Fifteenth Sunday in Pentecost – 9.22.19

There’s Plan A. And there’s Plan B.

We keep a Plan B at the back of our mind JUST IN CASE. When we’re young adults, we have Plan B in case things don’t work out. It may be, we’ll move back home if things don’t work out. Or Plan B may be to get a roommate. Or some’s plan B may be to sell something to make ends meet.

In today’s gospel, we see in the parable a curious example of PLAN B, with Jesus’ instructions to us, “children of the light.” “Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into their eternal homes.”

Jesus’ world was just as corrupt AND complex as ours. So, it’s no wonder Jesus tells a parable where the anti-hero has a Plan B. Plan A didn’t work in which he stole from the boss with both hands.

If you steal from the boss, you better have a Plan B – and we see he does. What do people do if they are about to be fired? Management may send up a security guard to make sure a person doesn’t steal anything on their way out. Someone from management may hover near the computer to make sure files don’t get deleted out of revenge. Maybe someone who is getting fired will grab everything they can with both hands and run out the door.

THIS wily manager who is getting fired for “squandering” the master’s property, makes a golden parachute for himself. He goes into action so fast, you have to wonder if he had a Plan B all along. We all know what a golden parachute is – right? It’s a compensation package you get if your job is terminated. It’s a nice financial cushion. Not everyone gets one; you have to be high up in the corporate hierarchy to qualify for a golden parachute. So, this shrewd manager makes a golden parachute for himself by forgiving debts.

Maybe he knew there was no hope collecting on these outstanding debts, so he reduces the payment, AND we can assume he quickly gets the payments. Instead of the debtors putting off repayment for some day in the future, they quickly pay the olives or the wheat they owe.

The money goes to the rich man who commends him for his shrewdness. We can imagine him shaking his head in wonder, but all the same – the manager is still fired!

Once he’s out of the rich man’s employment, he knows that these former debtors will be grateful; because he reduced their debt, he’s counting on them remembering and giving him a job or helping him find a new one.

His golden parachute, his PLAN B is their gratitude.  Before this moment, his wealth had been in material goods. Now that he’s out of a job, the wily manager’s wealth is the GRATITUDE of others. NOW he measures wealth differently: he measures wealth by HOW much gratitude he can create. Now he’s a dealer in GRATITUDE and what it can get him in the next few steps. He can build another career based on this gratitude.

The debtors have paid off their debts, yet they remain in debt: their new debt is GRATITUDE to him. What he did for THEM, will be remembered and will no doubt spark new opportunities. The rich man commends him, and Jesus thinks he’s very clever and is someone for us to imitate.

How do WE think of wealth?

How do we use this parable for ourselves? How do we take hold of these lessons? Where are the glimmers of the kingdom? For one thing, we have a very different view of wealth and how to use it.

A pastor I know who used to live in Tanzania, said Africans know Americans have wealth, but they say Africans are wealthy in relationships. Compared to Africans, we are all hoarders of whatever money we have.

If someone comes up to an African and asks for some financial help, and he has money in his pocket, he HAS to give him money. Money is used to connect people, and everyone participating keep this safety web going. Their wellbeing is WITHIN these webs of relationships, funded by money. EVERYONE benefits through these webs of generosity and gratitude.

I once saw a program on TV where a young African man who had a desk job in an office; the job was nothing special. He was asked how many people did he support back home. He said 50. This young man, maybe 25-26 years old was supporting 50 people on his modest American wages. He was participating in this web of relationships based in money and gratitude. It was an eye-opener. There were 50 people back home who depended on him.

What if? (Here comes the gospel.)

What if – we worked as hard for the kingdom of God, as “the children of this age” work to get ahead? What if we created webs of relationships based in generosity and gratitude, rather than greed and hoarding? What if – we “children of the light” were wily and shrewd like the manager to make and create webs of relationships to bring the kingdom come? What if we used whatever money we have to invest in the kingdom. In people? What if – we children of the light poured EVERYTHING we have – into facing the crises and challenges of the day with maximum creativity, energy, resourcefulness, and courage? What would that look like? How would that turn things around? Could we combat climate change?

I know a man, Richard Nesbit, who works as a waiter in Manhattan, who’s a member of St. Luke’s Church on W. 46th Street. He once got a FaceBook message from a young man, John Deng Akuai, who was being held in a refugee camp in Uganda.

Could Richard help him?

The message haunted him and he couldn’t put it out of his mind, so he found a Franciscan priest who was in Uganda and asked him to check it out. Was it real or a scam? The Franciscan priest found the young man, and reported back, yes this was a real request for an education. Richard doesn’t make a lot of money, but he knows whatever he makes goes a lot further in Uganda, so he sent money.

The short version of the story is that the young man got an education, and Richard went on to create a 501c3, called Let’s Send These Kids to School, doing fundraising and roping in his friends to start supporting other absolutely indigent young adults. Without this money and support, they would have had no future whatsoever.

Richard didn’t go on to quit his job and become a fat cat philanthropist. He still waits tables, and runs the non-profit and does fundraising. He’s changing the world in his spare time. Are these young adults grateful? Of course they are. Generosity and gratitude have created new webs of relationships. This is building God’s kingdom of peace. 

We can build webs of peace with our money. We can build webs of relationships with all of our resources and resourcefulness. The children of this world, shrewd though they may be, don’t have all the money and resources.

We know that during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s African Americans poured EVERYTHING they had, their bodies, minds, souls, spirits, songs, prayers, gave their homes, their churches, their youth, their beauty, their resources, their shrewdness, their intelligence, their courage, their stamina, their tenacity, their money – everything into building a better world. They created a better world – a more JUST world that reflected God’s righteousness.

Can we work with EVERYTHING we have? Can we work with every ounce of our creativity, our shrewdness? Can we HUSTLE for God and God’s kingdom?

Richard took that FaceBook message to a very personal level. It was a question what could HE do for this ONE specific person. He decided that the $1000 was doable. He hustled for the kingdom of God.

At the end of the gospel text, Jesus reminds us of the absolute DIRE consequences of money controlling us. “No slave can serve two masters . . . You cannot serve God and wealth.” Jesus is concerned about our relationship to wealth.

Who is controlling whom? Does our money control US? Or Do WE control the dollars?

In this parable, Jesus does not set things up simplistically: wealth = bad; poverty = good. Jesus knows that good people can use wealth for bad aims, and bad people can use wealth for good.

Jesus tells stories in a world where people do not act according to a script.

WE live in a world where people don’t act according to scripts either. Christ has given us a NEW script and we can be generous and shrewd, too.

When we are alive in Christ, when Christ lives in us, everything looks different, including money. Christ’s great gift to us is FREEDOM, and we are invited to experience that freedom in relation to money as well. Nothing is exempt from God’s gaze.

Loving God thank you for the gift of living in this wealthy country. Open our eyes to how we can build webs of generosity and gratitude.

Show us ways we can hustle for the kingdom and bring about relationships based in gratitude and peace. Show us the Kingdom’s Plan B. We thank and praise you and always in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord.