Trinity 9: Be Wise with Your Possessions and the Gospel

Parable of the Unjust Steward
The unjust steward is called to account of his dealings before his master, based on Luke 16:1-13. From a book by Veit Dietrich summarizing the entire Bible (1562).

Lessons: 2 Samuel 22:26-34, 1 Corinthians 10:6-13, Luke 16:1-13
Hymns: LSB 592, 536, 731, 585, 689

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      Jesus often taught by way of parables. He does so to illumine His people with truths concerning His Kingdom. Jesus often taught by parables to hide the pearls of the Gospel from the swine—from those who neither know the Scriptures nor the power therein. What this means is that it takes spiritual eyes guided by the Holy Spirit to see and understand the wonderful parables of Jesus.

      Today’s parable perhaps illustrates this reality the best. While some parables are understood by those in the world to some degree, none are truly understood apart from faith and the Holy Spirit. Many in the world may think they understand the Parable of Good Samaritan. It’s about helping and loving all people, right? Be like the good Samaritan and help the Jew who was laying there half-dead. Well, that’s only a part of the story. The parable teaches us something about Christ. Jesus saw us dead in our sins and trespasses. He came to us in compassion and bandaged us up applying the salve of the Gospel. He paid our debt through His death on cross and brings us to the ark of His Church. He promises to come back for us, cancelling out all debt when He judges us righteous. He truly loves us more than any other.

      The notion that Jesus could be the active agent in the Parable of the Good Samaritan is not understood or seen without faith in Christ. Yet, at the same time, we see in that parable bad examples which Jesus is certainly not teaching others to do. Jesus is not teaching us to be a robber, nor is He teaching us to beat other people and leave them half-dead. Jesus is not teaching us to be like the Priest or the Levite, who ignore the man, passing by on the other side of the road.

      In the same way, today’s Gospel is understood by Christians when guided by the Holy Spirit. And, of course, Jesus is not teaching us waste our employer’s possessions, nor is He teaching us to defraud our rich bosses so that we can advance in life. He’s not teaching us to be dishonest or behave as the sons of the world.

      Instead, this parable becomes much clearer when Jesus adds His commentary at the end of verse 8, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” By these words, Jesus is criticizing many Christians for their lack of shrewdness. Why? What is going on?

      This Gospel begins a new chapter in Luke, and Jesus is speaking to the disciples. In the previous chapter, Jesus taught a serious of three familiar parables because the Pharisees and scribes grumbled and complained at Jesus for receiving sinners and tax collectors and eating with them. So Jesus taught the Parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Prodigal Son to show how it is important for sinners to repent and turn away from their sin, and how much joy there is even in Heaven when sinners do so. In the last parable, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we hear of a son who had it made. He was free, he had a good living, and he enjoyed the protection of being under his father’s roof. But he was not satisfied. He wanted his inheritance immediately and live his own life. The father gave it, he went away, and wasted his money on prostitutes. After a severe famine arose, he found himself starving. His situation was so dire he wanted to eat the feed the pigs were eating.

      This man, after having been so foolish, wizened up. He knew he could be a hired man at his father’s farm and enjoy a stable wage, which would be far better than what he was enduring now. He also realized he had to do one hard thing that most people don’t want to do—to repent. He resolved to plead guilty before his father, saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21).

      While repenting may feel painful, this son had his eye on the prize, so to speak. He knew it was good for him, for he had seriously wronged his father. He wasn’t even expecting to be restored as a son but as a servant in his father’s house. However, the father does not just receive him back as a servant. Instead, he throws a party and restores him as his son. After all, there is much joy in Heaven when one sinner repents, for God receives sinners into His fold as sons of God who can now count Jesus as their Brother.

      It is at this point Jesus turns to His disciples and speaks today’s Gospel—the Parable of the Unjust Steward. A rich man—a master—had a steward (or manager) who was wasting his goods. The master is firing his steward, but first the steward had to shore up the books. It has been suggested it’s harvest time and the master needs to steward to finish his job.

      He doesn’t know what to do about his future. He’s too white collar to dig and he’s too proud to beg. Then he has an “aha” moment when he decides he will write off some that the debtors owe his master. He has one debtor write off 50 measures of olive oil and another write off 20 measures of wheat—both of which were probably worth 500 denarii. Yes, he’s robbing his master while he’s making friends with his master’s debtors. They love him for it. They will help him out and vouch for him when he’s kicked out. He’s a smart man. He does what’s necessary for his own survival. And then, shockingly, the master commends the steward for his shrewdness.

