being outside of God’s kingdom. It is in response to their grumbling that Jesus tells the parables about the lost being found which likely caused the Pharisees and scribes to grumble even more. Which leads to the second primary question – who is God in these parables? The answer – God is the shepherd who keeps searching for the lost sheep. God is the woman who keeps searching for the lost coin. God is the father who welcomes his lost son back home. Which leads to the third primary question – what do these three parables teach about God’s kingdom? The answer – These “Thank you, Jesus” parables teach us that God’s kingdom is God’s holy love that searches for us and finds us when we are lost. God’s kingdom is the holy love of Jesus that invites all of God’s children to table even when it causes grumbling.
Now that we have asked these three primary questions about the “Thank you, Jesus” parables in Luke 15, I invite us to ask the same questions about the “Help me, Jesus” parable about the corrupt manager in Luke 16:1-13.
The first primary question is what is the context for this parable? Answer – the context for the parable is that Jesus is now teaching his disciples, rather than grumbling Pharisees and scribes, about God’s kingdom. This change in context is the first verse of the 16th chapter of Luke: “Then Jesus said to the disciples.”
Why did Jesus tell his disciples, rather than the Pharisees and scribes, the parable of the dishonest manager? Perhaps it is because Jesus wanted his disciples to understand the value system of God’s kingdom that places a higher regard upon the lost. Perhaps Jesus knew that the parable about the dishonest manager would cause even more grumbling by the Pharisees and the scribes. Why did the context change? Perhaps Jesus wanted his disciples to understand the value system of God’s kingdom in the parable he was about to tell about the dishonest manager.
The second primary question is about who God is in the parable of the dishonest manager. This question is part of the reason I identify this parable in the category of a “Help me, Jesus” parable. It is easy to understand that the dishonest manager is not God, but in light of the economic realities of 1st century Palestine, I have the same challenge with identifying the rich man as God. Contrary to the prohibition in the Torah about charging interest to the poor, the rich man made his riches by incorporating interest rates of 20% to 50% in financial deals with the poor. This is the reason why the dishonest steward was able to adjust the amount owed to his master as he dealt honestly with people who owed his master money.
Before we can answer the second primary question about who God is, we need to answer the third primary question of “What is this parable teaching us about God’s kingdom?” I would venture to say that this parable teaches that right relationships are the treasure of God’s kingdom. As Jesus’ disciples become aware of this treasure, their relationship with God changes how they relate to others. This is why I prefer to call this parable the parable of becoming aware as Jesus’ disciples understand God’s identity through our relationship with Jesus even when we have to pray, “Help me, Jesus, me to understand.”
by Pastor Marc Brown
September 18, 2022
Accompanying Scriptures: Luke 16: 1-13
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for September 18, 2022
Scripture Lesson Luke 16: 1-13
The Good News “Being Aware”
Music “Come Ye Sinners Poor and Needy” by Joseph Hart
Closing Music “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” arr. Sandra Eithun