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 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 yourself 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."
This is a tough parable to read and is even tougher for those of us tasked with interpretation. There's a whole thread in one of my clergy groups this week with people talking about wanting to skip this week on the lectionary and avoid teaching this parable altogether. I get that. I also know that this is why the lectionary is good for us preachers - it forces us to confront texts that we might pretend didn't exist if we got to pick and choose what we taught every week. We need to challenge ourselves just as much as we challenge our listeners and following the lectionary is one of the best ways to do so.
So what to say about this story? Well, I think it actually ties in quite well to a current issue that is heating up in the United States as we narrow down candidates for the 2020 presidential election. The topic? Loan forgiveness. That is essentially what the manager in this story is doing - he is going to the people who owe his master money and reducing their loans by fifty and twenty percent. What a burden to have lifted! Yet the story is difficult because the manager does this in a dishonest way and yet we find him praised by the manager, and even by Jesus in the telling of this story.
One author noted that we often cry "foul!" when reading this story, it goes against our innate sense of fairness. Yet, "Jesus reminds us that what is Fair, according to God, is siding with those who owe and groan under the weight of their debt, not with those whose ledgers are pristine, and who have never shown mercy to a debtor." The idea of forgiving student loans for people in the US is, in a way, fundamentally unfair. It's unfair to those who have paid their student loans faithfully and with much sacrifice (mine will be done in December of 2020!) and it is unfair to those who chose dangerous routes to get through school debt-free (such as joining the military.) It is unfair to forgive loans for those who might have taken them out irresponsibly, partied through school when they could have been working, and generally behaved like the prodigal son before he returns home.
And yet. Forgiveness is grace. Forgiveness is of God. Loan forgiveness could relieve a burden that is drowning so many people my age - causing them to delay homeownership, getting married, and even having children. Loan forgiveness could acknowledge that while there is something fundamentally unfair about forgiving those debts, there was often something fundamentally unfair about how they were given - predatory interest rates, lack of education about what one was really taking on, and false promises of a college degree being the only way to succeed in our society.
Sometimes, as Christians, we are called to support what is unfair. After all, it's not really fair that Jesus died to forgive our sins, and yet, that is the good news we proclaim to the world. Let us rejoice in the unfairness of God, and share it with others when we can.
Oh God, who is totally unfair, for this we give thanks. Help us to pray, and mean it, as Jesus taught us to pray - that we might have our debts forgiven just as we forgive our debtors. Help us to spread the wonderful, beautiful, forgiving unfairness of the gospel. Amen.