Engaging the Word: Readings for 9/18/16 (The 18th Sunday after Pentecost)

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By Barbara Klugh

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; Psalm 79:1-9; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary.

In this week’s readings, Jeremiah grieves for his people, Paul tells us to pray for everyone, and Jesus challenges us to choose who—or what we will serve.

Jeremiah statue in Stuttgart Germany church. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jeremiah statue in Stuttgart Germany church. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1: Our reading this week is a fitting example of why Jeremiah is called the Weeping Prophet, but God and the people of Judah are grieving, too. He is brokenhearted (“my heart is sick”) over the coming judgment of Judah. The people of God have abandoned their covenant with God for generations, and all of a sudden, now that the tragic consequences are at hand, they seem to be mystified: “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” God’s question is, “Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”

The whole society is sick because they have abandoned God’s ways. Jeremiah knows the people deserve God’s judgment because of their sins, yet he loves God’s people and grieves for them all the same. Isn’t there something that can be done? “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?“ Jeremiah laments “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people.”

Psalm 79:1-9: This week’s psalm is a lament for the destruction of Jerusalem and the killing of its people. The people call on God to forgive them and to pour out his wrath upon the enemy.

I Timothy 2:1-7: In this week’s reading, Paul urges “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for everyone,” including the leaders of the civil society. This way, the Christians may live peaceable, godly, and dignified lives. Moreover, he reminds the church that this is “right and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” Christ is the mediator for all people, “who gave himself a ransom for all.”

Luke 16:1-13: In this week’s reading, Jesus teaches about wealth in two different ways. First is the parable of the crafty steward, and second, Jesus teaches about the faithful use of money in service to God’s kingdom.

Commentators and preachers try to sort out the parable (you can see commentaries on textweek.com) and call it a “difficult text,” “outrageous,”, “intentionally obtuse,” “puzzling,” and so on. Read the parable first and you’ll see why.

The basic story is this: a manager is called to account because his employer charged him with squandering his property. Dreading the thought of losing his job and being poor, the manager comes up with a plan. He goes to his master’s debtors and cuts the amount they owe, so they will be nice to him when he loses his job. Then comes the surprise. Jesus says, “And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of the light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”

My first interpretation on the story was imagining the master as a mafia godfather, and the manager as one of his underlings. So when the godfather commends his underling, it’s because he recognizes someone who is just as shrewdly corrupt as he is. So maybe when Jesus is telling his disciples to “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes,” he’s saying that if you go down this bad road, you and all your friends will all spend eternity in hell together.

Yet, spiritual teachers tell us that we should look for glimpses of the kingdom of God in Jesus’ parables, so obviously my initial interpretation doesn’t qualify.

The most satisfying interpretation I’ve read is by J. Ted Blakley in A Lector’s Guide and Commentary. He sees God as the master and Jesus as the manager. “So when the manager reduces the debts of his master’s creditors, this evokes Jesus’ pronouncements of forgiveness of sins, which are [our] debts owed to God. Thus, the subversive message that Jesus has concealed within this parable is that God approves of Jesus’ actions, which is why Jesus commends the dishonest manager to his disciples. Of course, Jesus expects his disciples to recognize the irony, to catch that he is speaking tongue in cheek. Jesus is not literally instructing his disciples to engage in unscrupulous behavior but [as children of the light] to follow his lead in proclaiming God’s kingdom by engaging in such activities as dining with tax collectors and sinners and dispensing God’s forgiveness.”

Then Jesus gives a straightforward teaching. “Whoever is faithful in very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” He also warns against having divided commitments. “No slave can serve two masters….You cannot serve God and wealth.” That’s clear—not easy, but clear.

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