Tuesday, September 20, 2022

And Forgive Us Our Debts…

And Jesus said, “Make friends for yourselves [even] by means of tainted wealth…” May I speak to you in the name [+] of the G-d who creates, redeems and sustains us? AMEN.

 The writers of Luke’s Gospel confront us with a difficult lesson this Sunday. Many biblical scholars have proclaimed that this passage, which is found only in Luke, is perhaps the most difficult of all the parables to understand.

A Perverse Moral? 

On its face it seems to offer a perverse moral. Jesus speaks of an unjust manager handling the wealth of a rich man. His job is to collect the debts that are owed his boss. The manager’s squandering of property suggests both his greed and his incompetence. And, so not surprisingly his rich employer lets him know he’s about to terminate his employment. It’s a wakeup call for this man who has no doubt enjoyed a cushy life thus far and for whom the prospects of doing manual labor is appalling.


And so he goes to those in debt to the rich man and cuts them a deal – pay half of what you owe and we’ll call it even. There is some suggestion among scholars that the manager is absorbing this loss from his own profit margin, much of that skimmed off the top of the debt and probably in violation of the Jewish law on usury. But in the end, it saves him his job. And Jesus praises the manager for engaging in shaky business practices to ensure that he will have friends to catch him when he falls from grace.

So, is the moral of the story that G-d admires slick businessmen who employ questionable business practices? Are we supposed to buy our friendships? Is Jesus telling us that any means to an end is OK so long as it is profitable? 



In all honesty that sounds more like the gospel of Chicago School economist Milton Friedman - whose mantra asserted that the only purpose of business is profit making, regardless of how it impacts people or the planet – than the good news of Jesus. Somehow, I just don’t think that’s what Jesus was talking about. 


 Jesus Had a Lot to Say About Money 


To begin with Jesus has a lot to say about money in the Gospel of Luke generally. He begins his gospel with these words from a Mary now pregnant with the baby Jesus: 

“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” 

These are the words of the Magnificat which are used in liturgies throughout our Book of Common Prayer. 

Hardly the stuff of market fundamentalism.

In the sixth chapter of Luke, Jesus offers a version of the Beatitudes which contain this pointed set of blessings and curses: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” Indeed, at the end of today’s passage, Jesus adds, “No slave can serve two masters…You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Again, looking strictly on the surface, it might sound like Jesus has it in for rich people, a refrain we hear reflected in the First Letter of Timothy whose author asserts, 

For the love of money is the root of all evil…”  

But note the qualification that Timothy makes here: It is not money itself which is evil, it is the love of money, to the exclusion of – and often at the expense of – everything and everyone else that is the problem.

Putting the Parable Into Context  

To put today’s parable into context, it’s important to note what falls on either end of it. At the end of the preceding chapter, Luke tells the story of the Prodigal Son. The moral of that parable is that the value of loving relationship surpasses those of financial concerns. The Prodigal Son, like the unjust manager, squanders his Father’s wealth and returns home in shame anticipating becoming the hired help. But the Father will hear none of his self-abasement. He is just happy the son is home and throws a big party. His property may be gone but his Son has returned; the relationship has been restored. Now the wounds can be healed. 


On the other end of today’s parable, Luke lays out the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. When Lazarus, the poor beggar at the city gate dies, he is carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. A Rich Man who had studiously ignored this beggar all of his life also died and wound up in Hades. When he asks Abraham to simply touch his finger into water to soothe the agony of the flames he endured, Abraham replies, ‘[R]emember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.”

In both of these parables which frame the one we consider today, a pointed message becomes clear: 

Money is a means to human ends, not vice versa. 

The way we earn, hold and use our earthly wealth is an issue of great moral, ethical and spiritual importance. When money is used to further human ends, beginning with healthy relationships, it is an asset. But when money becomes an end in itself, it tends to suck the very soul out of its possessors. There is a word for a code of values and resulting behaviors in which money becomes the central concern. 

It is called idolatry.


Debtors: The Missing Players in the Drama

But I think there is a deeper issue that is implicit here that we are required to consider this morning. Today’s parable refers to debtors but gives us little insight into how that debt was attained or how good Jews were called to respond to debt.

