The start of Luke 16 feels like the end of John 6.
It began with thousands of people fully fed with a little boy’s lunch.
The crowds chased Jesus around the lake, trying to make him king.
Then he started talking, and then kept talking.
By the end of the long chapter, John writes:
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.
So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”
After offending everyone at a fancy sabbath dinner party, Jesus told the crowds that to
become his disciple, they had disown their families and take up the cross: none of
you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions, he said.
Then he alienated the scribes and Pharisees who accused him of eating with sinners and
tax collectors with three stinging stories about joy over the lost and found, ending
with the doozy about a younger son that leaves the older one lost in rage.
Who’s left standing around after all of this?
Jesus still has his disciples, so clearly they have not been offended enough.
So Jesus turns to them and uncorks what my preaching professor calls “the nastiest text in
Preachers have looked in vain for a tidy bow to tie on this smoldering crime scene ever
since Luke himself threw several different endings at it, desperate for an offramp
that church people can accept.
But maybe that is exactly what Jesus is making sure to avoid.
Let’s update the parable a bit and see if it offends you.
If it doesn’t, I apologize for failing to do it justice.
There was a rich man…let’s call him Donald.
Donald, reluctantly, turned over some of his portfolio to a new manager… let’s call him Joe.
Starting to get uncomfortable?
Someone in Donald’s inner circle reported that Joe was on the take and also squandering
many of his countless accomplishments.
This rumor matched Donald’s suspicions, so he called Joe in.
He said, “Turn over your emails because you’re fired!”
Joe walked out, sat down, and started to cry.
He said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master has is taking the position
away from me?
I’m too spoiled and lazy to do honest work, and I’m too woke to beg.”
Then he snapped his fingers.
“I got it … lots of people owe that son of a rich favors and money and huge stacks of
I’ll get to them before he does, and then they will help me!”
So Joe went around cutting deals for Donald, promising that Donald would
pardon all personal debts and show up for a depostion and let Mitch have one of his yachts because he’s such a great guy, tremendous guy, the best.
Joe actually started having lots of fun giving away stuff that wasn’t his and sticking
someone else with the bill.
At this point in the story, James shook his oily head and spit out the word, “libtard.”
“I heard that!” shouted Simon the Zealot, whose eyes flashed wild anger.
Peter shot both of them a look from under his trucker hat while Judas grinned and
Nathanael twitched and gripped his pencil.
Matthew the IRS agent saw none of this, as he was furiously writing down questions
while all the others were lining up, taking sides.
Jesus has them all right where he wants them.
Donald found out about what Joe was doing and greeted him at the door with a huge
Nice job, Joe, you must have read my book; you finally figured it out!
They laughed and had dinner together and remain good friends.
You know, Jesus finished, it’s a shame church people can’t be more like those two.
One of the many reasons I love my fiancee is that she loves me enough to mess with me.
She exposes my assumptions and biases and patterns of not thinking.
Jesus is messing with us in much the same way, pulling the tablecloth out from under our
carefully arranged mental order and sending everything crashing to the floor.
Because that’s a more realistic picture of life.
There are not, as we constantly want to believe, two kinds of people in the world:
Jews and Gentiles, good guys and bad guys, saved and damned, Donald voters
and Joe voters, acceptable and unacceptable, those who can hold their whiskey and those who can’t, us and them.
There is only one kind of people in this world: sinners who aren’t dead yet.
In that sense, God doesn’t care whether your bill is fifty or eighty, olive oil or
wheat, child porn or gossip, cheating the system or blindly complying with it.
We’re all guilty of hurting and cheating each other; the only difference is degree.
That matters … but only because people matter, all people, because there is
one kind of people in the world: beloved children of God.
And God would rather sacrifice the last standard than sacrifice a single one of us.
So God sent, fired, and then promoted Jesus, the dishonest manager who lost everything, cut deals for the rest of us debtors, and made friends with the only kind of people he could find down here in order to welcome the whole sorry lot of us into the eternal homes, where the money and memories are gone and the party never ends.