It's a way of getting our attention when we're deluded or distracted.
Our Lord has a gift of shocking our complacency that the scriptures hand straight on to us without spin.
Take that shocking Gospel reading. Did we hear the Son of God, who is truth, commend dishonesty?
Or that sock-it-to-them passage from Amos striking at injustice?
And, shocking in another way, that lesson from 1 Timothy 2 begging prayer for the established order as if those in authority were God's appointees beyond challenge?
The one most evidently bearing the Queen's authority shocked me last week. I was shocked by her speech on education, but it got me thinking.
Grammar schools were one of her four prongs to expedite getting more good schools. I was impressed by her concern for those consigned to poorer schools by their post code and began to wonder if even in Horsted Keynes we can do as she says and get Cumnor, Walstead and Ardingly to share their gifts with St Giles School.
Sometimes we're made to wake up, sit up and listen. Today's readings are shock treatment. You could argue they don't need a sermon - save in the case of the last reading, an explanation - so that my task this morning is to give some forward lines once we get our breath back from the hefty challenges they have given without mincing words.
Before I go further, then, some explanation of the Gospel: [The] 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 yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
What did Jesus mean?
Some suggestions from scholars, and I warn you, I’m going with the most shocking!
Theory 1: the point of the parable is not the servant's dishonesty, but his wise decision-making in the time of crisis. He’s an example of decisive thinking and action to save yourself which the coming of Jesus invites.
Theory 2: the servant, as a man of the world, is an example of diligence. What if we had the same diligence about God’s kingdom as we do towards our work or hobbies?
Theory 3: the steward was acting within his legal rights reducing the debts as he did. Luke 16 is a parable against excessive profits, the same kind of judgment uttered by Amos in the first Lesson (Amos 8:4-7). That’s also one of the most shocking passage in the Bible Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, [who] practise deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals… The Lord has sworn… I will never forget any of their deeds. Shocking stuff, which is why Christians have always been concerned about good finance in the public domain. There’s as much about wrong use of money as wrong use of sex in the Bible and the Church forgets that at her peril. So much for interpretation 3.
Theory 4 on Luke 16 is my favourite though. It runs like this. Our Lord knew his commending of this servant for such unjust behaviour is so absurd no one would believe it. How ridiculous to commend a cheater who expects to be commended for his dishonest actions! Understood this way, Jesus is here attacking the Pharisees who made a very big show of giving very little money to the poor.
I can’t imagine Jesus teaching without humour. His gift or mocking irony is so pointed it would bring people up short, touch their hearts and loosen emotion into laughter. In this case laughter directed against those claiming to be religious who are in fact self-serving cheats.
Enough on the first and last reading – make of them what you will, however the Holy Spirit impacts you – now for that second reading. It is shocking in a more subtle way. I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. It begs our prayers for the established order as if those in authority were God's appointees and beyond challenge! Isn’t the Holy Spirit who gives at times a quiet and peaceable life also at times working to challenge the powers that be?
The Holy Spirit like today’s scripture is given to both comfort and challenge us!
Today’s scripture might shock and trouble us if we’re guilty of injustice, financial dishonesty, hypocrisy, giving little to the needy or holding to an uncritical support of the established order of society, as in the predictable backlash against the idea of selection I mentioned.
Let me tell you, though, what I found most shocking in today’s scripture because it is a statement of the most important thing in the world that we let slip from being most important.
It comes half way down that second reading from 1 Timothy Chapter 2 in verses 3 to 6: God our Saviour… desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.
It is profoundly shocking that God loves us all – that God loves you and me through and through – and that knowing our need he should come among us to demonstrate it for all time in the sacrificial gift of Jesus.
God loves us all and desires all to be saved, but he knows we’re guilty of injustice, cheating, hypocrisy and narrow attitudes about the way things are. He knows our sins make us incapable of union with himself - for a holy God can have no fellowship with evil. God therefore has provided the loving remedy, giving his Son as a ransom for all.
We all need shock treatment from time to time. We need shocking out of selfish concerns and many delusions and distractions into seeing afresh the profound truth of Christianity.
The body of Christ. Amen. The blood of Christ. Amen
This morning’s scripture wakens us to human failing but it does so with a reminder of how awesome this service is. We have sin in our lives but we also have Christ in our lives, mediator between God and humankind.. himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.
There is nothing we can do – however base or despicable – that can make him love us less. There is nothing we can do – however noble or selfless – that can make him love us less.
That’s a shocking yet affirming thought and it’s the main thing of Christianity we’ve got to keep the main thing, though it means fighting off oh-so- plausible distractions! Let’s pause to see what the Holy Spirit is saying to us individually through the scripture passages and what has been said about them.