Sunday, 22 September 2013


Luke 16 1-9  The dishonest manager

In some ways Luke might be termed the middle class gospel. It is punctuated by dinner parties and journeys. Many of the characters in the parables seem to be middle managers, those who are squeezed by rapacious bosses and discontented clients be they peasants or merchants.  Luke the doctor dealt with the middle class and had an ear for the stories that dealt with his own social group. Jesus had business experience: he ran a jobbing builder’s business. He would have been familiar with many of the money problems he dealt with in parables such as this.

In 1st century Jewish life lending money at interest was illegal. There were, however, ways around this. You worked out a figure for interest and added it to the sum that had been borrowed. So if a sum of £100 were borrowed over a period of 4 years it (given typical interest rates of approximately 25% per annum) the total debt would be called £200. Some interest rates were reckoned to be as high as 50%, depending on the commodity in which debts were to be paid. Oil was generally paid back at the higher rate.[1]

In this story the landowner is a plutocrat who lived richly on the earnings of his estates or businesses abroad. Imagine: your boss spends most of his time living it up in his villa in Spain - leaving the agent in Britain to finance his comfortable lifestyle - he floats out all day in the pool because he has a reliable man back in blighty handling the sharp end. However, back in Britain, the manager is having colossal problems getting in the debts. The debtors accuse him of fiddling the books and squandering the master’s assets.. And he is called into the boss’s office and the boss says he wants to see the books. The manager knows that when he sees the books the boss will see how unsuccessful he has been in getting the payments on the loans. He also knows that he cannot survive in the world without the support of either the clients or the boss. In such a scenario he decides that he can only side with the debtors. He calls them in one by one to lower their bargaining power, reduces their debts and hopes he can then escape into their company and avoid the wrath of the boss. In effect he halves the rate on oil from the extortionate 50% to the more normal, but still excessive 25%, and reduces the interest on corn from 25% to 20%. By rewriting the contracts the manager seizes the initiative and makes both the boss and the peasants dependent on him.

The boss responds realistically. He says AI knew when I employed you were a sharp guy@ and keeps him in post. He has no choice: to reinstate such crippling interest rates would risk insurrection among the clients: they would support the manager against him. If he sacked the manager he would then be exposing a new manager to the power of a client community who had succeeded in getting one manager sacked and would be keen to try out their apparent power on a new and inexperienced manager. He recognises that his income is still adequate and is grateful to the manager for the adroit way in which he handled a potentially difficult situation.

At the end of this story there has been a total transformation. The rule of the ancient economy was that masters distrust managers, peasants hate managers and managers cheat both masters and peasants.  But now, peasants praise their master, the master commends the manager and the manager not only keeps his job but relieves his community of a little of the crippling burden of debt that is crippling it.[2] In the late nineteenth century the American evangelist Dwight L. Moody was on a preaching tour in England creating a stir. A group of Church of England clergy came to call on Moody saying, "What we don't care for Mr. Moody is your way of doing things." Moody thought the complaint over for a moment and said, "I don't care much for it either, but I prefer it to your way of not doing things."

Luke typically sets this story in the context of Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem. Soon all the accounts were going to be gathered in. The disciples could not go on playing political games, having a foot in each camp. The time was coming for decision making. At that time it would be important to know who is your best friend. It was not going to be Pilate, nor Caiaphas but the one on the cross however unobvious that might have seemed.

When we have a choice do we side with the powerful or the powerless? Our place is with those who have the enormous debts. Perhaps once the middle manager had hoped that the would end up with the villa in Spain - he ends up going out for a pint with those he would never have dreamt of mixing with. Do we side with the big multinational corporations - Nike, MacDonalds or the small traders desperately wanting fair trade?