      Just like the sinful actions of the robbers, Priest, Levite, and Prodigal Son in our Lord’s other parables, Jesus is not teaching us to copy this steward in his sin. But our Father in Heaven commends us Christians when we are shrewd—not by stealing and cheating to gain earthly possessions—but by wisely obtaining the Gospel to secure our eternal home. You see, we are all sinners. If God demanded an account of our actions, we should be kicked out of His Kingdom. We are too weak to dig our way into Heaven by our good works. We cannot sweettalk our way into God’s favor by begging. Aha! I know what to do! I’ll use unrighteous mammon to ensure my place in Heaven. I will support the preaching of the Gospel by praying for my Pastor, giving generously to the Lord, and listen intently to His Word. I will steal the Gospel as mine. For Jesus died for Me. I can claim His righteousness as mine. I can lay hold of His forgiveness. I won’t be passive in this, but I will be smart—taking advantage of the Gospel’s gifts as much as I possibly can.

      Jesus then contrasts the disciples of Christ with the disciples of this world. The steward in the parable is a smart disciple of the world. He knows how to use it to his advantage. But what about the disciples of Christ? Do they know how to use everything Christ offers them to their advantage? Here, again, is where the previous parable is helpful. The prodigal son learned the hard way the need for repentance and returning to his father. So what you—you who are baptized into Christ—you who died to sin so that you would not be enslaved to it—you who have been joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus in your Baptism? Will you repent, turning away from the vain pleasures of this life? Do you take advantage of what God offers? Or will Jesus criticize you for being less shrewd than the sons of the world?

      Take, for example, Confession and Absolution. Do you take advantage of this life-giving, liberating gift? Do you run to your pastor to confess your sins to be freed of them? Look at the Lord’s altar. Under the veil are bread and wine that will soon be consecrated as the Body and Blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. How do you treat this Sacrament? Is it a nice extra? Do you get annoyed when it adds a few minutes to the service? Do you think you can get by without it? Consider the Word. Do you listen intently to every word that comes from the mouth of your pastor, for He is sent by God to you? Do you read your Bibles so that you grow in the wisdom of Christ? Do you long to be in Bible study where you can open your Bibles alongside your brothers and sisters in Christ and hear the Word fleshed out among you? Are you wise enough to steal these chances for yourselves—to take in the Gospel as much as you can?

      All too often, we are doing the opposite of what God would have us do. For sadly, the sons of this world are more shrewd than the sons of light.

      Jesus uses this parable by way of negative example. This guy knew how to make it. And he did it. He took a risk by writing off that debt.

      So what about you? You have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. Do you know how to make it to Heaven? Do you really? Are you willing to take risks to disrupt your comfortable lives so that you can make your calling and election sure?

      Will you risk going to your pastor to confess your sins so that you can hear Christ’s Word of forgiveness applied to you? Will you risk parting with a tithe of your income to give back to the Lord in thanksgiving for the many blessings He has bestowed upon you, ensuring the Church will continue in this place to the next generation? Will you risk giving up two hours a week to spend at church in Bible class and the Divine Service? Will you risk adding family devotions, Scripture readings, hymn singing, and prayers at home?

      It’s no wonder Jesus calls the people of the world shrewder. Jesus did everything for our salvation. He accepted the responsibility of our sin. He bled and died for us. He opened Heaven to all sinners because He paid for the sins of the world. He established a Church in our own community that proclaims the Word purely and administers the Sacraments rightly. And yet, so many yawn at these treasures and run after prodigal living. They may not have the household gods (or carved images) of the Old Testament, but they won’t release their household gods of our day. Consider how you spend your time. The things that occupy it are likely the things that you love and put your trust in.

      But Jesus calls on you this day to go about a better way. It is the way of those who are spiritually wise. To take up your crosses and follow Christ. Jesus will never let you down. He is with you. He invites you to feast on Him in Word and Sacrament day in and day out. It is clear there is nothing more important in this life. For we cannot serve God and mammon.

      As much as we may love our mammon, it won’t love us back, nor will it give us eternal treasures. But God will. He loves you more than you can imagine. He sent His Son to die for you. He wants you to be reconciled to Him through Christ. He calls on you to repent of your sins of apathy, neglect, and prodigal living. And He graciously forgives you. He applies the salve of the Gospel on your wounds. He lifts you up and carries you to Himself. He is your Shield, your Rock, and your Refuge. He is your Savior. And He gives you peace which the world cannot give.

      Today’s parable is perhaps one of the best ones our Lord teaches, for by it, Jesus forces us to wrestle with His Word and dwell on it, thereby imparting His wisdom and forcing us to spend time on His Word. What a blessing! Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen