"Forgive it Now!" Pastor Fred
The Great Recession of 2007 changed the way we live. Literally, changed what kind of place and where we live. People in the city and the suburbs lost their homes. And now we see, there has been a trend away from the long-time goal of becoming a home-owner, and towards renting, becoming an apartment dweller.
And, Millennials are leading the way in this! Not that I have any experience as a Millennial, but from second-hand knowledge anyway, I’ve learned this! The biggest boom in rentals, is in the West Loop. “Three out of four residents of a West Loop ZIP code (60661) are millennials, the highest concentration of millennials in any urban ZIP code in the nation.” (https://www.chicagobusiness.com/residential-real-estate/chicago-zip-code-has-highest-concentration-millennials-us) Though, the largest concentration of Millennials, those born between 1983 and 2000, in Chicago, is in the neighborhood of Lakeview, with over 41,000.
Millennials live in traditional Chicago apartments – and in new developments. Some of those new developments include co-living apartments, or units that combine private space with shared space, like sharing a large well-equipped Kitchen, and other common spaces, where you might share your favorite Netflix shows on a shared Video screen, or enjoy a micro-brew around a shared fireplace.
And this makes sense, it seems to me, considering the social trends brought on by the Great Recession. Millennials – as Melanie Curtin of Inc.com says – “are more transient, they have a lot of [student] debt, people are moving to cities and want to own less… there's a shift in values toward experience over ownership.”
Some Millennials are also ‘couch hopping,’ or sleeping on friend’s couches, because they don’t have a place of their own, due to lots of things, including that high debt, also high rates of job turnover, or maybe being rejected for one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
In Jesus parable today, he begins talking about a rich man, and ends up talking about our home in the age to come. It’s about, dirty dealing money managers and owners, and how we are to live in this hard world, by keeping our eye on the prize of the world, and age to come, Jesus revealed to us.
So, this is a difficult parable to digest. But The Message translation, a modern paraphrase translation by Pastor and scholar, Eugene Peterson, can help, I think. Peterson entitles this parable, “The Story of the Crooked Manager,”
Jesus said to his disciples, “There was once a rich man who had a manager. He got reports that the manager had been taking advantage of his position by running up huge personal expenses. So he called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? You’re fired. And I want a complete audit of your books.’
“The manager said to himself, ‘What am I going to do? I’ve lost my job as manager. I’m not strong enough for a laboring job, and I’m too proud to beg…. Ah, I’ve got a plan. Here’s what I’ll do… then when I’m turned out into the street, people will take me into their houses.’
“Then he went at it. One after another, he called in the people who were in debt to his master. He said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
“He replied, ‘A hundred jugs of oil.’
“The manager said, ‘Here, take your bill, sit down here – quick now – write fifty.’
“To the next he said, ‘And you, what do you owe?’
“He answered, ‘A hundred sacks of wheat.’
“He said, ‘Take your bill, write in eighty.’
“Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager? And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way – but for what is right – using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”
And yet another translation, of just the last verse, I really like, is from the New Jerusalem Bible: “And so I tell you this: use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into dwellings [in the age to come].” (for “age to come,” see N.T. Wright, How God Became King, pp. 44-45)
Jesus’ parables were meant to shake us up, and to offer a surprise. To lure us into a common, everyday story, that then flips the script, and leads us into a new understanding of the kingdom and realm of God Jesus was announcing, for the sake of our lives and the world.
The behavior of the Manager, though crooked, is somewhat understandable – isn’t it – in that he’s trying to insure that, even if he loses his job, he’ll have somewhere to land, someone to ‘couch hop’ with. He does it by leveraging the relationships he has as Manager with those in debt to his Master. And specifically, by erasing, on the spot, 50% of the debt in one case, and a 20% in another! We might expect that when the Master finds out about this crooked behavior, even if it is ‘Streetwise,’ he’ll be punished, fired for sure!
And so, as The Message translation makes clear, that’s the surprise! The Master instead ‘commends’ and ‘praises’ the crooked, unjust Manager, for his streetwise, and shrewd, action.
One way we can make sense of this, is if we see the Manager’s action through the lens of the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus teaches his Disciples. Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is unique when it comes to the petition on forgiveness. It’s the one that prays: “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” That is, as we forgive monetary debts, that were so very common in Jesus’ time, please forgive us our sins.
And what else did the crooked and shrewd Manager do, if not forgive debts!? He forgave them! Maybe it wasn’t for altruistic reasons. Maybe it was for personal gain, and for getting a couch to sleep on, down the line. But this, according to Jesus, is what delights the Master! The Master praises his shrewd ingenuity. And Jesus concludes that that is what we have to do, “be smart in the same way – but” of course, “for what is right” and just!
And so, if the Master in the Parable is God, what is God telling us? We know how in Luke’s gospel, forgiveness is major theme throughout, and finally, even on the cross, Jesus forgives the criminal who is repentant in his last dying moments, and says, ‘today you will be with me in Paradise!’
The Master in the Parable recognizes forgiveness in the action of his Manager. It doesn’t matter why the desperate Manager forgives, only, that he forgives. Forgiveness is a key to right living between neighbors, and the restoration of our relationship with God. It doesn’t matter if you forgive for noble reasons, or all the wrong reasons. Jesus says, forgive it all. Forgive it now. Forgive it for any reason you want, or for no reason at all. God is the font of forgiveness, and the abundance of grace, that begins to pour out, wherever forgiveness happens.
“And so I tell you this,” said Jesus in conclusion of his Crooked Manager Parable, “use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into dwellings [in the age to come].”
What’s your living arrangement, here in the present age, and in the age to come? How much is it costing to you? Are you a good steward of it?
The Great Recession, with its lost wealth, changed home ownership for the Millennial generation, who shrewdly and creatively are crafting a new way of renting. The Crooked Manager, faced with his own lost wealth, found redemption in the wild abandon of forgiving – for when we forgive others we are faithful with the riches God entrusts to us.
Let us learn forgiveness, the key to entering a dwelling in the age to come! ‘Forgive us our sins,’ O LORD, ‘as we forgive those indebted to us – and that we may be welcomed into homes now, and by God’s grace, in the new age to come!