Reading Ramblings – September 22, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 22, 2019

Texts: Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-15; Luke 16:1-15

Context: The lectionary readings pit one of the most challenging of Jesus’ parables against a strong Old Testament defense of the poor and critique of the rich who prey on them. While the reading from Amos and the psalm are straightforward enough, everything gets complicated by the Gospel lesson. Is Jesus commending dishonesty? What is He attempting to convey? The problem can in one way be solved by where we focus – do we focus on the dishonesty of the steward or do we focus on the grace and mercy of God? There are linguistic cues between this parable and the Prodigal Son parable, which is more obviously a portrait of the great mercy and grace of God. This should guide us as we try to untangle Jesus’ words for this week!

Amos 8:4-7 – The bulk of these verses comprises paraphrasings of the sayings and actions of the dishonest. These dishonest are part of God’s people, but they are abusing their brothers and sisters in covenant community for personal gain. God’s Word to these people, which is referenced in verse 4, is finally revealed in verse 7 (and continues in the following verses). While the dishonest may feel like they’re getting away with things, God will hold them accountable in his time. In between we hear the thoughts of these wicked merchants. They lament the harvest festivals and weekly Sabbaths (the day of rest) when buying and selling is forbidden. They make no money on those days! And their goal is to make money dishonestly, by rigging the weights so that the grain they are purchasing from the poor farmers is said to weigh less than it really does – reducing the price they need to pay to the farmer. Meanwhile the weight measuring out the payment is rigged so that fewer coins appear to be worth more. The farmer is cheated on both ends of the transaction! Those reduced to poverty by such wickedness will then be forced to sell themselves into slavery or servitude, settling for the most basic of payments that barely keep them alive! Surely, God watches over all of his creation and nobody will escape his judgment when they cheat the poor (or in any other sinful act, thought, or word!).

Psalm 113 – This psalm calls God’s people to praise him and his name (v.1). His name is to be blessed forever as well as all day (vs. 2-3). Why God deserves such praise and blessing is elaborated a bit in the following verses. First of all God is above all nations and rulers, all earthly powers of any kind, and his glory overshadows even the heights of the skies and heaven itself. There is, in fact, no one who can compare to God in any respect, seated as He is on high in glory and splendor to look down on all of creation. But God is not simply transcendent (vs. 4-6), greater than any other power but infinitely removed from creation. God is immanent as well, involved in the affairs of creation. And his power is exerted on behalf of those we might be inclined to pass over or ignore as unworthy or any help, or even beyond any help. God reverses their fortunes entirely! This is why God deserve praise – He does what we can not or will not do for one another.

1 Timothy 2:1-15 – Paul returns to his instructions to Timothy in this chapter. What is it the people of God should do? This section deals with worship, what Christians do as they gather together. While the words apply to individual or family life as well, they make the most sense in the context of larger worship. The people of god are to be praying, and their prayers are to include everyone, including their rulers. They pray their rulers do a good job of ruling, providing peace for a Godly, dignified life. This is the desire God has for all rulers, as well as the desire God has for his people in terms of how they live and how they pray. Towards this end God the Father sent the Son of God to be our mediator with God the Father, and his mercy through Jesus the Christ extends to everyone, so that we can never say that someone is beyond the grace and mercy and forgiveness of God, if they turn and seek it. Men are to be praying in a Godly fashion, and women are not to let the fashion dictates of the larger culture determine what is appropriate in Christian worship. Church is not a fashion show! Far better to be noticed and admired for good works that simply the ability to purchase costly baubles. Women are permitted and even encouraged to learn, but in humility. Women should not presume to place themselves in positions of authority over men. The rationale for this goes back to Genesis 3 and the Fall. While the natural order of man and woman in harmony was disrupted by sin, there is an order in creation, one that needn’t be exploitative or unfair, but a true difference all the same so that even women who are able to teach or lead should refrain from doing so within the Church, as a witness to the glory of God in creation. Women are saved in their own created identities, not by taking on or usurping the identity or role of men.

Luke 16:1-15 – There are a great many interpretations of this parable, but we’ll go with the one that keeps the plain sense of Jesus’ words intact and in harmony with his overall body of teaching and of Scripture as a whole. And to do so, as usual, the focus needs to be not on the steward (you and I) but rather on the rich man/master (God). It is the grace and mercy of the rich man/master towards the steward that should be first and foremost. Rather than throwing the man into jail immediately, or kicking him out of his position immediately, the rich man/master is merciful, giving the steward time to prepare for the judgment to come – a judgment already determined in terms of guilt (wastefulness) and punishment (being fired).

It is this span of time the steward relies on to prepare himself. And he prepares himself by relying on the merciful nature of his master. By cutting the amount owed by tenant farmers to the rich man, the steward ingratiates himself to the tenants, who, not knowing he has fallen out of favor, will presume he is acting on the rich man’s behalf, and perhaps has even lobbied the rich man on their behalf. Thus not only does the steward grow in the appraisal of the debtors, so does the master. The master could of course undue what the steward has done, but instead allows in his grace and mercy the stewards shrewdness to stand.

How clever and creative we can be about our temporal affairs! How carefully we study investment plans and evaluate which mutual fund or stock or bond would be best! How we compare the interest rates on our credit cards and bank accounts! We know the ins and outs of how to be wise and prudent with worldly things. How much more ought we to be diligent – not dishonest – in preparing ourselves for eternal things! And if we are willing to lie and cheat and be dishonest with mere money, a temporal possession with an arbitrarily defined value, how unsuitable are we to handle things of real, eternal value. If only we valued eternal things so highly, and set our minds and hearts on preparing to receive them!

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