Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 23, 2001
The Gospel: Luke 16:1-13
Sermon: "Two Cents and the Store Clerk"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Then Jesus said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.' Then the manager said to himself, 'What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.' So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' He answered, 'A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' Then he asked another, 'And how much do you owe?' He replied, 'A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill and make it eighty.' And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
Two Cents and the Store Clerk
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 23, 2001
There is a story about a clerk in a store out west. This clerk was not the owner. He simply worked behind the counter and assisted the customers with their purchases. One morning the clerk was helping a customer. The customer was a farmer who came into town once a month and bought his goods. He brought his whole family. They came in by wagon. For the family a trip to town was a big deal. The farmer and his wife had their shopping list and were picking out their items with the help of the clerk. Meanwhile the children were running around the store picking up items, trying to get into the candy jars, and looking at various toys and things. In other words, the scene was a bit chaotic.
Well, the family was purchasing some dry goods, beans, flour, sugar, and other items. Unlike today where everything is weighed on calibrated digital scales, the young man had an old balance scale. The customer had a large order. The clerk was dutifully weighing each item and figuring out the cost using pencil and paper. After he totaled the purchases, even amongst all the confusion, the family loaded up the wagon and began the long trip home. The ride would take several hours. The clerk started to clean up the store.
Near the end of the day the clerk picked up the paper where he did his figuring. His eyes fell on the receipt he had made for the farmer and his family. He immediately realized he had overcharged the family. His figures were off by two cents. Now, what were his options? He could have left well enough alone and given the owner of the store the extra money. He could have changed the receipt and pocketed the two cents. He could wait until he saw the farmer again and if he remembered give him the two cents. Instead, the clerk corrected the receipt, took the two cents, and even though it was getting dark, rode out to the farmer's house and gave him back the two cents. He didn't get home until late.
How does this story compare to the story of the dishonest steward from our Gospel lesson. This steward was cheating everybody. Mostly he was cheating his master. He was having a good time on the goods he was stealing from his master. The master in this story is not the owner of a small store. He is trading in large volumes of goods particularly oil and wheat. When the steward talks to the gentleman about the oil, the man's debt to the steward's master is one hundred jugs of olive oil. A jug is nine gallons of oil. We are talking about nine hundred gallons of oil. The debt of wheat to his master is one hundred containers of wheat. A container of wheat was somewhere between 6 to 12 bushels. So we are talking about 600 to 1200 bushels of wheat. The steward is skinning from the master and he gets caught. He is being dishonest to the master and everybody knows it. He is being dishonest because he has seen the "good life" and he wants it. He wants what money and possessions can give him. So, his master actually becomes the money he craves. In order to serve his craving of wealth, he has to cheat his true master. When his master finds out about his cheating he realizes he has made a horrible mistake. The money is not the good life, but being faithful to his master is.
As a result, he calls the people who owe his master the goods and reduces their bill. How does this help his master? Hasn't he just cut his profits again? Yes, he cut into the profits. He also raised his master to a place of honor. The master will get a good name by being so generous to his debtors. Instead of the master being known as having hired a cheat. The master will be known for being gracious and benevolent. The steward has done two things by his actions. He has elevated his master in the eyes of the people. He has shown his master he is ready to mend his ways. He is ready
to be faithful to his true master.
Well, how about us? Most of us do not make these kinds of deals in our everyday life. We don't deal in large amounts of oil, wheat, or even money. However, we are stewards. We are stewards of God. We are called to be stewards of the everyday things, which occur in our lives. We may not do something grandiose. We may not write a novel. We may not become a counselor to the president. We may not solve world hunger. We may not find a cure for cancer. We may find other opportunities. We may give someone who's thirsty a drink of water. We may listen to someone who is hurting and needs
to talk. We may give someone who is crying a hug. We might share a meal with someone. We might take care of our neighbor's pet. Like the young man who returned the two pennies to the farmer we have an opportunity to be faithful to our God and to each other in how we respond. When we respond in the little things in this world we find it easier to be faithful in the larger issues. One day we have the opportunity to stand before Jesus our Lord and Savior and hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant, come into your master's blessing."