Last week we wrestled with the puzzling parable of the dishonest manager in Luke 16:1-8. It was puzzling because on the surface it sounded like dishonesty is being honoured by suggesting that we can do right by doing wrong. This would contradict everything else Jesus said or did—so it is highly unlikely that the surface reading is even remotely instructive to our following Jesus. Therefore we are compelled to reject the surface meaning and dig deeper.
With regard to digging deeper I find the work of Paul Duke very helpful. Instead of trying to tidy this parable up he invites us to find ourselves in the mess. He says:
Whatever open questions remain in the parable, this is the core of the storey: a participant in a crooked system, pronounced guilty and facing catastrophe, takes quick, risky, unauthorized action to save himself. He does it in a crooked way—how else? – dispensing crooked cash, reducing debts, making friends. The aim of his flurry of action is his survival; what he receives is his master’s praise.
It is a messy little story. It invites reflection on the messy systems we are part of, our own compromised and accused situation, our mixed motives and mixed means for acting redemptively….The parable, in the end is kind to us. It relieves our illusions of being good or of having to become good. It knows where we live and what we are and, remarkably, holds out gracious praise for the hopelessly wicked, like us, who will do what they must to be saved.
May God give us courage to reflect on the messy systems we are part of….and to give up the illusion of being good. Grace, Alan