September 22, Ordinary 25C (Luke 16:1–13; Amos 8:4–7)
Jesus is talking to two different audiences.
There’s a Chris Rock interview in which he compares the careers of standup comedians to musicians. There are profound similarities; after all, they are both performers. In both fields, the role of practice—including public practice, in front of people—is paramount to growth. The major difference? Most comedians don’t make it before age 35 or so, which is when most musicians (especially rappers) are considered old.
The similarities between ministry and comedy are also striking. You can be considered too young for ministry. You only become a better preacher by, well, preaching. Both standup comedians and public theologians have to make persuasive arguments with confidence (i.e., sell their material). The last thing Chris Rock said in the interview made me think about Jesus. I’ll paraphrase: the best comics can work multiple audiences in the same room. Sometimes you tell a joke and half the crowd won’t get it, but you didn’t do it for them.
This may be the best way to approach the parable/sermon in the first part of Luke 16. It is, on the surface, a wildly ambiguous text for a lot of reasons. There’s the parable itself, in which an already dishonest manager performs new acts of questionable moral substance—and then the boss he just cheated responds by praising him. This is the moment when you expect Jesus to say, “Don’t do that.” (Because all parables are either “do this” or “don’t do this,” right?) But Jesus’ commentary is instead basically, Look how much smarter this guy is than you all.