Readings: 2 Samuel 22:26-34, 1 Corinthians 10:6-13, Luke 16:1-13
Hymns: 703, 730, 781, 758, 732, 689
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s parable vexes many people. Is Jesus condoning theft? What is this parable trying to convey? Here we have a rich man who learns that his manager (or steward) is wasting the rich man’s possessions. The rich man is ready to fire the manager. The manager makes friends by going up to people who owe the rich man and writes down their debt. Shockingly, the rich man commends the manager for his shrewdness.
This parable isn’t the only one in which sinful acts are used by Jesus to teach something about His Kingdom. In Matthew 13:44, a man finds a treasure in someone’s field. He then sells everything he has to buy that field and get that treasure. In that parable, the sin is searching for treasures in other people’s property and then not alerting the landowner of it. It is a classic case of coveting: obtaining a treasure in a way that appears right. But the point Jesus makes is that we have a treasure in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This Gospel is worth losing everything in this life, so that we may obtain eternal treasures.
In today’s parable, Jesus is not teaching people to take advantage of others, for that would go against His command to love one another. Instead, Jesus is showing how shrewd the world is in their dealings and Christians need to be as shrewd when it comes to matters of faith. Instead of letting Christianity slip by, Jesus teaches us to use our God-given brains to ensure we always have the Gospel in our midst.
The Parable of the Unjust Steward begins with a rich man. Jesus rarely spoke well of rich people. Jesus declared, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24) and “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). Jesus also showed how poor Lazarus went to Heaven while the rich man was condemned. Also, the rich fool built larger barns to store his plentiful harvest so he could live a relaxing life, and then God ended his life (Luke 12:13-21). Yet there were some who were rich who received Christ, including Zacchaeus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Lydia. Riches are not inherently sinful. God granted rich people to have their riches and they are First Article gifts (that is, gifts from God).
The rich man had a manager. Many translations use the word steward. The job of this steward was to manage the rich man’s books and possessions.
When we consider our standing before God, we, too, are stewards of our Master’s possessions. Everything we have not only came from God but belongs to Him. He has entrusted our possessions to us. We are borrowing and using His things. And just as the manager was caught in dishonest dealings, so also God has caught us in our sin. We are guilty before God, for we have not managed His possessions well.
We have sinned, as we confessed in thought, word, and deed. We have not placed God first in our lives. We have used our lips to speak vain things and have withheld our lips from telling the Good News of Jesus to our neighbors. We have become more concerned about getting COVID-19 than losing our faith. We have not spoken well of the authorities God placed over us. We have hurt others by our words and deeds. We have looked at others with lust. We have wasted time at work, costing our employers countless dollars. We have gossiped. We have coveted things that don’t belong to us. Repent.
The manager began to think about what he could do, now that he is losing his job. He says he cannot dig. Just as the manager was losing his job because he wasted his master’s possessions, so also we lost Paradise because of our sin. And just as the manager cannot dig to restore himself, so also we cannot do enough good works to restore ourselves before God. Even if we could raise enough funds to pay for all the research needed to cure the coronavirus, we still would not have done enough to earn our way to Heaven. Our sin will still hover over us. Serving the world around us will not get us into Heaven.
Yet, God has called us to service. He has given each and every one of us individual gifts and abilities. We are to use them for the betterment of others. All around us there are opportunities for service.
Our neighbors need our good works. We ought to be volunteering at Church and in our community, according to our individual talents and abilities. There’s opportunity for service in our city, schools, and parks. There are lots of service organizations within our community. Just don’t join any of the lodges, for they use religious elements and require their members to make oaths in God’s name that are contrary to God’s Word. Anyway, so service to our neighbor is good—and commanded by God—yet that won’t take our sin away and restore our standing before God.
The manager in our parable also said he’s too ashamed to beg. In the same token, our neighbors won’t get us into heaven. Having them tell God how good they feel we are will not change God’s disposition toward us. At the time of the Reformation, one of the major abuses that Martin Luther corrected had to do with false teachings concerning the availability of the good works of the saints (known as the holy see of good works). The thought was that time must be spent in purgatory to pay for the consequence of our sins, but since the saints had done so many extra good works, our time in purgatory could be shortened if they credit their good works to us. This was often done by indulgences. Sadly, this false teaching on the holy see of the good works of the saints is still found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. So, begging of the saints or trying to get others to tell God how swell we are will not correct our standing with God.
Then the manager resolves what he will do. He’s already losing his job so he can’t make his master any more upset at him. He writes down what people owe his master! Those people will then receive him into their homes and help him out when he loses his job, for he had made friends with them. The master, in fact, commends him for he figured out a way to make it in life once his income is gone.
This, then, forces us to ask ourselves: if our good works will not save us and if the good works of other saintly people will not save us, do we know the way of salvation? And if the manager used shrewdness, will we Christians also use shrewdness to ensure that we remain on the path of salvation? After all, St. Peter writes, “Be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10).
The way of salvation is found only in Jesus. He alone went to the cross and shed His innocent Blood on our behalf. He alone suffered the wrath of God for our many sins, even enduring Hell on the cross as He was forsaken His Father in Heaven. He alone bore our sins in His Body and paid for them all. He then teaches us these truths in the Bible alone. He chooses to distribute this salvation freely by His grace through His Word and through the Sacraments. That is, the Holy Spirit works faith in us through the hearing of God’s Word, through Baptism, and through Holy Communion. Your opportunity for salvation is found in Christ’s Church which He Himself establishes.
The manager was shrewd. It was not his dishonesty that was commended, but his shrewdness. To this end, Jesus lamented, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are the sons of the light. True wisdom comes from God. Our light is Christ. If we want to be truly illumined—that is, if we want to be instructed in true wisdom for our salvation, then we must remain firmly grounded in Christ through the Word of God. All other ground is sinking sand.
Christians are continually bombarded with religious ideas and thoughts that are not grounded in the Word of God. In fact, we are constantly being bombarded with the ways of the world, which directly contradict the way of Christ. God has shown us the true way. He has also given us brains to use. So, let’s use our gray matter to learn the truth of God’s Word, discern truth from error, and cling firmly to Christ and His Word of truth. That’s the type of shrewdness God would have us use.
All too often people gradually lose their faith because they have not actively made use of the means of grace. It’s like muscle: if you don’t use it, you lose it. God has something incredibly generous to offer—eternal salvation through His Son. And God wants you to have it. So, don’t let the opportunity pass by to receive Him. Therefore, go to Church. Listen intently. Baptize your children. Teach them the Word. Receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Let nothing get in your way. Support the proclamation of the Gospel with the same type of generosity as Christ has already been to you.
The manager desired with all his heart mammon and making it in this life. As Christians, we are to desire with all our hearts the gift of eternal life, which we receive through Christ and His Word.
This parable is particularly fitting during this pandemic. Fearing the coronavirus more than eternal death, many are letting their faith slip away as they avoid the means of grace. Today, Jesus says, “Wise up. Take what I am giving you for free. Hear My Word. Receive My forgiveness. Eat My Body and drink My Blood. For through these means, I am saving you.”
For that, we give thanks. For that we rejoice. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen