Today’s gospel reading in the Revised Common Lectionary (Luke 16.1-13) is one of what I would call, the hard sayings of Jesus. When I say hard sayings I do not mean hard in the sense of challenging to live out. Rather, I mean hard to understand. Hard to come away with anything but a confused and bewildered look on our faces.
Jesus seems to be commending dishonesty. Surely not… And, in fact, you would be right. Jesus is not encouraging us to cheat.
So, what way of relating to the circumstances of everyday life is Jesus encouraging us to adopt? Rather than attempt to articulate it myself, let me commend the reflection that can be found here.
I do, however, want to point out what I believe to be another underlying theme of Jesus’ teachings that this parable reiterates.
I cannot count the number of times I have had conversations with believers about their reading of Matthew 6.25-34 in which Jesus commends us to entrust the future to Him and His faithful provision. People end up struggling with that passage. Why? I am convinced it is because they (me too) tend to treat the meaning of so many passages as if they are “either/or” statements. Many of the things Jesus taught are misunderstood using this kind of approach exclusively. (Parenthetically, let me assure you that I realize there are statements that MUST be understood as “either/or”.) There is an appropriate “both/and” way of embracing what Jesus was saying on a number of occasions. What Jesus was teaching does not disallow a certain kind of subtlety that challenges our way of approaching the navigation of everyday circumstances. It invites us to respond as a result of looking “into” rather than “at” things.
So, we might say Jesus us is not challenging us to look at things differently but to let go of looking at them in any way and looking into them instead. Hmmm…
The kind of subtlety I am referring to can be found in many of the strange sayings in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. The gospel for today is a good example. It is VERY subtle. It can be harvested with patience and more of the “both/and” approach we find in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. Proverbial wisdom and the prudent behavior that results from it are not antithetical to the gospel. They are one aspect of the mysterious depth and applicability of it to our everyday life, filled with circumstances that require a subtle approach rather than a “it is what it is” approach.
Perhaps it boils down to the difference between living life as one propositional and principled test after another and living life (morality and merit); and living life as a network of relationships with persons of infinite value who mysteriously reflect to varying degrees the image and likeness of God, and in whose lives, God is salvifically at work, an in which wok He invites us to participate (relationally and life-engendering). I am just saying. It could be …