First United Methodist Church
September 18 , 2022
Rev. Lauren Hall
Staking Your Claim in the Kingdom of God
The Kobayashi Maru is a fictional exercise designed by the writers of Star Trek to test the character of Star Fleet cadets when they face a no-win scenario. The primary goal of the exercise is to rescue a civilian freighter that has entered the Klingon Neutral Zone, and anyone familiar with the original Star Trek series knows that the Neutral Zone is off limits to Starfleet Ships. The cadet must decide whether to attempt to rescue the Kobayashi Maru crew – endangering his or her own ship and crew – or leave the Kobayashi Maru to certain destruction by the Klingons. If the cadet chooses to attempt the rescue, the simulation is designed to guarantee that the ship is destroyed with the loss of all crew members.
The only person to have ever beaten the test is the legendary Captain Kirk, and the second Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan, begins with Admiral Kirk administering the test to Saavik, a Star Fleet cadet. She destroys her ship and her crew as she attempts the rescue and then discovers that the test is not about “winning,” but instead designed to test her character. Although she accepts this evaluation of her performance, she is puzzled by the knowledge that Captain Kirk beat it, and later in the movie she asks him how he did it when the two of them face an actual, seemingly no-win situation. Kirk tells her that he reprogrammed the test, making it possible to rescue the ship.
“So you cheated,” she replies. “I don’t believe in the no-win situation,” Kirk responds. As the movie proceeds, we witness Kirk executing the “third option,” getting himself and the others out of trouble over and over again when it seems that all hope has been lost.
Let us pray…
Today’s scripture is one of the more interesting ones we encounter as we journey through the gospels. As we read through it, did you notice the problem with it?
It’s not good advice. Usually Jesus gives us something to work with, but if you are looking for any kind of moral lesson or advice to give your kids, be careful, because you have to look really hard – at least it seems that way.
First, let’s consider what the text actually says. There was a rich man who had a dishonest employee. The employee was using the rich man’s money to cover personal expenses which were not work related. The rich man confronts the employee and tells him to turn over all his paperwork, because he is going to be fired. The employee panics, because he realizes that his reputation is going to prevent him from getting a similar job and he isn’t willing to do a job that requires manual labor. Then he has an idea. “Everybody in town owes my boss money. I’ll get them on my side by reducing their debt, and then when I have no place to eat or sleep, they will take care of me.”
Of course, the rich man figures out that that the manager did this, and instead of firing him, he congratulates him and lets him keep his job. And then Jesus says, “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.”
So what exactly is Jesus’ lesson for us? If you are stealing from your boss and you get caught, steal some more, but this time give it away and everything will turn out ok. I think that might have been the interpretation that inspired the stories about Robin Hood, but I don’t think that this is the message that we are supposed to get out of it.
We are now faced with our own Kobayashi Maru – we can either rip this page out of the Bible and complain that we live under a different system today, or we can pretend that during the 1st Century stealing from the rich and giving to the poor was a commonly accepted practice (it wasn’t). Since neither of these two options leaves us feeling very good about the parable, we have to do the Captain Kirk thing and create a new possibility, because this particular text is a parable and whenever Jesus tells a parable, the words that come out of his mouth usually have very little to do with what he is actually talking about.
First, remember that parables are about the Kingdom of God. This parable isn’t about us. It is about Jesus and if you read it from that perspective, some of the confusing parts begin to make a whole lot of sense.
Jesus begins this parable by saying, “There was a rich man who…” Jesus doesn’t think very highly of the rich, in fact, Luke uses the word for rich 11 times in his gospel and never uses it in a positive light. The rich deserve woe (6:24); they want to build bigger barns to hoard (12:16); they ignore the needs of the poor (16:19ff); and they find it hard to let go of their wealth (18:23). And so, when Jesus begins by saying, “There was a rich man,” we assume that the rich man is the villain. But as we read on, we discover that the manager is just as bad. There are only two characters in this story and if the parable is meant to be about Jesus, then one of them has to be the good guy.