Judea was a part of the first century Roman colony of Palestine. Rome was an empire whose might and wealth was built on the backs of exploited labor. About one in every three Romans within the empire was a slave. Through Roman imperial law and bureaucratic governance, its colonies were organized into means of serving the wealthy oligarchs of the empire. It was an extractive economy where the goods produced through coercive force were ultimately destined for the wealthy in other places. As is true in most extractive economies, that meant that the overworked producers of the goods which flowed out of the colony often found themselves in a downward spiral into poverty that almost always involved going into debt just to survive.

Running contrary to the Roman values of exploitation which came at the expense of the people was the Hebrew practice of
shmita, the belief that G_d demanded periodic release from debt every seventh year, a practice we hear as the Jubilee year. Beneath this understanding was a recognition that wealth and poverty are both socially constructed phenomena. For the Jewish law human dignity was the paramount concern.


It also recognized that in the long run, we are all debtors to the G-d whose good Creation provides everything we need to survive. Even the very breath we breathe is a gift from a generous G-d, without which our lives would immediately end. Our Earth has always contained enough goods for all its living beings to sustain themselves. So wherever excess in the hands of the few and deprivation experienced by the many exists, it is always the result of human decision making.


Jesus recognized that debt has the potential to cripple any life, no matter how it is procured.
  There is a reason he taught us to pray with these words: 

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” 

While Reformer William Tyndale would later interpret those words as trespasses, a reflection of his own culture’s growing concern for the issue of private property, in both Matthew and Luke’s versions the Greek word Jesus uses is debt.  And in the context of 1st CE Palestine with its indebted masses feeding the insatiable appetites of their Roman overlords, that makes enormous sense.


Generational Chains of Debt  

It also makes sense in the context of our own time. Some of you know that I have spent a good part of my life in higher education both as student and as a faculty member. In the process of procuring an undergraduate degree and three different graduate degrees, I racked up a good bit of debt. When I graduated from Florida State with my Ph.D. in December 2000, my Christmas gift that year would be a $60,000 set of student loans that would take me 14 years to repay working several jobs with a little help from my federal employee Mother’s years of buying U.S. Savings Bonds. I had one month of debt free life between my last law school debt payment and signing the financial aid papers to begin seminary, a process for which I had absolutely no diocesan support. If I wanted to go, I had to agree to pay for my schooling through loans and work study. And it was my ability to pay off my loans that ultimately allowed me to retire.


As onerous as that might sound, in the larger picture, I was lucky.


Many things changed between my first days as an undergraduate in 1971 and my last day as a graduate student in 2000. The well of private financial aid with its grants and plans to work off loans after graduation had dried up. State funding of higher education was cut by well over half with colleges scrambling to make up the difference through drastically higher tuition, fees and limited financial aid. By the time I began teaching undergraduates in 1997, they were being told that the only way they could succeed was to get a college degree. And the only way they could get it was by taking on enormous debts that would saddle them financially for decades after graduation. The costs of our need for an educated public had been successfully shifted onto the very people we Boomers expected to take care of us in our older lives.

Much like the Hebrew people of Jesus’ time, many of our children and grandchildren became debtors simply to survive. And much like the older brother in the Prodigal Son story, there are many of us today who loudly object to the recent decision to cancel a portion of their debt. 

Never underestimate the power of resentment. 

And never underestimate the allure of money as an idol demanding worship, even when it comes at the cost of our humanity, our relationships with others and a healthy society.


The Tough Questions Jesus Raises

I believe Jesus poses some important questions for us this morning. The first are about money: 

  • What is our relationship with money? 
  • Is it a means to an end or an end in itself? 
  • Does money come between us and other human beings? 
  • Does it impact our relationships with family and friends? 


The second set is about compassion. 

  • Are we willing to forgive the debt that others owe when it becomes obvious that debt is crippling their lives? 
  • Are we willing to critically examine the conditions under which our fellow humans become debtors, recognizing that not all debts are the same? 
  • Can we let go of the resentment that so many of us feel when compassion is shown those in our world we would dismiss as slackers to inflate our own egos, applauding our own hard work as a means to success even as we forget all those along the line whose help made our own success possible? 
  • Are we willing to recognize that when we say to others that they should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, we are presuming they actually have boots?


