Proper 20, Year C, St. Ann’s Church, Nashville

“If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” (Lk. 16:11).

Jesus keeps coming back to “faith”: faith as the context of his healing ministry, as in the many miracles we find in the Gospels; and faith also in the context of discipleship, as when his followers ask Jesus to increase their faith (Lk. 17:5), which we will hear about in a couple of weeks. When there’s a storm on the lake, and the disciples are frightened, faith also comes up; again, Jesus asks them, “Where is your faith?” (Lk. 8:25).

Faith also comes up in our Gospel today, providing the frame for the parable of the Dishonest Manager. In the story, there’s no mention of faith itself. The “major domo” figure who’s been embezzling is not a moral exemplar, nor is he a figure of faith. Instead, he’s commended for his wise and quick action in the face of disaster.

Please note that the thief doesn’t give back what he’s stolen: he just disposes of it differently in order to further his own cause. He’s not trying to make amends; he’s still a bad guy. It’s as close to a “Breaking Bad” moment as we get in the Gospels: you know, where you begin to admire Walter White for his ingenuity in cooking methamphetamine; or Tony Soprano for getting away with murder. Remember, Stringer Bell in “The Wire” may be a likeable rogue, but he’s still a rogue.

Faith doesn’t appear in this seemingly unedifying story, but it does crop up in the frame that Jesus supplies. Appended to the story are a trio of sayings concerning faith that suggest that faith may have something to do with a willingness, like the manager, to take action. “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much” (Lk. 16:10). Then again, “If you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own” (Lk. 16:12). Between the two comes the clincher, “If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” (Lk. 16:11).

This trio of sayings about faith reveal that it is, in part, and perhaps most fundamentally, the willingness to trust in God and nothing else. The contrast in a fourth saying appended to the story makes clear that true faith has an opponent, another contender for the crown: the “unrighteous mammon” or “wealth” (as it is in our translation today). “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Lk. 16:13), Jesus tells the disciples. In other words, you cannot trust in anything less than God, especially the most attractive alternative around. Trust in wealth is misplaced trust; trust that won’t get you anywhere; trust that betrays the One we should trust.

Faith is also not hoping for the best, though this is often what it’s reduced to. It’s hoping in the God of Israel, the God of the family of Abraham, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For Christians, of course, it’s faith in Jesus Christ whom God raised from the dead. It’s the faith of Mary, the Mother of the Lord, and of the apostles and evangelists, who placed their trust in God in Christ. For us, faith is particular and specific, not general and undefined.

“If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” (Lk. 16:11). I said this was the clincher of our trio of sayings, and there’s a reason for that. First, it shows very clearly the correlation between “faith” and “trust.” As disciples, as faithful people, we’re called to put our trust in God. Second, it makes an explicit connection between what we do with what we’re given and the “true riches” that God wants to give us. Pay attention to what you do what you have: it will reveal your true allegiance. Not a bad stewardship theme, by the way.

Finally, “If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” (Lk. 16:11), suggests that there’s another dimension to faith. This may be the most important thing to remember. That is, we put our faith in God, but God “faiths” us as well. The words rendered “faithful” and “entrust” are in their root the same word. We trust God, but God entrusts us with the “true riches.” He gives us gifts for ministry, and calls us to deploy them; God gives us identity as his children through baptism into Christ and he feeds us with the Holy Eucharist. God’s intention is to give us the kingdom, the “crown” as they say; but as St. Augustine said, “When God crowns our merits, he crowns his own gifts” (Sermo 333).

We’re called to put our faith in God, but God has faith in us as well. Let our confirmands show us the way, but let us also show them the way of faithful living in this community of faith. Jesus keeps coming back to the faith, and so should we, as we seek to live more faithfully as followers of Jesus.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee