These last few Sundays, we have heard Jesus confronting us and many of the values we hold dear. He has challenged our unquestioning commitment to family: God is even beyond that. We heard the story of Jesus, carousing with tax collectors and sinners and turning social custom on its head, suggesting we invite the outcast to sit in privileged positions at our banquet table.
This Sunday, we’ll hear Jesus tell the bizarre story of the dishonest manager:
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. (Luke 16:9)
This story is called the “dishonest manager,” but really, the Greek translation is “manager of injustice.” A way forward is to consider that this manager, serving injustice, is managing an unjust system.
Eight years ago this week, on September 16th 2008, the climax of the failure of massive US financial institutions drew the world economy into crisis. We have yet to recover. Between 2004 and 2007, the economy in the US was growing at a rapid pace, and the housing market saw an availability of subprime loans. This meant that people could borrow far more money than they could realistically afford, to buy a home or homes.
The mortgage brokers or hedge fund managers were given incentives: bonuses to sell as many loans as possible, while loan regulations were relaxed. This meant that a mortgage broker would offer loans to people, knowing full well they could not afford them and that they would default on them when the subprime rates went up. These loans, the future value of this interest, was then sold to investments banks, who borrowed money from large banks where you and I keep our money, inflating the market to an untenable amount.
The bubble burst. Investment banks like Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, and the world economy froze, only restarted by governments pouring taxpayers’ money into the large banks to keep them afloat. The result is an ongoing recession, job losses, high unemployment, especially for young people, and a high government debt to be paid by future generations.
And nobody broke any rules. They were working within a system. An unjust system. Managers of injustice.
Some time ago I heard the now Dean of St James Cathedral Toronto, The Very Rev. Andrew Asbil, preach on this topic and the following is what I remember: there was a saying that was passed through these financial markets: IBG, YBG. “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone.” IBG, YBG. Investors and market managers were lining their pockets, knowing full well what they were doing. They would never pay the consequences. It didn’t matter, because as they traded with one another they all knew that when the inevitable crash came—BG, YBG, I’ll be gone you’ll be gone.
It is this principle that in many ways continues to drive many facets of 21st century life. Global warming, the tar sands in Alberta, the depletion of our natural resources and a lack of intentional care of the created world. I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone. Who cares?
The growing industry of pornography, a crisis for the future of humanity, tied so deeply with human trafficking, and exploitation—I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone. Not my problem.
We still belong to an economic system that is founded on colonialism. We don’t simply live with this standard of living while poverty also exists. We live this way because there is poverty. Our world economy naturally benefits the elite first world—we hold the people of other countries as virtual hostages to their ability to serve us economically. That is their only value in this ‘relationship’—cheap labour and produce. A pineapple, a mango, chocolate, and coffee are dirt cheap at any grocery store—can you imagine why? Should we do something about this disparity? Why bother? IBG, YBG.
The economy we belong to is concerned with leveraging the wealth of the ‘haves.’ It is orchestrated to benefit the mindset of IBG, YBG. It is all about me.
I think Jesus, in pointing out the shrewdness of the manager, is challenging us, today, in our own shrewdness. I wonder if Jesus is telling us we need to pay attention to how we live as a church in this world: how can we reach out to the broken, the lost, and the exploited even in our own communities when our system of exchange is structured on an entirely different vision?
A world economy that spends almost 1.8 trillion dollars on military per year, a tenth of which could end world starvation. Lets be clear: we in Canada are among the beneficiaries of this world economy, is Jesus speaking to us?
The economy of love, God’s economy, is a self-emptying exchange, that gives all of itself that asks nothing in return. An economy that is entirely offering and loving for the sake of the other, for love of the other. Period.
What would a world economy look like?
Would we make, buy or sell a single bullet? Would we consume goods and services on the backs of the exploited? Could we rest comfortably over here, knowing a sister or brother is suffering over there?
Can we, who are stewards of this life freely given to us, become managers of Justice?
Yes. I think God is calling us to another economy.
An economy that starts at the font and altar—an economy of relationship and self giving, for the life of the world.
Because when he comes to us Sunday after Sunday, he shows us the divine economy: he breaks his life open in flesh and blood and tells us IBH, YBH.
I’ll be here, You be here.