What we have to realize is that when the people complained about the way that the manager was handling the rich man’s money, they were really complaining about their own burden of debt. When the manager relieves the debt of the debtors, he becomes the “good guy.” Does he follow the law? Not exactly. But by taking care of the poor, he makes friends, and that seems to be the most important to Jesus.
And so what we see happening in this parable is a story about what Jesus himself does with his life. In a religious system that fails to recognize the depth of human need, Jesus arrives on the scene to heal and to relieve people of their burdens. He was not respected. He broke the Sabbath. He consorted with sinners and crooks. And he died as a criminal. As we read in the parable, he didn’t do all this to disrespect the law – he did it to relate to a world that was persecuted, oppressed, ignored and condemned. What did Jesus do? He became sin for us sinners, weak for us weaklings, lost for us losers and dead for us dead. Just as the steward was to be fired, Jesus was sent to the cross to be dismissed and forgotten, but God had other plans.
Both the Priests and Pilate knew that crucifying Jesus would upset his followers and possibly cause a revolution. But they also knew that keeping him alive would cause further problems with their leadership. Like the Kobayashi Maru exercise, both outcomes had serious disadvantages, resulting in a no-win situation. God creates a new possibility in the resurrection, freeing us from our burdens and releasing us from our debt.
Jesus ends the parable by challenging us. He says, “Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth.” This isn’t a call to be dishonest or to steal from the wealthy. Jesus is pointing out that the manager finally makes the right choice when he attempts to improve his relationships with the people he is supposed to be serving. He always had this choice to make, but he never considered it, in fact, he didn’t even see it until he was faced with the possibility of being poor himself.
At any time, he could have used his wealth – either his master’s or his own – for the good of his master, himself, and for God and God’s people (which includes the debtors). Instead, the manager chose to look out only for himself, and as a result, he lost sight of everybody else and his wealth became his master.
If we want to take this challenge seriously, then we too must accept Jesus’ call to serve God rather than our wealth. Most of us have money, and many of us have lots of “stuff.” And I think Jesus is asking us in this parable, “Are you using your wealth to serve God and God’s people or are you using your wealth to serve yourself?” Certainly, some of what we earn must be used to maintain our own lives so that we have the ability to serve God, but have we set a portion of it aside so that we can be generous when it comes to serving God’s purpose and mission?
I think it is important that we see this passage as one that encourages us to be good stewards with all or our resources. If we understand the principal that everything belongs to God and the things that we own are gifts from God, then we realize that we essentially manage God’s resources. Are we going to be like the dishonest steward in this parable and eek out our redemption at the last minute? Or are we going to make the choice now to be generous with our wealth for the benefit of others?
This passage gives us a lot to think about. It’s definitely about the way we manage our resources, but I think more importantly it reminds us that we are placed on this earth to love and care for each other; not to separate ourselves from each other with wealth, status or privilege. St. Augustine once said that God gave us people to love and things to use, but original sin manifests itself in such a way that we confuse the two, loving things and using people.
Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with our heart, soul and mind, and to love our neighbors as we would love ourselves. So let’s take Jesus’ words seriously this week and accept that God does give us people to love, that we are given all of our resources to care for others, and that none of us know how much time we have to do that. Write down the name of one person, one relationship that you would like to improve or deepen. It may take an investment of time, energy and possibly even money. Write that name down, put it somewhere safe, and look at it again in a month to see how you’ve done.
1 John 3:16, says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
Let us pray…
Lord, you have ransomed us with love and grace. Forgive us when we squander your gifts and misuse our talents. Forgive us when we protect our self-interests and neglect the needs of the world. Forgive us when we act cleverly for our personal gain and refuse to use our energies to help others. Return us to you, Holy One, and heal our hearts with your wisdom and love. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.
Invitation to Discipleship:
Go in peace. Go in love. Go in faithfulness to serve God in all that you say and in all that you do. Amen.