In her insightful and engaging work, Dancing with Strangers,historian Inga Clenninden offers a new perspective on the famous incident of the spearing of Governor Arthur Phillip at Manly Cove (Sydney) on September 7, 1790. The ‘accident’ at Manly was no accident, she argues, but a carefully staged and brilliantly executed response to the indignities inflicted by the British, albeit unwittingly, on the local inhabitants.
The hero at Manly Cove is Baneelon (later known as Bennelong) who secures, for a time at least, the honour and survival of his people. He does so with all the cunning, if not the subterfuge, of the steward in Luke’s parable, and wins an uneasy approval. An ever present motif in the story of these early British-Australian encounters is the understanding of possessions and land peculiar to each culture.
From eighteenth century Manly Cove back to first-centuryPalestine is quite a leap. At stake in both arenas are survival and honour. Luke’s unlikely hero is a property manager or steward accountable to a land owner (the master) for the collection of rent from land-poor tenants who work the land and pay their rent in produce. The steward is reported for mismanagement. He is called in, asked to produce the books, and told he is about to be sacked.
He thinks quickly, approaches the debtors, reduces their sizeable debts by the stroke of a pen, and thus gains their undying loyalty. He then hands over the books. He has engaged in a series of smart moves, but is far from honest! The master is caught in a cleft stick: his steward has outwitted him and secured his own survival; the master has no honourable redress. He shakes his head and acknowledges the cunning or practical wisdom of the steward.
Disciples need to have the practical wisdom or cunning of the steward, though to different ends. Dancing with Strangers provides a different and salutary reflection on the same topic. Luke’s parable gives way to a number of sayings of Jesus about money and possessions. The gospel tells us that, while they have their place, possessions can become obstacles to the key relationships in life.