Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
September 23, 2007
Text: Luke 16:1-15

The parable of the dishonest manager or steward has always presented some difficulty in terms of interpretation. The difficulty is this: Jesus commends the dishonest manager. He commends him for his shrewdness. “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8; ESV). What does Jesus mean by that? The dishonest manager knew to use earthly wealth in order to gain friends for himself. He dealt shrewdly. Now here’s the point: If the sons of this world, like the dishonest manager, know how to use worldly wealth to their temporal advantage, how much more should the sons of light know how to use temporal things like worldly wealth to their eternal advantage, to the glory of God, and particularly in service to the neighbor? Be shrewd, wise, with what God gives you in this life. “If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust you with the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” (vv. 11-12).

So the question is this: How can we be shrewd with our money and possessions? Before we answer that question directly, let’s take a look at the case of the dishonest manager. He had been caught red handed. He didn’t even deny the charges against him. He had been unfaithful to his master, “wasting his master’s possessions” (v. 1). He had enjoyed the full trust of his master, but now he had broken that trust. Now his master had called him to account. “Get the books in order! Here’s an empty box. Clean out your desk. You can no longer be manager.” The now ex-manager had to do some quick thinking. He suddenly found himself unemployed, and justifiably so. What was he to do? A job at McDonald’s was beneath him. He didn’t have the fortitude for manual labor. “I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg” (v. 3). No, this situation called for a little shrewdness. The manager had a little time before he had to clear out. He had to get those books in order. And since he had already been fired, he might as well do some creative accounting and earn himself the loyalty of the locals. So he brings in his master’s debtors. He has the first one cut his debt in half. He has the second one cut his debt by 20%. What a deal! I wish my student loan company would just forgive half of my debt! Perhaps I need to pray that a dishonest manager takes over at ACS (I’m just kidding by the way).

How do you suppose the debtors regarded the manager after this? We can only imagine that the dishonest manager was wildly popular among the debtors, and that he had endeared himself to them to such an extent that they would take him into their homes when he had no home of his own. And we know from the text that this was precisely his purpose. Now there are two ways that we can look at this debt relief. Either the manager cheated his master out of the money he forgave, or perhaps more likely, he lopped off his commission from the bill. But either way, the manager did the debtors a tremendous favor in forgiving such a significant amount of debt. We’re talking about a lot of money’s worth of goods, here. And the irony is this… When the master sees what the manager has done, he commends him! Because while the manager looks good in the eyes of the debtors, so does the master for whom he works. The debtors are now not only loyal to the manager, but also to the master whom he represents. That’s just good business, friends. That’s how you bring customers back. The manager had dealt shrewdly, and he was commended. He may even have been allowed to keep his job. The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.

But the sons of light should be shrewd, too. This takes us back to our original question: How? How are we to be shrewd, like the dishonest manager? What is it that our Lord commends? It is surely not the dishonesty. No, don’t misunderstand our Lord. We are not to be dishonest. But it is this idea of using worldly wealth with an eye to the future. Not just the coming years, but eternity. The dishonest manager was looking toward the future when he modified the accounts of the debtors. “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses” (v. 4). So you also should be looking to the future, particularly, your eternal future. “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (v. 9). What does this mean? Quite simply this: Love and serve your neighbor, give your wealth for your neighbor’s benefit, and you will have treasure in heaven.

Your Lord gave everything for you. He didn’t just forgive a part of your debt. He forgave the whole thing. He is NOT the dishonest manager in the parable. He doesn’t just give you a little grace in order to gain your loyalty. He gives you all of His grace in order to purchase your entire being for Himself. He loves you that much. He gives His very life for you, that your life might be His own possession. He sheds His lifeblood for your forgiveness. He imparts His Spirit and faith to you. He gives you eternal life and salvation. He frees you from your bondage to sin, death, and the devil. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

So now you’re free. You’re free to NOT be like those wretches Amos describes, those who “trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end,” who “buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat” (Amos 8:4, 6). That was your former way of life, when you were under sin. But now you are under grace. Now you are free of sin’s tyranny. That’s not who you are anymore now that you are baptized into Christ. Now you are free to serve the neighbor with all that belongs to you, and with your very self. Remember, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13). If money is your god, you will be like the people in Amos. But if Jesus is your God, you will be merciful, as He is merciful, for He desires mercy, not sacrifice (Matt. 9:13). Mercy is, in fact, a sacrifice pleasing to God.

Be merciful to your neighbor. Support your neighbor in every physical need. Give him your money if he needs it. Give him the shirt off your back if he needs it. Because every good and every perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of lights (James 1:17). So it is not yours to do with as you please. It belongs to God. He has given it to you to use for the benefit of your neighbor. He has given it to you to manage, for you to be a steward. Take a cue here from the dishonest manager. Use what God has given you so that your treasure will be in heaven. And remember that Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). Make friends with worldly wealth by having mercy, and your works will follow you. Those whom you help with your gifts will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. And they will testify of your good works when our Lord judges the living and the dead.

Jesus commends the dishonest steward for his shrewdness. Be shrewd. Be wise. Be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). But most of all, believe the Gospel. For the Gospel is able to make you wise unto salvation (2 Timothy 3:15). The Gospel tells you about Christ. In fact, it does more than tell you about Him, it gives you Christ. It gives you His mercy. For it is only as you rest in His mercy, saved by grace alone without works, that you are able to show mercy to your neighbor and do good works for his benefit. It is only in the mercy of Christ that you find forgiveness for all your sins, and the strength to forgive others. It is only in the mercy of Christ that you receive eternal life, and the ability to live for others. He imparts His mercy to you here in the Church. He imparts it to you today, here, even now in this very place as He cancels all your debts. Sit down quickly, take your bill, and write “paid in full by the blood of Jesus.” Come and receive Jesus’ blood in the chalice. Go in peace and joy, canceling the debts of others by proclaiming forgiveness in Jesus, and forgiving their trespasses against you in Jesus’ Name. This is your privilege as sons of light. Thanks be to God. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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