After being around sales representatives you begin to learn a thing or two. You learn how to sneak a thing or two past the managers or owners of stores and you learn how to help yourself in the long run. After graduating from college I spent close to five years in the grocery industry as a manager and some of those sales reps pulled some quick ones on me and at other times I caught them in the act and called them out on it.
It was kind of ironic to find myself on the other end when I became a sales rep for a beer distributor. It was my responsibility to call on large grocery chains and small party stores in my given territory. I learned some tricks along the way on how to meet my quotas and product placements so that I would get paid and support my family; since the majority of my pay was incentive and commission based. I got praised for my shrewdness and was one of the top sales reps. I was not necessarily proud of this because it just felt wrong as I took advantage of my accounts so that I could benefit in the long run. Does this story sound familiar? It honestly is not much different from the parable that Jesus shares of the shrewd manager. In both cases, there is injustice occurring and in the long run relationships are damaged. Our God is a God of justice and when injustice occurs we are led farther from God’s righteousness and ultimately our relationship with God.
Our parable this morning is one that I struggled with. If you were left reeling after I read it, you are not alone. For as many commentaries that I read on the lesson for this morning, I got just as many interpretations. My first thought was, Jesus said what? What is Jesus trying to teach in this parable? It appears that the manager, who acted in shrewdness in dealing with those that did business with the master, is commended for his shrewdness. He is not condemned for his improper handling of money, but is commended. The amount that those who borrowed from the master most likely included a large interest rate. It was not uncommon for interest rates at this time could range anywhere from 25-50%! Think about that for a second. This is injustice and far from the righteousness of God.
In reality, the bible instructs us not to charge interest to anyone. We should give willingly and freely as we have the means to. The master himself is acting outside of the Judaic laws. This is the way that business is done though, isn’t it? This is the way that we do business today. Nothing is free, and their is a cost associated with everything, including money. So, is there injustice happening when we buy our house or a car and get charged interest? It probably depends upon whom you ask. In our society it is common practice that we have come to expect.
Corporate greed is something that we have become accustom to in our society. Recently we have seen this greed in numerous places, including the pharmaceutical industry. Where profits appear to be all that matter and the consumer will just have to pay up. If you remember last year the big story was Martin Shkreli increasing the price of an important AIDS drug 5000%! Within the past couple of months the news has been around the increase of the cost of an EpiPen. It has increased from $200 four years ago to over $600 today. And now, the company that produces is trying to shift the increase cost off on to others. Another example of injustice and not caring for our sisters and brothers.
I truly believe that it comes down to the fact of how we live into relationship with one another. We can not be in relationship with one another when we take advantage of one another for our own personal gain or that of shareholders. St. Augustine has been credited with saying that, “God gave us people to love and things to use, original sin manifests itself when we confuse the two.” As our reading ends this morning, Jesus reminds us that, “you cannot serve God and wealth.” The best way to serve God is by being in relationship.
More than likely we have all taken advantage of a relationship from one time or another. For some we may be able to look back recently, and for others we may have to look back farther. You all should have pieces of paper in the pews in front of you. I encourage you to take a piece and write a name of a person or relationship on one of those pieces of paper as a reminder that you want to deepen this relationship and make it stronger.
Our relationship with God may be one that we can improve upon. However, remember that it was Jesus that died on the cross for us so that we could experience his abiding love and the grace that welcomes us in. We are already forgiven, he is just waiting for us. It is in this that we should work towards justice with one another and learn to love.