This morning’s Gospel reading from the Book of Common Prayer is Luke 16.1-9, the parable of the dishonest manager. Ugh. How do I make sense of Jesus’ words in verse 9? ‘And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.’ Initially that sounds more like Frank Underwood’s political ambition in House of Cards than virtue in the Kingdom of God. I’m glad this is a daily reading and not the Sunday reading.
So here’s a frank disclosure: I don’t like this story. I wish I didn’t have to deal with this confusing passage. And if you keep reading to the end of this post, there is no final flourish where I arrive at some inspiring interpretation after discovering profound truth within this story. I don’t have a marvelous recovery out of the fog of confusion. I’ve read this passage a number of times. I’ve heard a good sermon by someone else on this story. I’ve preached a lesser sermon myself on this parable. I’m still perplexed. When I click ‘post’ on blogger, the fog still lingers.
This is the moment in morning prayer when I’m tempted to find an inspiring meditation in Celtic Daily Prayer or The Imitation of Christ to take the edge off. I’d rather find instant inspiration from a secondary source than wrestle with God in his holy book. Living under the authority of Scripture is a cherished concept, but it’s an inconvenient practice. My flesh resists the authority of Scripture. I can call it virtue and ‘soul care’ when I seek inspiration in other devotionals, and some days it is. Other times it’s laziness, an unwillingness to live with the discomfort of my own confusion with the Scriptures.
To live and believe in the authority of Scriptures means that I place more faith in Jesus’ words and teaching than my own understanding. In fact, Scripture helps me interpret stories like the parable of the dishonest manager. ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.’ (Proverbs 3.5-6). That verse isn’t limited to major life decisions. It speaks to the way we read the Bible. I cannot lean on my own understanding with this parable. I acknowledge Jesus’ authority within this teaching, trusting he will direct my paths according to his timing.
It’s been several years since I first wrestled with this passage, so I’m coming to believe that there are many days and many Bible passages in which we read ‘by faith and not by sight.’ I believe the truth of the Kingdom is contained in perplexing stories like the parable of the dishonest manager. But I can’t see the truth right away, or sometimes even after several years and much study. Yet I trust Jesus’ teaching more than I trust myself. I’m a man under authority and perhaps that’s the most important posture when I open the Bible to begin reading. I am called to trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance of what should be included in the Bible more than my own preferences for what I enjoy reading in the Scriptures.
The Word of God resists mastery and that is a good thing. The Word of God is not given to us so that it may be conquered. Forever I am a servant of the Word, not its master. The Word of God is given to me so that I might receive the mind of Christ and live under the law of love.
Rainer Maria Rilke infamously wrote these words in Letters to a Young Poet:
…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
One could easily retitle those words as ‘Letter to a Discouraged Disciple.’ Sometimes the Bible reads like a foreign language. That may be because the Kingdom of God is still foreign to my thinking. But I believe by faith that the Kingdom of God is the answer, even when I can’t see clearly.
There is freedom to live with these questions. God’s Word will not return void: he will direct our paths when I trust him beyond my own understanding. I still don’t see and understand this parable. But I’m learning the central importance of trust even when I can’t get my mind around difficult stories.
Somehow I think I’m better off wrestling with God for the past half hour than I would have been if Oswald Chambers would have given me a shot of 5-minute spiritual energy. There’s no substitute for going straight to the Source. Even when the Source is beyond my comprehension.