 Jesus gives us much to think about this day. So let us pray:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


 Text: A sermon delivered on Pentecost 15, Sunday, September 18, 2022, St. Richard’s  Episcopal, Winter Park, FL [Proper 20 RCL]

 You may watch this sermon as it was delivered by going to the following link:


The sermon on this very difficult lesson begins at 27:00.

Thoughtful responses are welcomed.


Harry Scott Coverston 

   Orlando, Florida



  If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

  Those who believe religion and politics aren't connected don't understand either. – Mahatma Gandhi

  For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?  - Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures

  Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1993)

  © Harry Coverston, 2022



Monday, September 05, 2022

Reflections on Life Cycle Number 69


September 05, 2022 – This is the first week of my 69th year, the last year of my sixth decade of life (or the first year of my seventh decade if we use the Chinese system of accounting for age). As is often the case these days, I find myself in a reflective state and I have much upon which to reflect.


Rich But Not Wealthy

My Father often said to me, “Son, it’s a good thing you have Andy because you’ve never cared anything about money. I know he will make sure you are OK. So I’m not going to worry about you.”

I laughed when he said that but we both knew it was true. My Dad had visions of glory for his attorney son he’d help support through law school. But I left the practice of law primarily because I recognized I was being sucked into a culture that evaluated everything by money, status and affirmation. After an episode of overbilling one of my public appointed clients, I knew I was in trouble. This was NOT who I was. And this lifestyle would be deadly for me.

That was the point I walked away from practicing law and in retrospect it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I often say the happiest day of my life was my last day of practicing law. Even so, I realize that my legal training and experience has strongly shaped me as an individual and the way I process the world, hence my tendency to call myself a “recovering lawyer.” 

Money, status and power were never my motivations in life and I would have a long career in public service work to show for it. But Dad was right on one thing. I was fortunate and still am. And I take none of that for granted.

Every night as I drift off to sleep, I give thanks for this wonderful home in which I live, a home we rebuilt after it was destroyed by Hurricane Charley in 2004. And I give thanks for my beautiful life partner of now 48 years and a houseful of fur and fin children to love. Our home is literally surrounded by a semi-tropical jungle I lovingly tend. 


I have a loving parish I am able to serve as priest. For that I am deeply grateful. It was never a given. I give thanks for the loving family of birth that produced me and continues to hold me in its embrace. And I can never thank my beautiful family of choice for repeatedly saving me when I found it difficult to love myself.

Our home is full of art gathered from trips across four continents. It’s probably not worth much to anyone else but it reflects the richness of my life experience. It also serves as a constant reminder of the interesting cultures I have encountered.
 In our once garage turned library there are overflowing shelves of books reflecting a life of study that has played out in several disciplines with three graduate degrees to show for them.

There have been few dull moments in these 69 years. For that, alone, I am grateful.

These days I am often most aware of my privilege when I am conscious that I have access to medical care when I need it, something many of my countrymen and women cannot say. And while Andy and I are hardly wealthy in any kind of comparative terms, we always have enough. And that is more than many people in the world can say. That’s hardly a manipulative ploy to get me to eat my spinach. But I know these things are true. Over my lifetime, I have met a number of poor people, some of them literally starving to death. And I have never forgotten them. 

It is a shallow vision of wealth that is obsessively measured only in monetary or proprietary terms and the power it procures. And it’s a rather limited vision of success which can be measured only in sanctioned degrees, titles, certifications, accolades and honors, many of which I compulsively attained.  I recognize only in retrospect that my overachievement largely reflected my own sense of a lack of innate value coupled with my ability and willingness live into the expectations of others.

So, while I have not accumulated a lot of wealth, power or status over my lifetime, I have been privileged to lead a life that is truly rich in the deepest sense. And at 69 years of age, as I look back over that life, I feel profoundly grateful for the richness I have experienced.

My cup truly runneth over.

