theunfamiliarname

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 25C

In Uncategorized on September 20, 2010 at 10:15 am

It’s been quite a couple of weeks.
Three ‘s’es have struck me.

Synod met yesterday, and it continues to amaze me
how that gathering seems to mean snow falls,
be it May or be it September.
We might next year offer our services to the skifields
for a small consideration.

South Canterbury Finance,
so long seemingly a breed apart,
joined the long list of finance companies
to enter receivership in the last two years.

And it can scarcely have escaped your notice,
the parable played out in national politics,
as David Garrett fell from any sort of grace.
Scandal.
He and those he’s hurt need our prayers, both.

But questions of morality
have loomed large upon the national stage.
Questions of accountability.
And from the most vociferous of voices calling for judgement
– hardline in our treatment of criminals –
a veneer has been stripped away
and we are left with what?
Perhaps a desire for justice.

I should probably here be up-front,
and say that the economics, the underpinnings
and the implications of Mr Garrett’s party
I’ve never felt resonated with my hearing of the gospel.

And indeed, in our first reading comes a voice
– an ancient voice thousands of years removed in time
from ACT or any of us–
calling on the powerful and the rich,
the landowners and the traders, to deal justly.
To, quite literally, not use double standards.
Maybe a theme that resonates this week.

Our first reading reminds us, business – as everything else –
has a moral dimension and a potential social cost.
We forget that at our peril.
Our gospel, though, is hard to fathom.
It’s usually called the parable of the dishonest steward.
It’s central character is highly conflicted
and comes across as – at best –
morally ambiguous in his behaviour.
There are plenty of questions around the parable.
Where does the servant’s supposed “dishonesty” begin?
Is there any substance to the charges brought against him?
Is he “dishonest” for writing off the debts owed to his master?
Is he, as some have suggested,
in fact writing off his own extortionate commission?
Why on earth does his master commend him?

There are many commentators who suggest
that in this morning’s gospel we have the criticism
of an oppressive quest for profit –
in the ancient world as in modern money lending –
high risk leads to high rates of interest.
We should, you’d hope, have learnt something about
that particular financial minefield in the last couple of years.

It’s suggested that in writing off significant parts of these debts,
the steward is making sure his master gets his capital back,
but the interest – the huge interest that was probably largely his own income – is annulled.

The point might be taken,
that here is a man who is part of an unjust system,
whose own cut of the cake
means that others are trapped in debt.
When faced with his own vulnerability within this system,
in order to simply save his own skin,
he behaves in a way that is fundamentally just.

For all the wrong reasons, he chooses to do right.
He decides to cash in his short-term financial benefit
and instead to ride the wave of goodwill and obligation
he unleashes in the world around him.

In short, while still being totally selfish,
he looks at the bigger picture
and decides that the time has come to liberate some others,
people he was part of oppressing.
In the Western world, as an affluent people,
we can’t dismiss that reading.
The steward turns a bad situation – for him and for others,
into something much better, for them and for him.
And we’re surely challenged by that.

Jesus says it baldly this morning:
“You cannot serve God and wealth”.
I am not going to sugar the pill.

The pursuit, above all else,
of money – or power – or fame
puts us in the sphere of idolatry.
False identity and false worship.

The subservience of people to economic systems & forces,
be they capitalist or socialist or whatever,
is similarly heretical
if we believe humankind to bear God’s image.

We, you and I,
cannot, surely, as people of faith,
place our ethics apart from our employment,
or our salvation apart from our shopping list.
Whether here or in the mythical Market,
justice – economic justice –
cannot be separated from proclaiming good news,
preaching peace, and our stewardship of creation.

We live in an interconnected world,
a world of debt and injustice and exploitation,
of the powerful riding roughshod over the weak.

But in a subversive parable
about a servant who sees the writing on the wall,
Jesus calls us to act if not prophetically,
then at least pragmatically,
to discover justice, even by accident,
and to bask in its grace.

There’s actually one other way of viewing this cryptic parable.
Perhaps the servant tears up the debts of his master
to make everyone there recognise –
before he’s dismissed –
the abundant generosity of his boss.
Because, whether true or not, if he can foster that,
he’s got a chance.

Because the people will love the boss, and the boss
will have to recognise that goodwill and honour.

The theology’s not so good,
but there may be truth in it for us.

This still-steward
made the call that debts were to be discounted.
To whom did the good PR attach itself?
Who were the local farmers toasting?
Most probably the master.
So in a culture of honour and shame,
a shrewd servant turns his shame
into sharing in his master’s honour.

For all the wounds that the Church bears,
for all we might fail to live up to our calling
and our stewardship:
what might we do,
if we were to present – shrewdly if you like –
the abundant generosity and grace
of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
as if to save our own skin?

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