25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – September 18, 2022
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113:1-2, 4-8; 1 Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13
The Urgent Crisis of Christ
Growing up in the Brungardt household, one thing you had to deal with was realism. We didn’t fluff things up. It was real. Lotta straight shooting. My dad especially. As I’ve told you, my dad is a physician, and for most of my life he was the medical director at a non-profit hospice care provider in Wichita. And it wasn’t in some morbid way, or like depressing way—but when you would ask pops about work, he would share about working with families who were losing their loved ones. So death. We heard a lot about death and dying.
And every once in a while my dad would make little comments about how short life is, how quickly life can come to an end. Like, he would bring up how heart disease runs in the family, and how us boys especially should be aware of that, and be doing things to take care of ourselves: better diet, cut down on red meat intake, cardiovascular exercise, less grain alcohols, no smoking, and so on and so on.
But have you ever told a bunch of strapping young boys that they’re mortal? Ha! “I’m gonna live forever, Dad!” Immortal: that’s what we think we are. “Heart disease is for old people or something, and I’m not old.” There was absolutely no urgency from us. It seemed like a fairy tale. I was like, “I don’t smoke. I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not a couch potato. I’m good.” Sure, I knew about dying, but it wasn’t real. Until one year when I was at school they had this free blood test clinic, so I went to it just to see what a physical specimen I am—and it didn’t go well. Went bad! My cholesterol was something like 5,682. I don’t know, it was bad. I was 21 at the time, still in my “gonna live forever” stage…and that was sobering to hear. And it gave me a whole new urgency in facing the reality of my family’s medical history.
Luke’s Gospel—especially this section we’re in—can be hard to read. Because chapter after chapter, page after page…you are hit with an urgency, a plea, a realism from Jesus. We like the Christmas story and the Easter story. But this section—this section began way back in June, twelve weeks ago, so easy to forget how it started, what the context of all of this is—but this whole section, the context for all of these teachings is Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. We heard, “He resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51b). Jesus is knowingly and willing walking toward his passion and death in Jerusalem. And so just like it would for any one of us…his coming death brings a great urgency with it. The closer he draws to his death, the more desperate he is for his hearers to understand that following him, being his disciple, being a Christian—it requires rearranging their views on everything, changing everything in their lives! And not just one day when we’re old and retired and have nothing else to do, but now, today. With each parable, each new teaching, each “hard saying,” Jesus is trying to provoke his followers into crisis mode. Not to scare them, not to guilt them, no! But to convey the urgency of making a real and committed and total decision to follow him. Why? Because as we’ve spoken of many times in the past 12 weeks: only Christ can give us what we truly seek. Only Christ.
The Three Steps of the Parable
This parable Jesus tells is a famously confusing one. Here is this dishonest steward. And his master discovers that he has been dishonest. So he’s gonna fire him, but first he tells him to make up a report of all his dishonest deals. But instead of doing that, the steward quickly calls in all of the people that owe his master money, and forgives huge portions of their debts. Why? So that when he’s fired he will have people who like him that will take care of him. And for this, the master commends him! Because even though he did more dishonest things, he had a great foresight into the future, and with great urgency did whatever was necessary to secure his future in the midst of the crisis of being fired.
What we can see happening in this parable are three things. First, 1) the steward sees and recognizes that he is in a crisis. He’s about to lose his job. And since there wasn’t some social safety-net in those days, losing his job was going to be catastrophic. So here’s this crisis. The second thing is that 2) he then makes an honest self-assessment. He recognizes, “I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.” He knows he isn’t going to be able to make it on his own. And so three, 3) he acts. He doesn’t sit around, he acts; quickly and decisively. He calls in the debtors and forgives large portions of their debts before the master has time to fire him.
Taking a Cue from the Dishonest Steward
So what’s Jesus’ point? To engage in shady business practices? No. Far from. Jesus wants us to learn from the pattern of this steward. He wants us to see ourselves in the same pattern. 1) To see and recognize the “crisis” in which we find ourselves; 2) to make an honest self-assessment of our situation; and 3) to act, quickly and decisively.
