The Gospel Hustle
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.”
September 16, 2016, Words By: Lina Thompson, Image By:
In my neighborhood, this would be called a hustle. I see it every day.
This parable sounds like a contemporary situation — a person is about to get fired for mismanaging resources that were given to him to steward (this sounds familiar doesn’t to the prodigal son story just verses before?). Of course he should be fired.
The steward admits to himself that there’s no way he can do manual labor. He can’t dig ditches. And he’s too proud to beg.
So the hustle begins.
Immediately, he starts to strategize about what he can do now, so that when the time comes and he needs help because he is unemployed, he will find favor and good will in the community. And so, he makes a list of all the debtors who owe money to his boss, and he reduces their debt — building his friendships in the community. They’re happy. He’s happy.
My indignant self is offended already. This guy is a total opportunist!
But the Boss actually commends his actions — calls him shrewd/wise. Jesus, in an underhanded way, actually encourages his followers to think a little more like the shrewd man. Jesus commends the way of the hustler and says they are more “shrewd/wise” than “children of the light”.
First, I was offended by the hustler. Now, I’m offended by Jesus!
Some commentators think the reduction offered to the debtors is what the steward would’ve taken in commission. Reducing his commission results in a great deal for everyone — the Master gets his share, the debtors get a reduction (which makes the Master look good), and the steward finds favor (builds friendships) in the eyes of the debtors…all part of the hustle.
This story reminds me of someone I know.
I think of a particular young person who is known by ALL as a hustler in our community. He is always flipping what he has and making more money — and sometimes, it seems a little sketchy. We all know this. People call him a hustler behind his back and to his face. He knows he’s a hustler. How many times have we heard him say, “I got to get my hustle on.”
But here’s the thing about this young man. There is not one person in this community who wouldn’t give what they have to help when he is in trouble.
And here’s why. Because while he hustles a system, a way of doing things, he always helps others whenever he can. He gives away money and time. He actually has a commitment to relationship and friendship that is part of his hustle ethic.
I think Jesus would commend him: he looks after himself and his family, creatively leverages his resources and builds friendships.
This seems like a very odd way to create relationship: make friends, and use your privilege and your resources to create community… a community that takes care of each other.
Resources that were once only used to create wealth for one, now were used to create a more reciprocal way of living in community. The steward used his position and power to lower their debt. And he hoped that out of gratitude they would extend the hospitality when he needed help. I believe that is what Jesus was commending. This kind of reciprocity of relationship and exchange of “services” is a new way of living as Children of the Light.
And what’s more, the hustle all depends on the graciousness of the Master whose money it is in the first place. The steward cannot live in this new way unless he is willing to risk on the graciousness of that Master. That is the real Gospel hustle — God’s mercy.
Rev. Lina Thompson
Pastor, Lake Burien Presbyterian Church
Longtime Friend and former Board Chair, Street Psalm