Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Crime and Punishment

I think Alfred Hitchcock must have liked Luke. Likewise, I’m sure Luke would have been a big fan of Hitchcock’s films, many of which had twisted endings in which crime and punishment were somehow turned upside down and left us wondering what just happened. And so it is with Luke 16: 1-13. We’re convinced that the dishonest manager is finished, but is he?

Most of us have jobs that conform to specific job descriptions that are beholden to specific performance standards to which we are accountable. If our performance exceeds expectations, we are rewarded; likewise, if our performance falls short of expectations, we can be subject to remediation, probation and dismissal. Now the “dishonest manager,” as Jesus has already named him, is an “employee at will” and fired without so much as an opportunity to speak, much less redeem himself. The rich man was completely in his right to fire him for squandering his property.
So, here’s Luke’s surprise ending: instead of being punished and used as a model for bad behavior, the manager is given credit for being shrewd because he feathered his own nest by ingratiating himself to his employer’s debtors by discounting what is owed without any authorization. Instead of being thrown in jail, he was acknowledged for using his resources to provide for his future as he was forced to leave his job. I don’t think we would regard the manager as a model citizen but he was able to secure his future by establishing new friendships of those who were at one time in his debt. The dishonest manager was not respectable because he defied the law. Couldn’t the same be said for Jesus? He broke all the laws and was executed.

Jesus refused to yield to the love of power and lived the power of love by defying the hypocrisy of those who sit in judgment. He reached out with compassion to the “crooks” and “sinners” in us all, who might otherwise never feel worthy of meeting the expectations of a “harsh judge.”

Are there those we dismiss or overlook as though they have no value? How about those whose lifestyle is different from ours…do we dismiss them as having nothing worth contributing? Are they too young, too old, and too impaired to add anything to our lives and to our Church? Looking for the good in people is impossible if we treat them as having no redemptive value. 

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” (Mother Theresa)

1 comment:

  1. Everyone marvels that Jesus could commend a crook. Jesus was a lawbreaker, as noted, but the commendation was for the way the steward ingratiated himself: He forgave debt. In Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer, the phrase is "forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone that is indebted (ophilo) to us." Forgiveness of every kind is very important in Luke's portrait of Jesus. When people forgive--even for selfish reasons-- the seeds of love start growing.
    Father Don