A reflection on the readings for proper 20C: Luke 16:1-13: St. Edward and Christ, Joliet, IL
There are a few television shows I love to watch. Among them are Gray’s Anatomy, The Mentalist and Brothers and Sisters. Each of these had season finales last May that I found particularly dramatic, violent and unsettling. I remember because some of them played in reruns this week as the networks prepare for the season openers. Gray’s Anatomy left us in a cliff hanger with one surgeon, a resident, about to operate on her best-friends husband, the chief of staff, who had been shot by the irate husband of a woman who had died in a previous episode.
The story begins as if it were just another ordinary day. The staff arrives for work. Meredith finds out she is pregnant and is excited to tell her husband, mr. Mcdreamy, the chief of staff. But then chaos happens as the shooting spree takes hold. Each scene is filled with some characters falling prey to the shooter while others hide and try to survive.
Although I’m not sure who survives, it seems a number of cast members were “shot” off the series in this episode that left me closing my eyes and turning away. And don’t even get me started on CSI. I can’t watch that show anymore with the close up visuals of bullets penetrating flesh, or blood clots racing through arteries, and one violent act after another.
Then again, there are days when I can’t watch the local news either. Headline after headline of disaster: famine, war, violence, shootings, robberies, disease, earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes....the list is endless. I just want to shut the television off and pretend I live in a quiet world where not much happens.
Turning our heads and pretending we don’t hear or see is what we sometimes do with our scripture readings. We have readings like this morning, which like every Sunday morning are read well from beginning to end, and yet we sit here in our seats and...what? Do we really listen? Or are these readings just one more way we shut down and close off, unable to be fully present to the confusion that lies within?
Me? If I weren’t preaching on these readings, would gladly look the other way. I mean really, what in the world is Jesus suggesting? That we support people who embezzle other people? That we feel proud of and honor thieves and deceit? Does this sound like the Jesus we know and love?
In our reading from Luke we have a shrewd and dishonest manager who is called to account for his work by the owner, who had become aware of the deceitful activity of the manager. In response the manager goes to each of the employees and settles their debts in a way that gives the owner something, saves face for the manager, and helps out the employees at the same time. It’s not exactly honest, but it’s shrewd and it works.
Now imagine you have just experienced some horrible tragedy – like the flooding in Pakistan or the earthquake in Haiti, you and your children are suffering profoundly. In fact if you don’t get some clean water and food you all will die. Soon.
Do you care, in that moment of desperation, who gives you the food? Do you care what is in their heart? If they are good and honest people or just people who happen to be doing the right thing for all the wrong reasons, like to save their own skin? I think we’d want someone to save us and our children no matter what. Thank you for that food and water, we’d say. Thank you.
Now we know that your priests Kathryn and Richard are in Haiti this week tending to the needs of some children up in the mountains. I imagine that the people in Haiti are much like I was suggesting earlier – so stunned by their fractured lives that they don’t feel much anymore. There is only so much pain and suffering we humans can take before we shut down and tune out. You all are not there to see the work that Kathryn and Richard are doing. But you have supported them in this endeavor. And you’ll hear their stories when they return. Stories of love and care. You all have acted from your hearts. In your support people from Haiti will come to see the face of Christ in Kathryn, and know the hands of Christ in Richard. There will be healing and new life. And maybe you’ll go on to do more of this. Maybe this will become just as transformational for you as it surely will be those children in Haiti and for Kathryn and Richard.
Even though you weren’t there literally, you will be impacted by this work because you’ve supported those who have gone to do the work. Children in Haiti will live because you have helped. Children you have never met. Children whose faces you won’t know. Children whose hands you will not hold. And yet your help for them will be profound.
Jesus tells us in this reading that what matters most is that we do something. It matters that we do what we can, more than we can, actually. It matters that we not only feel in our hearts but DO with our hands and feet and brains, too. Through us and the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus will be right there with the suffering child and the parents of that child. Jesus tells us story about a master who goes along with acts of justice because it profits the master too – but regardless of the masters profit – justice is served and people are helped. To the people helped it matters not what is in our hearts.
However, what’s in our hearts does matter to God. And there is every likelihood that when people experience the process of helping others, even if they initially did it for personal gain, once they experience the benefit of helping others their hearts are changed. Perhaps they even begin to help from a place of love in their heart. They not only love but they act on that love.
I’m hoping that the season opener of Gray’s Anatomy has Christina saving Dr. Shepherd from the bullet wound. I hope her hands do not succumb to the fear that is surely in her heart as she operates. I hope that we hear in our texts this morning a call toward hope, a reminder that what is most important is that we do something about the injustices in our world. And I give thanks that your priests are in Haiti helping those children. May the life and love they extend to those kids be yours as well.
(Thanks to Dylan's Lectionary blog and to Janine on the Feminist Theology blog for some inspiration for this sermon)