Again, Jesus is trying to provoke a response. 1) Because usually instead of recognizing the crisis we find ourselves in, we are a little delusional, a little dismissive. “Oh, I’m a good person. God understands that I don’t really make an effort.” 2) Instead of making an honest self assessment, we are usually distracting ourselves, “Oh, I’m good. I’ve got a football game to watch. I’ve got other things to do. I’m really busy at work. My kids have so much going on.” 3) Instead of acting, we are usually a little complacent, “Oh, I’m good. I’ll get around to following Jesus some other time.”
Again, think of my reaction to hearing heart disease is in the family history. 1) “Eh, I’m young. Heart disease is for old people.” Dismissive. 2) “I have other things to do besides worry about my heart health. It doesn’t even feel bad. I exercise some.” Distract myself from it. 3) “I’ll worry about it when I’m older.” Inaction. What got me going? A crisis. Seeing my cholesterol.
You Cannot Serve Both God and Mammon
And so Jesus provokes a little crisis. Jesus gives another hard saying to provoke a real response. Jesus lays down that famous saying: “You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” There it is, no middle ground, no moderate option. To compromise is still choosing one or the other. And you can’t avoid the question when it is as practical as your checkbook. If he’s talking about murder? “I’m not a murder.” Tune out. Talking about gluttony? “I’m not a glutton.” Tune out. Money? Uh-oh. What Jesus is driving at is that everything in our life must be viewed as being in service to God, everything in our life must reflect our fidelity and total surrender to God. Our entire life: our job, our hobbies, our free time, our vacation time, our public life, our private life, our political opinions, our moral opinions, and yes, even our checkbook—everything in our life. Is that the case, or are we compartmentalizing things? Are we saying, “Jesus is everything,” or, “Jesus is that thing I do on Sunday every once in a while”? Is everything in our life centered on God himself? Our schedules, our opinions, and yes, even down to our checkbook?
So what does this look like? Well, go through the steps. 1) Recognize the crisis you are in: Jesus isn’t asking you to be nice, or to be kind, or to come to church once in a while, or to just steer clear of murdering someone. Jesus is asking for disciples that are 100% in, 100% committed. Remember the things we have heard in the Gospels since June: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind.” “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” “You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.…Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” None of the actual words from Jesus’ mouth make it sound like he’s asking for “nice people who go to church once in a while.” And so step two, 2) Make an honest self-assessment: Are you 100% in? Or are you still sitting on the fence? I can’t do this for you. I can help. If you would like me to help you make a self-assessment, I would love to; call me. But I think most of us can listen to all of those things Jesus said and begin to make an honest self-assessment. I mean, for instance, Jesus is talking about money today: how many of us are tithing 10% of our annual income? Is your tithing check the first check you write each month? If we aren’t serving Mammon, tithing should be super easy, right? And then that leads to step three, 3) act. We have to urgently start taking shrewd and decisive action! Action at every level of our life. Yes, even down to our checkbook.
Commitment to Christ Involves Everything, Because He Gives Everything
Don’t hear what I’m not saying: I’m not saying you have to be in the church on your knees 24/7. But I am saying that we have to give up this idea that our response to Jesus is a casual matter.
But why? What’s the incentive? And really, that’s the simple part. Like we were talking last week, and like we have spoken many, many times before: we easily begin to fall back into believing the lie, the lie told to us from the beginning of time: the Father cannot fulfill you, he cannot give you the happiness you crave, He is holding out on you—just go do it on your own. Remember the story of the prodigal son: he couldn’t believe that the father would fulfill him, so he went off. That’s us. And again and again Jesus is inviting us to entrust our entire lives to the Father. To resolutely begin that walk home to the Father. That’s what he is resolutely determined to do, and that’s what he invites us to do. Why?? Because the Father will fulfill. We forget that other line mixed into the last twelve weeks: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. So sell your belongings and give alms” (Luke 12:32-33).
Yes, Jesus is trying to provoke a bit of a crisis in us this week. But at the end of the day, the invitation this week is the same as last week: Come home. Entrust your life, your whole life, every part of your life, to the Father once again. The Father wants to give you everything. Come home to Him.