Here’s what I made of yesterday’s dreadful gospel reading…
Why am I preaching on this terrible gospel reading?
Why do bad things happen to good Provosts?
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I ranted and I raved. I roared and roamed about the Cathedral office like a prowling lion seeking whom I might devour whom resist steadfast in the faith.
“Why” I cried. “Why am I on the preaching rota scheduled to preach on the parable of the dishonest manager?”
What’s the point of having a Vice Provost if you end up preaching on the most difficult of gospel readings yourself?
How come, I shrieked – how come I’m preaching on this? Who was it put me down to preach this week.
Members of the cathedral staff in the office looked at me in a bemused way and reminded me that against their better judgement it is me, the same very provost who was complaining who compiles the preaching rota. It was me who had scheduled myself to preach on this wretched story.
Well, how on earth do you preach the good news when the gospel reading is all about seeing the good side of a dishonest manager?
Really, what on earth was Jesus on about?
And so I grumbled and moaned and sulked.
My joy is gone. Grief is upon me. My heart is sick, I opined channelling the very spirit of the prophet Jeremiah at his gloomiest.
Why do bad things happen to good provosts?
Why do bad things happen to good people?
Who hasn’t asked that question at one time or another?
When you are merely cynical you ask why bad things happen to good people.
When you graduate to being both cynical and bitter you ask why good things happen to bad people too.
Those questions come up in Scripture. There are answers to those questions too – different contradictory answers which indicate that asking questions like that is part of the human condition. We’ve recently been reading the book of Job at morning prayer and it is page after page of people trying to find answers to those questions.
I have no idea how you cope with a story in which a dishonest manager is the central figure.
Is the dishonest manager being likened to God?
Are we really being encouraged to behave like dishonest managers and with what are we being expected to be dishonest.
This is one of those bible stories which make me wonder whether they even heard Jesus correctly when they were trying to remember all that he said.
The sudden blast of wisdom that we get at the end “That you cannot serve two masters, you can’t serve God and money” is brilliant, instantly memorable and both true and profound. Yet it goes no way at all to answering the question of whether Jesus is promoting dishonesty or what we should make of it if he is.
It seems to me though, on reflection that there’s a nougat of glory stashed away in this parable that might make us forget for a moment at least about that question.
Isn’t it amazing that a dishonest manager might remind us of God?
And isn’t that truth something that we might need reminding of.
We are so ready to divide the world into the good and the bad (most of us presuming that we fall into the good category automatically).
The thing is, problem with the very question “why do bad things happen to good people” is not the answer but the very question itself.
In telling a story about a dishonest manager that someway is a way of passing on something about God and goodness, Jesus is reminding us that everyone bears the image and likeness of God.
If we are going to ask pertinent questions, we might well ask why it is that bad people can sometimes be good.
Why might a murderer be kind to an animal? Why might someone who is known in one context to be kind be cruel in another?
The trouble is, we are complex creatures.
For a long time I used to think that no-one was intrinsically evil.
I have to admit that this was challenged when I became an ordinand and found that original sin was the only way I could really understand the cruelty of some of those who were trying to shape me and form me as a priest.
But do I believe that people are utterly, intrinsically wicked and by nature separate from God?
Plenty of bits of the Christian faith teach that this is so. Indeed I grew up having to sign up to the believe that and I quote: “all men have become sinners, totally depraved, and as such are justly exposed to the wrath of God.”
I don’t think that now.
I don’t think that because I believe people are more complex than that. And I don’t believe it because I think God’s love is more simple than that.
I don’t think that now because I don’t believe in a God who is in the business of wrath. And I believe that human beings are generally more complex than simply being bad and depraved and then suddenly saved into being good.
God’s love is either for everyone or God isn’t a God worth dealing with.
And part of my justification for that is the existence of this story of the dishonest manager.
All kinds of people are heaven bound – dishonest managers amongst them.
All kinds of people reflect the essence and nature of God. And not the people who would come at the top of our lists.
For in this kingdom we are heading for things are not quite what you expect anyway.
From time to time I ask people for suggestions for the badge stall at the back of the church. One of the surprising good sellers is a badge that simply says, “make no assumptions”.
And we must make no assumptions about the bad and the good.
For all are made in the image and likeness of God and all are loved anyway.
All are loved anyway.
Must make that into a badge.