“Getting the Pink Slip”

Luke 16:1-13

Getting to the Heart of Luke 

Rev. Tasha Blackburn

August 18, 2019

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Of all of the stories Jesus told, this has got to be the strangest. It is a simple story but, even in its simplicity, it is hard to make sense of it. Jesus tells his disciples: There was once a manager who was misspending the owner’s money. The owner tells him he knows about the guy’s crime so the manager immediately goes out and makes deals with some of the owner’s clients so they will feel beholden to the manager later when he is out of a job. Pretty simple; pretty straightforward. Then the owner finds out what the manager has done; that he has continued to squander the money. And the owner commends him for it. The owner is pleased that the manager has been clever. A simple story, yes, but incredibly difficult to understand.

Many have tried to clean it up. They say: Maybe the manager was not charging those clients unfair interest and that’s how he gave them such a deal. Or they say: Maybe the difference in price was the manager’s own commission and he gave that up to give the clients a good deal so they would look kindly on him down the road. And perhaps that is what he did, this manager. Perhaps he showed fairness, or sacrifice. But that is not what we read. We read that the manager is dishonest. The whole way through and in every part of the story—he is a dishonest man. And his boss commends him for it.

If we ever assumed that Jesus’ parables were sweet stories that he told to share a simple and easily accepted message, this parable in Luke 16 will forever change our minds. These stories Jesus tells are meant to jar us. They were told so that we would be troubled and rethink our faith in the process. So what in the world are we to rethink from this parable? Should we learn from it that we ought to go out and only think of ourselves, that ill-gotten wealth is just fine as long as it helps us? What exactly are we to imitate about this dishonest manager? What is the message?

In all this confusion, the message is fairly brief. In fact, it fits on one side of any pink slip. That’s what this story is all about. It is about getting the pink slip—the notice that you no longer work here. Now I have never personally received a pink slip (although there is still time!), but I once came very close. It was in my 20s and I got a job working for a day care. It was a cushy set up because I didn’t even have to apply for the position. One of my foster sisters owned the day care and my parents called her and she gave me the job. Cushy, right? I had it made. My sister ran the place and everyone knew it.

One day I was leading children through the hall, 3-year olds, and none of them were listening, not a single one. I raised my voice the tiniest bit, telling them they needed to modify their behavior. Actually, I just lost my cool and yelled at them. Quick as a flash my foster sister appeared out of nowhere, grabbed my arm and pulled me into her office. I’d never seen her so upset. She got right in my face and said, “You will never speak like that in my day care again!” Then she went to her door, reopened it, and said, “If you ever do, I promise it will be your last day here.”

In that second, everything changed. I’d thought my job was a given, that I would have that position until I didn’t want it anymore; that I was in charge. But my near pink slip let me know in no uncertain terms that the job was never mine. It was hers; hers to give and hers to take away. Some of us in this room have experienced that shock about a job we thought we would always have, the realization that our employment was not the given we’d thought it was.

And even if we haven’t experienced the pink slip at work, we have experienced getting the pink slip of life. When we had that near-miss of a car accident, or we hit a certain birthday; when we got the diagnosis or when someone we loved had their life cut short. In that second, everything changes and the life we thought was a given, the life we thought we would have until we didn’t want it anymore, we realize it was never really ours.

This is a shock, when we get handed the pink slip of life. It is difficult to take in that our life as we know it is going to change. Of course it is a shock. Upon its receipt, we have a few choices. We can take seriously the fleeting nature of our lives and choose to cast off worldy possessions, cast off worldly pleasures. We can decide we won’t seek new relationships for what is the point? And we can choose not to invest in current relationships for the same reason; for why be engaged in life at all? Certainly many religious people choose this path. Hermits and ascetics choose this way and it is certainly an option. But the manager is commended and he is not commended for shunning the world.

With a pink slip on the way, we could also double down on the world—triple down, ignoring the pink slip’s reality altogether. With this choice, we gather more and more around us. That’s what the one called the fool in Luke 12 does. He just keeps adding and adding until he must build more and more barns to hold all of his things. And for this choice, he is called the fool for his own pink slip is on its way and what has his lavishness really given him? But it is a choice. We could always be the fool.

But the manager in our parable chooses neither of these—when he realizes his world is about to change he does not forsake the world and he does not ignore the pink slip. What he does do is this: he takes the pink slip seriously. He does not ignore or try to forget that his reality is quickly passing. He acts with urgency and with the new realization that how he acts today affects tomorrow. He cannot change what is about to happen but he can redeem what he can from where he finds himself.

From such a dishonest figure, we come to one of the more honest and straightforward ways we can face our lives, and our pink slips. None of us can change what will happen to us—that our lives will end. But we can work with urgency to redeem what we can from where we find ourselves. We can live each day knowing that how we live it affects our future. This most strange of all parables comes down to the act of stewardship—how we handle what is not ours to keep.

This parable says it is about a dishonest manager. It is even the title given in the chapter heading: “The Parable of the Dishonest Manager.” But actually the word here has been mistranslated. It does not mean manager. It means steward. How appropriate. For the man had come to believe he was the manager. He thought he was in charge and could run everything. But then he got a pink slip and realized he never was in charge. He wasn’t the manager. He was simply a steward—someone who was allowed to hold onto another’s precious resource for a little while, allowed to carry forward something he never owned.

The job isn’t a given and it isn’t ours to keep forever. We cannot change that but we can redeem what we can while we can. You don’t need to be a hermit and you certainly don’t want to be a fool. And you aren’t the manager so don’t mistranslate your life that way. Instead, be what you are. Not the owner to whom all things belong: that job is taken. Nor even the manager who believes he is in charge: that job was never yours. Be the steward who holds all you have as a gift that is yours to carry for only a little while. Whether you’ve ever gotten the pink slip or not, be what you are. Be a steward. Amen.