(Amos 8:4-7, Psalm 113, 1 Timothy 2:1-7)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/N2A_aQCB9Ng)
1Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him 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.’ 3Then 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. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
So I came across this funny joke in the Reader’s Digest the other day. A guy writes, “I was cuddling with my wife and she said, ‘I love lying here with you.’ ‘I once caught a fish and it was five feet long and spoke Hebrew,’ I replied. She stared at me, confused. ‘That was my lie,’ I said. ‘Oh right, I see. Very funny,’ she said. She paused a moment before rolling over. ‘That was my lie.’” Guess it wasn’t funny to the wife…Of course, there’s nothing all that funny about dishonesty in marriage. If you can’t be truthful with your spouse, the one person who has committed their whole life to yours, then who can you be truthful with? Your friends? Your co-workers? Your boss? Your siblings? Your parents? No, if you’re untruthful with your spouse, you’re likely going to be untruthful in all your other relationships. Dishonesty breeds dishonesty. We just heard it in our gospel reading: “whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” Dishonesty multiplies itself. At the same time, honesty tends to produce more honesty. Perhaps the lesson to be learned is to stick to honesty. Once you’ve become dishonest, it’s hard to become honest again.
But is this lesson the purpose of Jesus’ parable? Is the parable simply meant to encourage us to be honest in our relationships? If so, why is honesty all that important? Probably around the same time we learned that “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” we are taught to “always tell the truth.” But why? Why is it so important to tell the truth, to speak truth? Somehow, someway, adults already know whether we’re telling the truth or not. What difference does it make whether we speak the words of truth or not? Because relationships are built on the truth. Relationships are built on shared understandings of the world around us. If one understanding is drastically different than another, then it is difficult to form a mutually beneficial relationship. Each understanding is competing with the other, fighting for relevance and survival. “Agreeing to disagree” is still disagreement. The two understandings aren’t in relationship with each other, they’re simply co-existing. No, for the two understandings to be in any type of relationship they must share common truths with each other. They must share common understandings with each other to be in relationship with each other. Dishonesty serves only to tear down relationships. Dishonesty separates us from each other and establishes walls in between. In comparison, honesty unites us and builds bridges between us. When share truth, we come to depend on each other more than when we’re clinging to our own interpretation of truth. Sure, we can all have our own interpretations of truth but how does that benefit anyone other than ourselves? How do we share joy and happiness unless we have common interpretations of truth?
It has long been commonly understood that we are stronger and healthier and happier when we are united with each other, when we are in relationship with each other. Dr. Bernie Siegel once noted,
Single men are jailed more often, earn less, have more illnesses and die at a younger age than married men. Married men with cancer live 20% longer than single men with the same cancer. Likewise, women, who often have more close friendships than men, survive longer with the same cancers. Married or not, relationships keep us alive.
Relationships not only keep us alive but they give purpose and meaning to our living. They enable and empower us to be more than we can be alone. We get more joy out of life when we are in relationships. A joyous life makes for a longer, more productive life. It’s as if God blesses us with more life if only we can appreciate it and enjoy it for the true gift that it is. God doesn’t want us to simply exist. God wants us to live joyously and abundantly!
It is all too easy to fall out of relationship with each other. Dishonesty and separation are always waiting in the shadows to tear down our relationships. When we find ourselves in broken relationships, we need people to snap us out of them and renew right relationship. We need people like the prophet Amos. In our first lesson, we heard Amos speak words of judgment on those who were trampling on the needy and poor through dishonest means. He warned the dishonest businesspeople that God “will never forget any of their deeds.” God, in his supreme mercy and compassion, brings justice to those oppressed by the dishonest. As David sang in our psalm, “The Lord takes up the weak out of the dust and lifts up the poor from the ashes, enthroning them with the rulers, with the rulers of the people.” Both Amos and David speak to the dishonest among us and encourage us with God’s justice.
As foolish as the manager was in squandering the rich man’s wealth, he understood the importance of relationships. Of course he only understood how to build relationships through dishonest means. In desperation, he tried to build relationships with the debtors by discounting their debts. One wonders how many of the debtors went on to help the manager in his own time of need. Once they saw his true colors as a dishonest businessman, they likely wanted nothing to do with him. Dishonesty leads to broken relationships. Strong, life-giving relationships are built on honesty.
As we continue along our journey through Pentecost, let us celebrate honesty for its gift of relationship. We need relationships to experience the sheer joy of life. Jesus and Amos and David understood honesty as a means for building relationships. It isn’t the only quality of long, healthy relationships but it certainly is necessary. Let us maintain honesty and continue to strive to…stay in relationship.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.