Sermon, September 22, 2019
“Yeah, Go Ahead and Cheat, Steal”
Old Testament Scripture: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
New Testament Scripture: Luke 16:1-13
Sermon: “Yeah, Go Ahead and Cheat, Steal” Rev. David Hawkins
A steward of a rich man, the one responsible for the economics of the household realizes that he is about to be fired because he hasn’t been doing a good enough job of managing the rich man’s holdings.
Now, I don’t know how each of you would respond to this news, but this guy takes an unusual step, at least as far as I am concerned. Instead of going to the rich man and pleading his case, or maybe even simply accepting the consequences of doing a not very good job and resigning, the steward goes to the people that owe the rich man money, and he writes down their debt. If they owed $1000 before, now they owe $500. If they owed 100 bushels of wheat, they now owe 80.
And he does this, not because he had cheated them before, and was trying to make it up, not because he felt the rich man was unjust in his business dealings, but because he wanted to ingratiate himself with them, in hopes that when the rich man fired him, he would have some friends on the outside that owed him, that would give him a hand when he called in a favor.
Now, while this isn’t necessarily the step I would take, and I’m sure that none of you would ever take it either, I guess I can imagine that some folks might think this was a good plan. Make hay while the sun shines. Get your fingers in the pie before the pie gets taken away. Take care of yourself, because nobody is going to take care of you. You’ve got to get what you can, while you can.
And the weird thing is, the rich man, when he hears about the plan, is impressed with the steward’s deviousness. He applauds it. He respects it. While the story doesn’t say so, it looks as though the rich man decides to reinstate the steward based on his deceitful behavior.
And not only that.
Jesus himself seems to laud the steward’s behavior, and says to his listeners, go and do likewise. Cheat, steal, do whatever you have to do to make other people like you, in order that they will be there for you when times get tough.
It’s the strangest parable ever.
And I’m not real sure what to do with it.
I remember a story not too long ago about a banker at a local bank that forgot this mandate, and started to wander in and out of the vault, taking large chunks of money with him. He was fired, of course, because a banker is supposed to protect the money, to safeguard the money, not stuff his pockets with it and walk out as though it belonged to him.
Stewards, on the other hand, have a different job. They actually are called to spend money. In an effort to make more money, of course. But that’s their job. Investing the boss’s money, in order to make more. When we hear the story in a different part of the Bible of the steward burying the talent of gold the master has entrusted to him, he is fired because he didn’t spend it.
He forgot his job. He thought he was supposed to be a banker, and not a steward.
And so, stewards and bankers have different jobs. One is to invest, the other is it safeguard. It’s one of the reasons that The Glass-Steagall act was created, during the great depression to keep banks from inappropriately investing depositor’s money. It keeps the bankers and the stewards separate, it reinforces the differences in their jobs.
And this difference is an important one. One of the reasons we suffered the catastrophic economic crash of 2008 was because many of the prohibitions of the Glass Steagall act had been repealed, which meant that commercial banks could act like investment brokeredges, and this led to the people who were supposed to be safeguarding money betting their customers’ deposits on high risk and in some cases wholly theoretical financial instruments. Who could have seen this coming? Only everybody?
But greed is hard to fight, which is why it’s a good idea to be clear about who the bankers are, and who the stewards are, and keep those jobs separate.