The first Bible study I was ever specifically asked by a congregation to undertake was on the parable of the “Wasteful” Manager (Luke 16), a famous parable of Jesus which may reasonably command our prayerful attention whenever we seek support and funding for environmental action.
The Ladies’ Fellowship in my first church were scandalised by Jesus’ parable, and felt there must have been something wrong if Jesus himself was coming over so disreputably. How could ‘Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild’ come out with such dangerous stuff?
I certainly haven’t yet got to the bottom of it myself, ,though I’m sure that this is going to be one of the most important Bible treasures to challenge and guide our thinking in the coming years.
Concluding the narrative, Jesus advises the ‘Children of the Light’ – with whom, as his followers, we might reasonably identify – to learn from the craftiness of the surrounding culture. And to make use of ‘dishonest/unrighteous wealth’ to make friends with the [social or other ] environment they need to rely on.
Many assume that this touches on ‘selling your soul’: selling out, ending up promoting an agenda alien to your church, in order to access funding or favourable terms for premises or leased equipment.
Or, perhaps, neglecting the values you profess to stand for in trivial but obvious ways:
Giving minor, but very real and all-too visible examples: Nestlé coffee in a declared fair-trade church, disposable plastic cups used on every social occasion in a registered Eco-Congregation, or even a denominational headquarters. Being seen to back, without engagement or criticism, industries not yet mindful of the Paris targets…..
The story of the crafty manager is not about such things. He hasn’t got “that sort of soul” so it is never on sale. It is his alleged wastefulness, not corruption, that sets in progress a chain of irreversible events. He is given notice.
Are we, globally, in a similar position? The IPCC message of ‘Act now, idiots!’ has set a clock ticking which should concentrate our minds.
The wealth of his master is the “unrighteous” wealth with which he has to deal, and indeed, that’s where the corruption comes in: it’s what he is already charged with looking after, when, accepting the coming disaster of his destitution, he realises he needs to engineer a comfortable transition.
He is well equipped.
His job, and perhaps ours thus far, has been to be “Steward of Dishonest Wealth ”. Propping up the system which exploits. And in this, his bargaining skills, his knowledge of market conditions, have prepared him for the uncertainties ahead. The realism of the wheeler-dealerin him comes to the fore in bargaining and creative compromise as, neither solving nor fleeing the crisis, he makes friends with it. Transforms it.
Our wastefulness as a species, compounded by human injustice, means that we are veering towards environmental crisis. Even 1.5 degrees, the minimum global temperature rise which seems possible, will already involve dramatic changes in our lives. Not just those of future generations. No participant in current society should deceive themselves that they are not contributing to the climate crisis; none are squeaky-clean. So what can we do with the things within our grasp?
How can we subvert the throwaway culture of inequality and endless growth by making friends with the environment which has so suffered from human sharp practice, and on whose hospitality we all of us continue to depend?