Bugs Bunny is one of my heroes. He’s funny and smart and scrappy. He cuts Goliaths down to size with his wits and pierces inflated egos by exposing his own delusions of grandeur. Like Groucho Marx, Bugs admonishes fools by acting foolish himself. He is clearly flawed, but that’s what wins us over: he’s a rascal with a heart of gold. And he reminds me of the main character in the gospel appointed for this Sunday.
Here’s how Jesus describes him: “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned the manager and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg…’” So in a dramatic flourish, the so-called “dishonest manager” erases the debts that various folks owe his master. Everyone knows the little guy is posing, but maybe his scheme can take the master down a few pegs and give them a leg up in the bargain. They’re charmed by his chutzpah.
The steward’s practices as an employee got him fired in the story and might result in a worse fate today. Squandering his master’s property is presumably bad for business. But the word “squander” is the key to understanding this wily fellow.
A quick word study reveals that the same word is used to describe the action of the prodigal son, whose story is told in the previous chapter of Luke. The younger brother “squanders” his inheritance. What is Jesus up to? Why does he cast these characters, who seem to be awfully free with someone else’s property, as the ones that the master and the father embrace?
Here’s what I think. Paradoxically, the father and the business owner/master are given new life when they give their lives away, to the son and the employee. And Jesus gives us the prodigal son and the shrewd manager, precisely because their stories help us remember that generosity is the best investment of all. Flawed as they are, they embody a principle that Jesus sees as critical to our well-being: gifts are meant to be used and shared, not hoarded or locked away. Everything that we have—this church, our individual resources, even our intelligent wily craftiness—is a means to help and heal the world. Investing in the good of the other, while sometimes risky, is always life-giving, and this kind of stewardship is what characterizes the economics of the gospel.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. (Wendell Berry)