Reed and Wright – A Predictable Path

Louise Coverston (rear)
Second Generation Teacher

I come from a family of teachers, the fourth generation of public educators in my family. With Great-Grandparents named Reed and Wright (who were, themselves, teachers), I suppose I was fated to end up in education both as student and teacher. And, Lord knows, I lived into that calling well.


I have always been a curious person. The world fascinates me. And I am always willing to learn more and I know that there is always more to learn. I have devotedly studied the subjects that called me – history, political science, journalism, and education in undergraduate, law in my first graduate incarnation, theology in my second and religion, law and society in my last round of formal education. I have spent 17 years in higher education as a student and have spent weeks at a time at ten different institutions of higher learning. I paid off student loans at every stage of my educational process, the last being my $60K in student loan debt which I finally paid off just before I retired from teaching at the University of Central Florida.


Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, Living School

Even after telling myself that I was done once the Ph.D. dissertation was defended in 2000, I’ve since attended extensive courses in spirituality at the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico, a week long intensive in Meister Eckhart’s mysticism in Ehrfurt, Germany in his former friary and a year long online intensive on the Collected Works of Carl Jung. I have travelled all over Central and South America to study their cultures and spiritual traditions as well as spending time in the warm embrace of the followers of Francis and Clare in Assisi. I have also spent four weeks of my life as a student in Israel.


Final Service, Meister Eckhart's Friary Chapel, Ehrfurt, Germany

My spiritual callings have brought me to services at the Basilica of La Guadalupe in Mexico City, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican City, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Westminster Abbey in London, Iona Abbey in Scotland and the Taizé community in France. I’ve spent time at Julian’s cell in Norwich and Hildegard’s monastery in Disibodenberg. I have been invited to indigenous services in the country sides of Mexico and Guatemala, wiccan shabbats, Islamic worship and Jewish Holocaust commemoration here in Orlando. My spiritual life has always been truly rich.

So I have been fortunate to be able to live into my callings to learn and to grow spiritually all of my adult life. But that is only part of the story.

A Wide Array of Teachers

I have been able to learn from some of the finest, well-honed minds in the world. For that I am grateful. But many of my best teachers have been unlettered and unsung heroes and heroines.

My work life has always been an opportunity for learning. It began in the agricultural fields of Central Florida pitching watermelons and picking peppers and peas. My fellow laborers were among my first teachers. I know how hard these folks work to insure our daily bread and I am always mindful of and grateful for their labor.

I learned a great deal in my two rounds of working in big box stores. Like law, business was clearly not my destiny. I honed my writing skills during my time editing several college and commercial publications. I spent one summer of my life as an LBJ Congressional Intern in the halls of our nation’s capital and another summer living in a village in the countryside of Panama without electricity or running water.

Farewell Fiesta, Las Guabitas, Panama 

While I have taught students from the 5th grade to the doctoral level, much of my public service was with poor people. These included the severely emotionally disturbed students I taught as a minority teacher in a middle school in Vero Beach and the juvenile offenders and mentally ill clients I represented as a public defender.

They include the handicapped campers at the Florida Easter Seals camp where I worked two summers and the children and their families in the Prime Time Reading Program I helped facilitate for the Florida Humanities Council. They include the farmworkers in Apopka whose life stories in the wake of their exposure to killer pesticides and fertilizers made me aware of the way race and class determine even the most basic aspects of our lives including life expectancy. And they include the wisdom of our beloved African-American nanny, Henrietta.


My teachers have included people from the 27 countries I have now visited, many of whom readily shared their visions of the world with me and offered me a much clearer view of my own country than I could ever get at home. I’ve been in five countries that were either currently at war or recovering from recent rounds of conflict. I know what it’s like to have bombs exploding over my head and praying for my own safety and I know what war atrocities and starvation look like in all of their ugly forms.

For all of my teachers, I am deeply indebted. And now it is my turn to use what you have given me to offer my gifts to the world.

At the End of Several Lifetimes

More than one person has said to me that I’ve lived several lifetimes in my nearly 708 years. That’s probably true. And while I am grateful for all the lifetimes I’ve lived thus far, it’s the lifetime still stretching ahead of me that I am now concerned about.


