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“The Lord is a God of justice" “The Lord is a God of justice"


"Our Lord is a God of Justice"
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“The Lord is a God of justice"

Posted on Wed, Sep 21, 2016

Amos 8:4-7 & Luke 16:1-13

September 18, 2016

 

18th Sunday after Pentecost

 

Old Testament Text: Amos 8:4-7The Lord is a God of justice"

4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy,

 and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

5 saying, ‘When will the new moon be over

 so that we may sell grain;

and the Sabbath,

 so that we may offer wheat for sale?

We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,

 and practice deceit with false balances,

6 buying the poor for silver

 and the needy for a pair of sandals,

 and selling the sweepings of the wheat.’

7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:

Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

 

Gospel Text: Luke 16:1-13

1 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.  2 So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you?  Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.”  3 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.  4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.”  5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?”  6 He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.”  He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.”  7 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.”  8 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.  9 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.

10 ‘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.  11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?  12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?  13 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.’

 

 

Is Jesus really telling us to make friends by ‘dishonest’ wealth so that when you find yourself in trouble they may welcome you into their homes?  I know that is what most people zero in on when they hear this text.  Thank goodness we have an eighth century prophets to help us out in our first reading.

 

In order for us to understand what Jesus was getting at, and he wasn't proposing that we use dishonest means to “attain things eternal.”  We have to step back into the time of Amos and find out what he was so upset about… because what Amos was prophesying about still happened in Jesus’ day, and continues to today.

 

First of all, we need to understand our God is a God of justice.  Our God is as much a God of justice as a God of Love, and three important prophets remind us of this truth.

 

Amos 5:24: Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. 

 

Isaiah 1:16d-17: Cease to do evil, Learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

 

Micah 6:8: He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

 

Isaiah 30:18: “The Lord is a God of justice"

 

Since God chose Israel, the Lord demands that the people of God reflect God's character--that is, Israel must be a people of justice.  Now, the church, as the Body of Christ, must reflect that same character.

 

Justice is a social concept--it has to do with the external ordering of society in which the most life can thrive.  A more just social order is one in which more life can thrive, whereas a less just social order is one in which less life can thrive.

 

Justice requires a special concern for the powerless--those who lack the capacity to protect their own welfare.  In the Old Testament social concept, these "powerless" are often described as the widow, the orphan, the sojourner (resident alien), the needy, and the poor.

 

Justice and injustice are systemic.  When a person participates in systems that create a more just social order, one is "doing justice."  Conversely, when one participates in systems that create a less just social order, one is "doing injustice."  Which means, of course, basically everyone is already both doing justice and doing injustice.  This is so because everyone participates in many systems.  I.e., I can proclaim justice, but I still wear clothing that is made in sweatshops in Bangladesh by workers who earn $.18/hour…

 

With this in mind, what was Amos talking about?

 

Amos 8:4-7

4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy,

 and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

5 saying, ‘When will the new moon be over

 so that we may sell grain;

and the Sabbath,

 so that we may offer wheat for sale?

We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,

 and practice deceit with false balances,

6 buying the poor for silver

 and the needy for a pair of sandals,

 and selling the sweepings of the wheat.’

7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:

Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

 

In Amos’s day, merchants and people who had money to loan would offer loans to peasants who had to use their land as collateral.  As the interest was often too high for the peasant to pay back, 25% to 50%, the lenders were able to essentially steal the land of the poor through these lending practices.  In the Middle East, LAND IS EVERYTHING!

 

Also, as a Shekel was worth a different amount in differing regions and cities; therefore the merchants would have to carry different measuring scales in different areas.  Oftentimes, the merchants would take advantage of illiterate farmers and such and use the scale that gave the merchant more profit.

 

Also, the Sabbath was not just a time for worship for humans, but it was a time for all working people AND THEIR ANIMALS to rest.  It became a justice issue especially for the poor and their animals who also were required to work, they both shall have one day for rest IN ORDER FOR THEM TO BE ABLE TO WORK. The merchants, looked at the Sabbath as cutting into their time to make more money, and pressured the religious leaders to lighten up on the Sabbath laws.  Remember the “Blue Laws?”  Have you noticed that they are mostly gone?  And for what reason do you think?

