Shrewdness is a Virtue

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Not a head of your hair will perish November 14, 2010 Proper 28-RCL Year C Luke 21:5-19
All Saints Day November 7, 2010 All Saints Day, Year C Luke 6:20-31
Comfort and Curiousity October 31, 2010 Proper 26, Year C Luke 19:1-10
Passion October 24, 2010 Proper 25, Year C Psalm 84; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
Knocking at a Locked Door October 17, 2010 Proper 24, Year C Luke 18:1-8
Gratitude October 10, 2010 Proper 23, Year C Luke 17:11-19
Increase our faith, so that we can serve God and one another October 3, 2010 Proper 22, Year C Luke 12:35-48, Luke 17:1-10, Luke 22:24-28
God is not only compassionate and merciful, but also our judge September 26, 2010 Proper 21, Year C Luke 16:19-31
Shrewdness is a Virtue September 19, 2010 Proper 20—Year C Luke 16:1-13
God Longs for Wholeness September 12, 2010 Proper 19—Year C Luke 15:1-10
Choose Life September 5, 2010 Proper 18, Year C, RCL Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Luke 14-25-33
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever August 29, 2010 Proper 17, Year C, RCL Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, (Psalm 118)
Sabbath and Healing August 22, 2010 Proper 16, Year C, RCL Isaiah 58:9b-14, Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-20; Luke 13:10-17
Jesus Brings Fire August 15, 2010 Proper 15 Luke 12:49-56
Baptism – God Has Promised Us an Inheritance August 8, 2010 Proper 14, Year C, RCL Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12: 32-40 ;Revelation 22:1-5


Shrewdness is a Virtue

Sermon Date:September 19, 2010

Scripture: Luke 16:1-13

Liturgy Calendar: Proper 20—Year C


Even though we live in the 21st century, Americans still have a fascination with the Wild West and the characters that populated it back in the 1800’s.

The settlers, gold miners, cowboys, the sheriffs, and even the outlaws all had that spirit of individuality and determination and passion that Americans still admire today. 

Butch Cassidy

Wild Bunch. Butch Cassidy










So it’s no wonder that the story of Butch Cassidy is part of our cultural heritage, a story that we enjoy hearing, because Butch Cassidy embodied individuality and a passion for life, and he just happened to be an outlaw, which makes his story even more intriguing.

In brief, Butch grew up in a Mormon family, and then as a teenager left home to make a life of his own, and eventually became a criminal who organized the Wild Bunch Gang.  This gang robbed trains and banks. 

Butch himself said this about his life of crime– “The best way to hurt the rich is through their pocketbooks.  They will holler louder than if you cut off both legs.  I steal their money just to hear them holler.  Then I pass it out among those who really need it.” 

Robin Hood in a ten gallon hat.

And we can’t help but find ourselves fascinated by this criminal’s life, even though we know that living a life of crime is wrong.    Jesus was also fascinated by human beings and their lives, which is why he told so many parables—and some of these parables included unsavory characters, because Jesus knew that those parables in particular would capture our attention. 

All of us, deep down inside, can relate to unsavory characters. 

The parable we’ve just heard about the dishonest manager captivates us and puzzles us in disturbing ways, because we find ourselves in this parable. 

Like the steward, all of us are concerned about having enough to make a living and to have what we need.  And many of us can relate to the steward’s worry about not being strong enough to dig and being ashamed to beg. 

Now certainly, we, especially those of us in this room, would not be dishonest about the ways in which we go about making our livings. 

We wouldn’t be caught dead being part of the Wild Bunch Gang, or holding up trains, getting into shootouts with the Sheriff.

We are respectable people. 

And yet, this parable is a great example of how dishonesty is often not so easily defined.  We can get caught up in dishonesty before we know it. 

When we read this parable, we think, “Was this steward really dishonest?  After all, he took care of himself, and made the lives of all of those people indebted to the master easier by cutting their debts in half.   So surely, what he did wasn’t so bad.” 

However, verse eight tells us that the master commended the DISHONEST manager.

And why would the master commend someone who was dishonest?

Because the master is dishonest too. 

He and the steward are both part of a system that keeps poor people enslaved economically.

These indebted people will always be in debt.

Now in the parable, the steward and the master both benefit from the steward’s shrewd action.

Because the debtors are happy that their debt has been cut in half,

The master benefits from their temporary joy.

And the steward has, with his shrewdness, saved his own skin and recovered the respect of the master.

So why on earth would Jesus tell this story as an example of how we should live as his disciples?

