The Ninth Sunday after Trinity: The Parable of the Unjust Steward

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: Proverbs 16:1-9, 1 Corinthians 10:6-13, Luke 16:1-9
Hymns: LSB 536, 730, 731, 732, 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.

      Today’s parable can be a little confusing because, from the surface, it may seem as if Jesus is condoning thievery. It’s easy, then, to get caught up in that apparent problem and want to dismiss the entire parable. Now, Martin Luther rightly taught that when reading the Bible “where one does not understand it, pass that by and glorify God.” Give God the glory in all things, even passages that are confusing or difficult. At the same time, we recognize that we must read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Sacred Scriptures. That means it is good for us to dwell on today’s parable, seek its interpretation, and compare this reading to other, clearer passages of Scripture.

      Let me start by saying that while today’s parable extols godly shrewdness, it does not teach that we should steal, take advantage of those over us by adjusting the financial books, or engage in any other violation of the seventh, ninth, and tenth commandments.

      So let’s consider today’s Gospel. “1 There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’” Here we have the rich man who is a master. We also have a manager, also known as a steward. The rich man hired this manager, or steward, to manage his vast possessions.

      There are two applications I wish to draw from these verses.

First, it is not wise to hand all things over to the steward. No matter how reliable others may be, there are some things God expects us to do. We are ultimately responsible for how we use our possessions. In fact, our possessions are gifts from God, and they ultimately belong to Him. So, we must use them wisely. This not only includes the fact that we must use our stuff wisely (which means to use our temporal things for the benefit of our neighbor and not for ourselves to hoard), but also, we are to understand when God has given us the authority to manage. Consider our children. They are blessings from God. And God has blessed us with schools and churches to raise our children with knowledge and faith. But we cannot hand this all over to a steward. We must teach our children, especially the Christian faith. Expecting other experts to do all the teaching will usually result in their failure.

      Second, the word “charges” is only found once in the New Testament. It is διεβλήθη where we get the word diabolical. In ancient Greek the word could mean slanderous charges or true charges. So here we have a master who hears of charges and instantly puts out his manager without giving him a proper hearing. The manager is not given a chance to prove himself innocent; the master reacts instantly and gives him notice of his termination. The eighth commandment teaches us to put the best construction on everything; something the master in today’s Gospel refused to do. Our nation’s founders were wise in assuming innocence until proven guilty and provided the right to a fair trial. How much more as Christians must we treat people fairly, being slow to judge or slow to anger?

      “3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.” He’s losing his job. Now what? He probably can’t get a similar job since he was being fired for failing to do it well. He realizes he’s too weak to be a laborer. Thankfully, he’s ashamed to beg. He won’t allow himself to live on the streets, bumming off of others. It’s a godly shame.

      Yet, there are times when we as Christians must be beggars. When Martin Luther died, there was a little sheet of paper found in his pocket. It may have been the last thing he ever wrote. The note said, “We are all beggars; this is true.” So, the good Lutheran question is, “What does this mean?” We are all sinners who deserve nothing but temporal punishment and eternal death. The Israelites indulged in sexual immorality and in one day, 23,000 died. Others tested Christ and were killed by venomous serpents. Others grumbled and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Our sins, which are not unlike the ones of ancient Israel, earn for us eternal death. We cannot atone for our own sin; we cannot make ourselves good enough so that God would overlook our sin and receive us into Paradise. That’s why the Father sent His innocent Son who became Man and could die in our place. Jesus came to pay for our sin and grant us the gift of eternal life. He bled and died on the cross so that we can be cleansed of our sin.

      This, my friends, puts us in the position of being beggars. Instead of boldly asserting our own innocent or trying to explain our sins away, we confess our sin and beg for Christ’s forgiveness. We bow our heads in submission to our Lord, claim Christ as our Advocate, and beg for the Lord’s mercy. And He who is faithful and just, forgives our sin, and cleanses us of all unrighteousness.

      There is no shame in begging God for His forgiveness or mercy. In doing so, we acknowledge that we cannot attain salvation apart from Christ. Jesus alone reconciles us to our Father and gives us eternal life.

      “4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’” Now we hear of the unjust steward’s final act before he is put out of his job. He writes down the debts owed to his master. That way he earns for himself friends who will take care of him when he’s out of his job. The manager is accused of sin. Now he tries to solve his dilemma with more sin. Turning to sin is never the right course. When we are punched, we do not punch in return. When we are stolen from, we do not steal from others. If we are cheated on, we don’t cheat to take revenge.

      Charges are brought against the manager. The master doesn’t confirm, but immediately accuses. The manager now steals from his master. What we see here is that sin quickly snowballs. In 1925, a report from the South Dakota District of the LCMS said, “One of the greatest dangers confronting our Christian young people today is the lax moral tone of the theater, the motion-picture as well as the legitimate stage, and the newspaper and magazine press. Plays and comedies featuring marital unfaithfulness, sexual transgressions, profanity, ridicule of the Bible and the clergy, elopements, breaking of engagements, indecent exposure of the female form, are shown week after week. Oh, how this familiarity with sin must finally work to break down all Christian restraint and inhibition and pollute the minds and bodies of countless numbers!” This immorality has certainly snowballed in the past century. Our children are preyed upon by the homosexual and transgender communities. They are allured by easy-access pornography. Lifelong marriage is despised, and children have become disposable or are replaced by “fur babies.” While in one day, 23,000 died for sexual immorality, in our day 65 million babies have been put to death since 1973 in our country alone.

      “8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 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.” This gets us to the main point of the parable. Jesus teaches the error when Christians are not as shrewd as the people of this world. Worldly people use their wisdom to advance themselves. But what about Christians? Will they use their God-given brains to ensure they have an eternal home? Will they take advantage of what God offers so they can be received into Paradise? Or will they foolishly forgo the Gospel and lose their eternal dwelling place through indifference or neglect?

      Jesus is teaching us Christians to be wise in our use of the Gospel. You are wise when you listen intently to the Word, truly confess your sin, receive the Absolution, frequently go to the Lord’s table to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, and focus on your Savior Jesus. You are wise when you diligently teach your children the Christian faith. You are wise when you say “no” to worldly interests so that you can be about your Father’s business in His House. You are wise when you remember your Baptism through daily contrition and repentance. You are wise when you spend your time each day in the Word of God and prayer. You are wise when you defy the world’s vanities and embrace Christ as your redeemer. You are wise when you are good stewards of your possessions, giving generously and cheerfully back to the Lord.

      You are wise when you use your earthly goods to serve your neighbor. They will testify to the Lord on your behalf that you helped them in this life. This does not mean you are earning your salvation, but instead it serves as a testimony of your faith—you trusted in the Lord, not in your possessions and so you used your possessions to serve your neighbor instead of serving yourself.

      This is a sign of true and living faith of the heart. And we shall hear our Savior’s promise, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). Amen.

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