 

The deadly game of merchants preying on the poor was well known in those days, and it was the prophets who would stand up for those people by proclaiming the Law that protected the poor and keep God’s justice for the poor known to all people.  The poor could be bought for a pair of slippahs.  The grain that fell to the floor, or wasn't picked up at harvest time was meant for the poor, but the bottom line was the bottom line, and even the sweepings of wheat from the floor was being taken from the poor to be sold for the rich.

 

Amos, Isaiah, and Micah, are all talking about God’s Justice.  

 

These practices didn't go away even to Jesus’ day.  In the Gospel Text, we don’t know anything about the rich man or the manager, we just know they were both probably doing everything they could to increase the profits in their respective pockets.

 

We sometimes forget that charging interest on loans was forbidden in the Bible because it exploited the vulnerable poor.  But, there were land-sharks, and PayDay Loans kind of businesses that exploited the poor for profit.

 

Remember this is a parable with a message in it for us.  Let’s look at this manager.  We don’t know what he did, but he was soon going to loose his job.  Notice the amounts the debtors owed the Rich Man.

These are fantastic amounts.  Amounts that were set intentionally that could never be paid off, and the debtors were certainly looking at a life of servitude/slavery to the rich man because there was no way they could pay their debt.  Think about the business of model of PayDay Loans, or any credit card company whose goal is to keep the cardholder in debt as long as possible to make as much money as possible on the interest owed.

 

But what was the actual amount they owed the rich man?  Sounds like credit card debt today!  We learn the prophet margin when the manager doesn't reduce the debt to nothing, but only to the real amount the debtors owed the rich man.  The rich man wasn't going to loose any money because of the cleverness of the manager, he was only going to receive the proper amount owed according to the scripture.

Still high, but achievable, therefore thwarting the rich mans attempt at totally ruining the poor, financially.

 

But look at the amazing repentance of the rich man.  Even he quickly realized he was in the wrong and congratulated the manager.  Jesus makes it clear that even the Rich Man understood he was in the wrong and the rich man compliments the manager.

 

Did the manager do anything “wrong?”  The law would have judged the Rich Man wrong for unjustly charging huge amounts of interests to make a profit off of the poor.  The manager, was just “setting things right” in the sense of the real worth of the debt.  The people felt powerless against the rich man and were resigned to their fate… kind of like us paying thousands of dollars for a tiny car, or huge amounts of money for a tiny house, apartment etc.  Everyone knew the scam the rich man was pulling on them, but what could they do?  The rich man had the money, therefore he had the power.  The faith issue, or religious issue, is that he had the choice to use it for the benefit of the village, or himself… he chose himself.

 

Therefore, in the time of an emergency, who would have been welcomed into the wheat farmer or oil producers’ household?  Why?  Because there would have been trust between the manager (because of his actions) and the debtors, the manager would have been welceom.  The manager was no angel, but he made things right, just, pono between the lender and the people.  It was all about actions that upheld the relationships and dignity of the neighbor, and just actions chosen to do within a persons’ village. 

 

As Luther warned about Mammon 500 years ago, “‘Many a person thinks he has God and everything he needs when he has money and property, in them he trusts and of them he boasts so stubbornly and securely that he cares for no one.  Surely such a man also has a god -- mammon by name, that is, money and possessions -- on which he fixes his whole heart.  It is the most common idol on earth."

 

The warnings of the prophets, Jesus and even Martin Luther are essential for us to hear this day.  Again, the manager was no angel, but in the end, he did what was necessary to preserve his relationships and welcome with his neighbors, he did what was just.

 

Love your God with all your heart, mind and soul… but be sure this god is the one who has loved you first with His entire life.  Amen

 

(Can you imagine if Amos was alive today to speak up against the practices of may companies that thrive off the poor and unjust loans to students, the poor, and those in financial trouble?  How long would he last?  About as long as Jesus did, and then he too would have probably been nailed to a cross…) 

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