As anyone who was at our Wednesday Bible study knows, there are many, many answers to this question hidden in this parable, and we’d be here all week if I talked about them all.   So in the interest of time, I am going to focus on one answer to the question of how Jesus wants us to live as his disciples when he tells  this parable. 

Jesus wants us to live just as shrewdly as that manager did.

But we’ve got some hesitation about shrewdness,  because shrewdness is a word we use to describe that quality we so often attribute to those we’re not quite sure about, those who live in those gray ethical areas. 

Shrewd is the word we would use to describe Butch Cassidy, that Robin Hood in a ten gallon hat who carried out robberies in all sorts of shrewd ways.

Hole in the Wall, Wyoming. Butch CassidyHole in the Wall riding Butch Cassidy

Now let’s imagine for a minute that Jesus decides to lie in wait for Butch Cassidy at the favorite hangout of the Wild Bunch, a place called the Hole in the Wall. 

Butch comes galloping up on horseback, all out of breath after having just escaped by the skin of his teeth from his latest exciting train robbery. 

“Well, howdy, Butch,” Jesus drawls, sizing up this shrewd criminal.

Butch is suspicious, but Jesus says to him,

“Hey, Butch, I really admire your shrewdness.  As you might know, I’ve talked a lot about shrewdness to my disciples.” 

“I’ve told them stories about people like you, shrewd people, people as shrewd as you are, Butch.

The man who built his house on a rock, instead of sand, was shrewd.

And do you remember that story about the ten young women who wait and wait for the bridegroom to show up?

When the bridegroom finally gets there in the middle of the night, only the five shrewd ones had enough oil for their lamps.

They went on to the wedding banquet, and the other five missed out.”

“And one thing I’ve stressed to my disciples is to be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.”

Now Jesus has got Butch’s attention.

“Who is this crazy man?” Butch asks himself. 

But Jesus is talking right on. 

“Now Butch, you have potential.  But you’re using your shrewdness for your own fame and glory in spite of what you say about passing out what you steal to the poor.” 

Jesus looks deep into Butch’s eyes.  “I see that you’ve been worried for a mighty long time, anxious about having all you need.  I see, my friend, that you have let your desire for your own security lead you down a dishonest path.” 

Butch doesn’t know whether to hang his head in shame or haul off and slug this upstart stranger.  But Jesus keeps on talking, and Butch decides to keep on listening. 

“Butch, the only friends you’ve made through your life of crime are the members the Wild Bunch Gang.  All of you are constantly on the run.  You can never get any rest.  You’re  always having to look over your shoulder.  And you have to hide out in this Hole in the Wall.”

“But Butch, I’m here to tell you how to REALLY use your shrewdness to live a life of true freedom.

“Instead of seeking your own security through worshipping money and constantly stealing it, seek the Kingdom of God.”

OK, this guy is off his rocker, some God-fearing nut, Butch says to himself, but there’s just something about Jesus that is so compelling that he keeps listening. 

“Butch, I love who you as you are—Come on, put God first, and use all of that shrewdness of yours to seek after me.”

“When you head for my  kingdom instead of your hideout,  you won’t have to run from the law anymore. You will travel with hope and with joy.   And if you follow me, and choose to be my disciple, you will find that even as you head toward my kingdom, you are already at home.” 

Butch looked away from Jesus and stared out over the vacant landscape. 

Tempting words.

 “Seek my kingdom first with all of your shrewdness, and all of these other things will be added unto you.”

Butch stared into the distance.  “I’ll have to consider that offer,” he thought to himself.

And when he turned around, Jesus was gone.

Butch sighed.  The sun must have gotten to him. 

Sooner or later, Jesus will show up in our hiding places. 

He comes to us, loving each one of us just as we are. 

And he talks to us, just as he might have talked to Butch Cassidy that day in the Hole in the Wall. 

Jesus says to each of us—

“You’ve got potential!  You’re shrewd!

But  I can see that you’ve been worried for a very long time.   I can see that you are constantly on the run, that you never get any rest, that you are always looking over your shoulder—and  you’ve ended up seeking after other things instead of seeking after me. 

Your focus has been skewed. 

But I’m here to tell you that

I love you as you are, and I want you with me. 

So seek first my kingdom.

As that that shrewd poet, W. H. Auden says,

“Seek me in the Kingdom of Anxiety; you will come to a great city that has expected your return for years,”

That kingdom of God, that great city,  that awaits each one of us not only here, but also in the life of the world to come. 


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