Luke 16: 1-13
In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Holy Comforter. Amen
Last Spring, it seemed as if everyone was watching Jeopardy because James Holzhauer was something of a national phenomenon. When James was first introduced as a professional sports gambler from Las Vegas, I thought, “Really?” Most contestants are librarians, or teachers, or bankers, lawyers, or stay-at-home parents. But a professional sports gambler? I didn’t even know there was such a thing.
As James played the game, he made moves that were crazy. He’d be ahead by $10,000, and when he got the daily double, he’d bet the entire pile, and then get the answer right. He was a fearless gambler. There were times when he got every question right, cutting through the high dollar amounts like a buzz saw and leaving the lower dollar amounts for the other two contestants. Sometimes I thought he was ruining the game by being so aggressive, and sometimes he just left me breathless he was so smart.
At first I had disapproved of James because he was a professional gambler, but he talked about his wife and 4-year-old daughter and he blew kisses to them, and he remembered his grandmother who had watched Jeopardy with him when he was little. He would wish happy birthday to his friends, and I began to like him. Finally, after he won more than $2,464, 000, he lost. I was sorry to see him lose, and Jeopardy has not been the same since.
Because James was a professional gambler, my first reaction was disapproval of him. I don’t like gambling because I think too many poor people waste their precious money on it. And when people hit the jackpot and win $500 million dollars, they have no idea how their lives will change, and it will not necessarily be for the better. And of course, gambling can become an addiction and hurt entire families. So, I don’t like gambling, although there are times when the jackpot is really high that I am tempted to buy a lottery ticket, you know, just in case.
But, there was something about James that fascinated me. He was fearless. He had confidence in himself, and he was really brilliant. It was astounding to watch his mind at work. Watching James made me want to be more of a risk-taker, to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone, to feel that adrenaline rush of doing something that seems risky. But risky when you are 72 means something different than risky does when you are 10 or 20 or 30.
Jesus tells the story of a crafty, dishonest steward who gets caught by his boss for wasting olive oil and wheat that people on the farm are supposed to produce for the boss. When faced with being fired by his boss, the steward curries favor with others by lowering their bill. How much olive oil are you supposed to give the boss? One hundred jugs? Ok, make it 50 instead.
Now, why would Jesus tell a story about a dishonest person? Maybe what interested Jesus was the resourcefulness of the steward. He takes a risk, refuses to accept defeat, and fights for his survival. Perhaps these are important qualities even when the steward put them to the wrong use. Maybe Jesus wants his followers who serve God to be as resourceful as the people who love money and serve Mammon.
Jesus himself takes many risks. He touches diseased people; he breaks the law to heal on the Sabbath; he eats with a despised tax collector; his disciples include women. Risky, risky, but Jesus is faithful to God in each of these encounters. The Pharisees who are very concerned about appearances and make sure they follow all the laws are only able to see Jesus as a rule breaker.
It matters how we look at something and what we call it. Suppose a girl who comes from a respectable family goes into a drugstore. Say she has gone into the store with the intention of stealing something just to see if she can get away with it. So she takes a bottle of nail polish, slips it into her pocket and leaves without paying for it. We call that shoplifting, and the girl is a thief.
Now, suppose a very poor girl goes into a store and takes a package of chips without paying for it because she and her younger sister have not eaten anything all day, and they are hungry. This girl is also a thief. But, maybe she is also a smart kid who is trying to take care of herself and her sister because nobody else is taking care of them.
Jesus often goes outside the boundaries of socially acceptable behavior and so do his followers. Think of people who have taken a risk and moved outside socially acceptable boundaries. Rosa Parks sits down in the “whites only” section of the bus and begins a boycott that shines the light on segregated buses. She was committed to nonviolent social disobedience. She had been schooled in this concept. She knew exactly what she was doing and had a pretty good idea of what the consequences for her would be.
Do some of you remember that protest song by Meliva Reynolds that came out in 1964, called “It Isn’t Nice”? It went like this: It isn’t nice to block the doorway, it isn’t nice to go to jail, there are nicer ways to do it, but the nice ways always fail, it isnt’ nice, it isn’t nice, you told us once, you told us twice, but if that’s freedoms price, we don’t mind.
Gays at the Stonewall Inn in New York refuse to go quietly to jail when arrested by the police and start the Gay Rights Movement. They are tired of being arrested because they are gay. They are not committed to nonviolence, but despite the fighting and brick throwing, no one was killed. And the Gay Rights Movement really began.
Last year, a 15-year-old Swedish with long pigtails girl named Greta Thunberg begins skipping school on Fridays to protest against world governments’ failure to protect the environment. She begins a movement of school strikes for the climate called Fridays for Future. This past Friday, students all over the world followed her lead in demanding that governments protect the environment for future generations.
The poor of Latin America risk walking with their children thousands of miles to petition for asylum and entrance into the United States in order to escape crushing poverty and violence.
These movements come from the hearts of the individuals. They feel they must take the first step no matter how small or how risky to fight for their survival and dignity as human beings and to fight for the survival and dignity of their children and future generations.
When their backs are against the wall, people entrust their lives to God and take a risk.
When we are called to take a risk and step outside the social boundaries what will we do? Will we pass judgment on others because they broke the social codes that we so diligently follow? Or will we entrust our lives to God and take the first step?