Formations 10.14.2018: Seeing God’s Favor

Luke 16:1-9

A group of flounder, crab, eels, and rays are washed up during a jubilee in Mobile Bay.

I’ve not seen it, but I’ve heard the stories. On some days in the summer, rising tides and east-facing winds push poorly oxygenated water toward the eastern edge of Mobile Bay. With it come the crab and flounder, and the shallow waters are overrun with all manner of food. My granddad said one need only walk the shore to fill a bucket. My cousin suggests going out a hundred feet or so to fill a truck bed. Whatever the technique, they call it a jubilee.

Luke begins Jesus’ ministry proclaiming such things. God’s favor had come upon them (Lk 4:19). While he worked for this, Jesus came up against those places that stood against the visions of the prophet and lawgiver (Isa 61; Lev 25).

So he tells them this story, of a large landowner and his manager and the debtors who owe them. It is an economic situation described in light of the perhaps more famous repentance parables of chapter 15. So it goes, the rich man finds reason to let his manager go. Recognizing that his power and privilege would dry up, the manager turns away from his boss toward his indebted neighbors.

He eases their debt without permission. One hundred jugs of oil become fifty. One hundred containers of wheat become eighty. Then Jesus says, be like this shrewd man who found friends in the eternal homes (Lk 16:9). In the coming year of God’s favor, debt would be forgiven, slaves would be freed, land would be returned. The old things would pass away. These changes, both Jesus and the manager understood, required new wisdom, new community, and even new moral commitments.

Because when life naturally comes up from the depths and from land, such that everyone can take and eat, what good is a creditor’s power over debtors? In this week’s parable, God’s promises carry the same crises we saw in last week’s passage (see Mt 6:19-34). We can cling to the comfort that comes from having enough only if others have less. Or we can let such things pass away and simply gather God’s favors with our neighbors.

Discussion

• Where is God’s favor rising up in your community? What structures and experiences are passing away in the process?
• How do these movements confront us?
• What responsibilities do we have to these changes?

Reference Shelf

A Year of God’s Favor

Liberty under the Lord, Yahweh, stands out as the main theme. Lev 25:10 urges Israel to “proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.” The theology of the land pivots around the statement of the covenant Lord in Lev 25:23, “the land is mine.” A great transition faced the Hebrews as they anticipated moving from Mount Sinai in the wilderness to the land of promise located among the Canaanites.

Every seventh year the land was to receive the benefit of a Sabbath and lie fallow (Lev 25:2-7). Then, in each fiftieth year, the land would not be tilled and planted for a second consecutive year (25:11-12). Everyone had an obligation to live on what the fields and vineyards produced “of themselves” (25:11). The people could not store produce that came from the land during this time. Ownership of land reverted to the original owner without exchange of money or other goods (25:25-55).

Laws pertaining to ownership of persons carried great significance during the year of Jubilee. Slaves would have freedom (25:10). Hebrews could have other Hebrews as servants, but not own them as slaves. The purpose underlying the observance was that reconciliation with the land and the inhabitants would open the way for liberty to become a reality.

Little evidence supports the idea that Israel faithfully observed the year of Jubilee. The people of the land seem to have minimized the observance of the year of Jubilee, which would have been attributed to the widespread unfaithfulness of Israel to the Lord. Consequently, the year with perhaps the greatest potential became obsolete and functioned mainly as a reference for a unit of time from the people of Israel. One should not, however, overlook the symbolic importance of the year of Jubilee as a sign of God’s insistence that liberty be proclaimed and observed in the land.

Omer J. Hancock, Jr., “Jubilee, Year of,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1995), 473.

The Rich Man and the Manager

“A certain rich man had an overseer”—well, of course he did. Wealthy people had people to do things for them, and people to manage the people. An overseer (oikonomos) could be a slave or an employee; this one is the latter, since he is being threatened with dismissal rather than crucifixion. Since the accounts he deals with are expressed in terms of produce rather than money, we presume that Luke is thinking of a wealthy farmer with tenants or poorer neighbors who borrow staples on account. […]It is important for our parable that the overseer collected the shares from tenants. Cato has sample contracts for grain fields, vineyards, olive harvesters, etc., indicating that the overseer did not set the terms; but Cato’s repeated exhortations to the overseer that he must do exactly as the master instructs perhaps implies that sometimes overseers acted on their own, asking for kickbacks in return for favorable reports to the master.

Luke’s audience would have known what was generally expected of overseers. As J. Albert Harrill has shown, they also would have recognized this particular overseer as a sort of blend of two stock characters from the comedies they saw performed during some public festivals. The “parasite” was a man whose services could be bought, and who was willing to do pretty much anything. This type of character is meant to look foolish to the audience, and becomes part of whatever scheme is being cooked up in the comedy.

Richard B. Vinson, Luke, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008), 520–21.

William Scruggs is a graduate of Mercer University. His favorite pastimes are adding music to his listening list, TV shows to his viewing list, and books to his reading list. When he isn’t pretending to check items off these lists, he spends time with friends and plays music. He is excited for the opportunity to continue exploring the rivers of Middle Georgia and to stay in Macon as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys.

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