[1] Herzog Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed
[2] Herzog

Thursday, 18 April 2013

A Christian view of the Korea crisis from Korea

I have received a letter from Dr Kim Youn-ju General Secetary of Churches together in Korea: it reads:
 I am very worried about the deteriorating situation on the Korean peninsula. Since the Korean war, the confrontation and tension of South and North Korea has been of serious significance. No one cannot predict how the situation will progress, and my prayerful hope is that the instability of the Korean peninsula should be resolved so that the close relationship between South and North Korea may be recovered. This sombre situation of the two Koreas needs to be understood by Christians and all people in the world, for the body of Christ is one and each one of us is a part of it. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it”. (1 Corinthians 12:26, NIV). The National Council of Churches held an emergency prayer for peace and discussion related to the urgent crisis on the Korean peninsula on April 5 and also released ‘The urgent statement for peace of the Korean peninsula’. Please kindly find attached the Friday statement of the NCCK. In terms of the threatened confrontations, it is of vital importance to direct our prayers to God, since He is the only One with absolute authority over all situations. It is a great and comforting thought that the leader’s heart is in God's hand, as asserted by the writer of Proverbs: “In the Lord’s hand is the king’s heart.” (Proverbs 21:1.) Therefore, the NCCK is asking you to show solidarity joining as a whole Christian family in prayer for Korea’s peaceful reconciliation and reunification. Your cooperation and solidarity are needed to stabilize the fractured Korean peninsula. 

Sincerely Rev. Dr. Kim Young-Ju General Secretary, The National Council of Churches in Korea 

The petition: 

Urgent Petition for peace on the Korean Peninsula

Praying for the peace of God and in the name of the Lord:

The South-Korean/U.S. American military exercises are aggravating the situation and thus the conflict is rapidly approaching the next stage of danger of a confrontation between South and North Korean military forces. North Korea’s third nuclear test, the UN’s violent propagandistic sanctions towards North Korea and the American high-tech weapons being used in the large scale Korean-American joint military exercises, etc. escalate the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. In these circumstances, the irresponsible, alarming and offensive statements of both South and North Korean authorities’ are driving the citizens of both countries into fear. The National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK), which for a long time has desired the nation’s reconciliation, and longs for peace and reunification, opposes the movement toward this catastrophic situation and cannot suppress a severe anxiety. In the following petition we express the earnest prayers of Korean Christians for peace on the Korean Peninsula and humbly ask for your participation.

1. We pray for the normalization of the situation at Gaesung Industrial ComplexEven though there may be the possibility of a hostile confrontation between South and North, the agreement from the North-South Summit about the work of Gaesung Industrial Complex has to be maintained. The South-North Korea Summit established Gaesung Industrial Complex to make peace and efforts to damage this work should be stopped.

2. We pray for the termination of the Korea-U.S. military exercises It should be noted that the large scale Korean-American military exercises on the Korean peninsula are to simulate ‘emergency incidents’ and as a result are a showcase to advertise US military weapons. In contrast to being labeled a ‘regular annual military exercise’, the present exercise has succeeded in presenting to the public state-of-the-art bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons, like the B-2 and B-52. Thus it not merely the North Korean military threats, but also the excessive proclamation of war to our citizens, is further promoting the crisis.

3. We pray that both South and North Korea proceed with dialogue immediately We must remember that through the dialogue that took place in the meetings between Kim Il sung and Moon Ik Hwan or Jimmy Carter, in the past we had the experience of changing the complicated situation between South and North and the state of being at the brink of war. Now it is strongly required that dialogue for peace on the Korean Peninsula take place by sending an emissary to intervene or another way.

4. We pray for the resolution of the roots of military confrontation. The actual crisis results from the fact that during the five years of the last government the inter-Korean relations were ruptured, and the military confrontation has to be blamed on the former government. Peace on the Korean peninsula and the solution to the North Korean-American hostile relations will be secured when, instead of the competitive purchase of weapons and military threats, the agreements to provide the light-water reactor etc. are honoured. The NCCK believes this will completely resolve the North Korean nuclear issues.

5. We request a new will and the prayer of all Christians for the situation  Korean Christians have been influential in facilitating the re-opening of the interrupted inter-Korean relations and contributing to make peace. We now once again join in our faith and prayer to approach the Lord’s peace on the Korean peninsula, and we sincerely ask for your participation. It is now time to overcome a false peace under the shadow of military forces and achieve a true peace overflowing with the Lord’s justice. Let us walk together with hope. Let us all stand together and pray to jubilate the 1995 proclamation of genuine peace on the Korean peninsula, restoring the history of the Korean Christians and a Korean brotherhood overflowing with eternal joy.

April 5, 2013