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Take The Offense
September 26 and 27, 19988

LUKE 16:1-13

We are about to wrestle with the most controversial story Jesus ever told, the most outrageous of Jesus' parables. A manager was accused of squandering the owner's property. The manager was accused of wasting. It isn't as if the manager had been using the money to feed his wife and children, provide for the kids' education, or take care of his poor, sick mother. No, he wasted it.

So, the owner called him in, and said, "What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management." When he received his ultimatum from the boss, the manager panicked. "What am I to do?" he asked himself. "I am not strong enough to dig, I certainly don't want to do any manual labor, and I am ashamed to beg." Then he hit upon an ingenious plan. He decided to make the debtors indebted to him, so that when he is sacked, he can visit them, and get fed! Ingenious! He is the Pentagon general who allows defense contractors to overcharge the government so, when he retires from government work, he can get a plush job as a consultant with the contractor. So, the manager told his boss, "I'll be happy to turn in the books to you, but give me some time."

Then, he proceeded to cook the books, or shall we call it creative bookkeeping? He asked one debtor, "How much do you owe my master?" He answered, "A hundred jugs of olive oil." The manager said, "Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty." Then he asked another, "And how much do you owe?" He replied, "A hundred containers of wheat." The manager said, "Take your bill and make it eighty." Large amounts are being written off here.

What would you do if you were the boss, and you had a manger like this guy? Look at what the rich man did to the manager in Jesus' parable. 16:8, And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. Commended! The boss moved from "You crook, you! Turn over the books!" to "You genius, you! A crooked genius but still a genius."

Jesus delighted in shocking his listeners. His parables are entertaining and fascinating because many of them have a shocker. This parable has a shocker. Jesus seems to be saying, "Take the offense!" When life throws you a curve; when life gets you down; when you feel weak, threatened, a failure; when it seems you are defeated, what do you do? Give up, surrender, complain, feel sorry for yourself, circle the wagons in a defensive posture? Jesus says, "Take the offense. Get up, take charge, act shrewdly." The manager had a choice-- passively accept his dismissal and go on the street, or take the offense. Be active, not passive. Don't lie down and die. Take the offense. Regain the initiative. Make the bad situation work for you.

Young David was tending the sheep while his older brothers were off to war, battling the Philistines. One day David took food to his brothers and witnessed an unbelievable sight. A tall, giant of a Philistine named Goliath, covered in armor, came down the mountain and challenged Israel's army to send one soldier to fight him. "If he defeats me," shouted Goliath, "we will all surrender. But, if I defeat him, your army must surrender to us." Israel's army fled in fear. "Who, me?" they each said, "I'm not going out there!" They chose the cowardly option of playing it safe, rolling over and quitting. But, not young David. David was infuriated. David took the offense. He put a stone in his sling and tumbled the giant with a stone to the head.

One of my favorite examples of prayer which Jesus gave us is the woman who took the offense and kept pounding on the judge's door until he relented, gave in, and said, "Give that woman anything she wants. Just get her to stop pestering me!" This parable has been rewritten by Robert Walker, using a contemporary situation and politically correct language.

In the urban center, there was a woman who was maritally unencumbered. Her job had been terminated without notice, leaving her involuntarily leisured. She immediately suspected that ageism was the cause of her termination, even though the company claimed they were only restructuring the work force, and therefore, had to downsize.

When her case came before the insensitive judge, he looked uninterested and dismissed it with a wave of his hand.

"I find no grounds for discrimination here," the judge barked.

But the woman was persistence-gifted. She reargued her case before the judge, claiming that she was terminated because she was chronologically advantaged. The judge again dismissed the case as a nuisance suit.

After this, the woman became even more persistent. She pitched a tent outside the courthouse and called it "Injustice City." The newspapers sent reporters to cover her story. She became a local celebrity, appearing on talk shows and giving magazine interviews.

The judge said to himself, "If I don't rule in this woman's favor, my reputation is going to be tarnished."

So when the woman presented her case again...he granted her real and punitive damages.

A woman was told she had cancer, with only a short time to live. Her options? Passively, unagressively accept treatment, or deny treatment and prepare to die, or take the offense. She took the offense. She took the treatment, supplemented the treatment with alternative methods, and changed her life. The reality of her morality confronted her. The shock of cancer caused her to decide that no longer would she take any (she used the S... word!). No longer did she allow people to dump on her. She learned to say "No." She refused to let guilt manipulate her. She got her priorities straight. I don't know if she lived any longer, but she did live better! She took charge of her life. She took the offense.

One of our faithful church family told me last week that she finally stood up to her boss. Her boss is insensitive, critical, and unfair. She plans the work schedule according to her whim and convenience. Finally, our church member had it. Instead of passively accepting the tongue lashings, deprecations, and unfairness, she took the offense. She expressed her feelings to her boss in no uncertain terms. Her boss was surprised! I don't know if things improved. She might even lose her job. But, she feels better. She has regained her self-respect and dignity. She took the offense.

Alan Keyes, quoted in the magazine, The Door, said,

If the world says to you, "You're worth what you fetch in the marketplace," the Christian has an internal sense that says, "Excuse me, but my worth was determined by God and revalidated by Jesus Christ on the cross before you got here. So forget you."

I learned much of value in seminary. I shared with you previously that seminary taught me that the first thing a pastor does is discover the woman who runs the church! But, one thing seminary taught me was ridiculous. I was told that a pastor should do nothing the first year. Don't change anything. Don't start anything new. Spend the first year getting to know the people, and getting a feel for the church. Fortunately, I knew right form the beginning that was ridiculous. A pastor needs to take the offense. By the time an entire year passes by with no change or new ideas, the die is cast. A pastor's call is to challenge not sit around with his/her feet in the water, trying to guess the temperature!

Talk to most employers. They prefer an employee who takes the offense, who shows some initiative, who sees what needs to be done, and does it; rather than an employee who sits around, passively doing nothing until told what to do.

Friday morning I had the pleasure of walking my granddaughter, Adrienne, to school. She lives in San Jose and is a kindergarten student. Adrienne is the middle daughter. As the new baby's birth drew near, we worried about Adrienne. She was needing and demanding lots of attention. Adrienne could have chosen to be passive, whiny, babyish, introverted, but, praise the Lord, after the baby's birth, she took the offense. She is choosing to be the big sister. She mothers the baby, plays with her, gets her to smile. Adrienne is choosing to be a student. She walked to school Friday confidently and happily. She talked the entire way, telling me about her classmates and her homework. She is so proud to have homework like her big sister. She only held my hand when we crossed streets. She walked independently, confident, self-assured, happy. She took the offense.

What I am attempting to say, what I believe was Jesus' purpose in telling the parable, has been captured by The Call of the Wild author, and Sonoma native, Jack London.

I would rather be ashes than dust!

I would rather

That my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze

Than that it should be stifled by dry rot.

I would rather be a superb meteor,

Every atom of me in magnificent glow,

Than a sleepy and permanent planet.

The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.

Take the offense!

© 1998 Douglas I. Norris