In the past few years I have been so disillusioned with the path of events in my country and this state in which my family has lived six generations that the thought of moving somewhere else to escape has been a constant consideration. I am fearful that the current fascist drift in both America and Florida in particular might prevail if not resisted. And while I am feeling slightly better about those chances than I was even earlier this year, the threat remains quite real.

Banned Books Exhibit,
Florida Southern College Library

Andy and I have worked hard to create the home we share and to live on the meager pensions we earned over our work careers. The thought that our marriage, our retirements and our very safety could be jeopardized in this current eruption of demagoguery is deeply troubling.

As I see it, our world is at a turning point. Many of the understandings we took for granted most of my life no longer work. We face the destabilizing impact of climate change whose impacts are only beginning to be felt. And the wave of fear that has swept the world in the face of immigration and economic change reflects the realization that the old world is dying and something new is rising to take its place.


Collecting Soil from Ocoee Massacre Site 

The chief challenge that I see facing my state and my country is the demand to face our collective Shadow. The buried suffering endured by indigenous and African peoples that resulted from the use of coercive force to conquer the Americas has never gone away, it has simply remained repressed from our consciousness. That repressed content has become increasingly pressurized and threatens to erupt like a volcano.

This is the time to know our story, all of it, and to own our Shadow. And our willingness to do so will likely determine our survival as a country.

This summer I had a full month away from home to think about all this. As a result I have given up any thoughts of moving. Perhaps I am naïve but I don’t see the fascists coming to take me to a cattle car to deport me anytime soon. But more importantly, I am clear that I have work to do here in this place my family has lived now seven generations. And it is calling me.


Time to Tell the Stories

I have spent my lifetime collecting stories. Some of them are personal accounts. But many of them come from people who have historically proven voiceless. It is the stories of my many students who were discounted and silenced along the way. It is the stories of the peoples in war-torn countries whose suffering is lost in a cacophony of ideologies. It is the stories of people who lived in the places I now live whose stories have been lost and await their turn to be told. 

My lifelong learning process has provided me with skills of critical reason and articulation which served me well as attorney and college lecturer. But the raw materials for the stories I bear came from my many teachers over the years and around the world. Increasingly I sense that it is their stories I must tell, the stories of the silenced, the forgotten, the repressed memories that are required to make us all honest with ourselves.


My current project involves an African-American man named Arthur Henry who was involved in a shoot-out with white Orlando police officers who entered his home in the night at the end of Thanksgiving Day, 1925. Henry and both officers were wounded in the shoot-out and would be transported to the local hospital. Before the night was over, Henry, who had been handcuffed to the bed to prevent his escape, would be taken from the hospital by “unknown persons” and shot to death in the local woods. His body would not be identified for two weeks.

As I have thought about this story over the past months of research, I continue to come back to my original reaction to it: ”No one should simply disappear into the night.” And as I have come closer and closer to making the case for the placement of a marker to commemorate Arthur’s lynching, I have begun to experience what I can only say is his presence. He comes to me and says, “You have to tell my story, Harry. No one else can do it. If you don’t tell my story, it will die with you.”

Our local group, the Alliance for Truth and Justice, hopes to have the marker completed and dedicated by the end of this year. But this story merits a book. And so my goal is to write my first book to tell the story of Arthur Henry, a story to help this community I love come to grips with this chapter of its Shadow.

But I suspect this will be but the first of the books I hope to finally publish, exorcising those insistent demons from my head, consigning them to the screen of my computer and hopefully into printed pages in the hands of readers. 

The truth is, I’m actually a pretty good storyteller. And I have been entrusted with a lot of stories to tell. And so as I approach my seventh decade of life, I find myself feeling a sense of urgency. I am not afraid of dying. I simply want to finish my life work before I go.

I thank all of you who have borne with me for this long-winded reflection. And, as always, your thoughtful responses are more than welcome. So, here’s to year 69. May it be safe, as harmonious as possible under the circumstances, but most of all, may it be productive. 

Let's begin....


Harry Scott Coverston 

   Orlando, Florida



  If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

  Those who believe religion and politics aren't connected don't understand either. – Mahatma Gandhi

  For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?  - Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures

  Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1993)

  © Harry Coverston, 2022