Looking for treasure...

Luke 16:1-13

The reading from Luke’s Gospel is a curious one. The parable is numbered among the "hard
sayings" of Jesus. I know plenty of clergy who would avoid preaching on it. How does one
make sense of the fact that Jesus seems to praise the example of a dishonest manager who
gets himself out of trouble by committing further dishonesty? There’s something here that
just doesn’t add up -

We might want to ask ourselves whether there are similar parables spoken by Jesus which
have the same moral twist? Could they help us understand this one? Well sir, there are
three that come to mind immediately:

There is the parable of the king who makes war against a neighboring ruler (Luke 14:31-32)
until he hears that his neighbor is marching towards his borders with a much larger army
equipped with the latest in swords and spears.. Which king, asks Jesus, will not immediately
send out emissaries and negotiators to make peace before his border is crossed?

There is the parable of a man ambling across a field (Matthew 13:44) who discovers a treasure buried therein and immediately goes and sells all he has in order to purchase that field.

There is the story of a woman who feels she has been denied justice (Luke 18:1-8) who goes to the judge's house and bangs on the door with a large rock until eventually the judge gets out of bed and goes downstairs and rewrites the judgement standing there in his doorway in his housecoat and slippers just to be rid of the old harridan.

These are all stories with a curious moral twist in them – that’s what parables do sometimes
– they tell us the truth but first they ‘deep six’ our conventional and tidy view of morality: The
man has not told the original owner of the field that he is signing over a hidden treasure when he signs his missives. The woman is getting a revision of a judgement because she is a pain in the neck – not because she is obviously in the right in her original request. The king made a foolish decision to go to war in the first place. What a failure he is as a military strategist! And the peace he now seeks? Is it not necessitated by the possible loss of everything in his kingdom? Or the possibility that his head will be exhibited on a spike in a foreign capital?

Jesus is trying to change the minds of his hearers about their presumption that they get the good things they deserve. He is in the world to give people what they have not earned. The story of the Gospel is based on that very idea of a gift with far exceeds the worthiness of the person receiving it.

How could he not begin to change our minds unless he first told us something that at first glance simply runs counter to what we believe? The gift is not deserved. Grace and mercy must be sought out. People who have been lulled into a belief that they do not require such grace and mercy are unlikely to seek it out. Desperate men and women are much more likely to ask.

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