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17th Sunday After Pentecost PDF Print E-mail

TEXT: LUKE 16:1-15
Rev. Kenneth Wieting

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord; Dear hearers of the Word; I most love to preach to you when I learn much in preparation for a sermon.  That was the case in re-studying the Gospel this week.  I would invite your attention to an expanded thought from years ago: “Concerning the Money and Mercy of Your Master – Take a Lesson from a Crook Facing a Crisis!”

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.  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.   

In the fourth century Julian the apostate used this parable to claim that Jesus taught his followers to be liars and thieves and that noble Romans should reject Jesus and his corrupting influences.  But in its context, this rich parable teaches something entirely different.  It is similar to the parable of the Prodigal Son that precedes it.  In fact the manager was indicted with the same accusing word laid at the feet of the prodigal son – squandering or wasting his master’s resources.  In this misuse, he was dishonest – he was a crook.

Suddenly he was a crook facing a crisis.  Just like that, the game is up!  What is this that I hear about you?  Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.  His response is silence – silence!  Incredible!  In the Middle East dismissing a servant usually took days of negotiation – generations of family service were often involved.  Excuses were offered – fault had to be firmly established while the accused tried to spread the blame – influential friends in the community would plead his case.  In that culture, this steward’s silent acceptance of his dismissal is stunning.  His quiet retreat is a confession of guilt.  He makes no attempt to justify his actions but instead begins to talk to himself.

He may be fired, but he was fired in private.  At present no one else in the community knows his status and for a few hours the master’s books are still in his hands.  In addition, he was just the recipient of an amazingly merciful act!  The Master could have jailed him on the spot – but didn’t’!  The Master could have sold him and his family as slaves to recoup his losses but did not!  In light of the extraordinary mercy that he has just received, the manager risks everything on the generous nature of his Master.

What shall I do since my master is taking the management away from me?  I am not strong enough to dig...To his credit he considers this demanding task in terrace farming but knows his physical limitations.  He continues… I am ashamed to beg.  Not everyone is – but he has some residual personal honor – and knows he lacks the qualifications for begging the community accepts (blindness, a broken back, loss of a limb, paralysis, etc.)

In his state of outcast misery, a light then dawns!  I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses (that phrase means “to get another job” – to manage for someone else).  So summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?  Take a lesson from a crook facing a crisis!  He was just dismissed in private and the master’s books are still in his possession.  If he is simply fired for corruption, no one else in the community will hire him.  Therefore he quickly and cleverly summons his master’s debtors one by one.  In these private interviews he has them write-off huge amounts of their bill in their own handwriting, showing that the renters have accepted the reductions.  In actual worth for a farm worker, each reduction was the wage for about a year and a half of labor.  Through it all, they think he is still employed by the master, acting in his office for the Master.  They trust it is all legal and they love the slashing of their accounts. 

Such news would have exploded in the village.  The Master would have been thought perhaps the most generous man in the history of that village.  When the manager then handed over the newly altered accounts the Master has only two options.  First, he could quickly make clear that the manager had no legal right at the time and that the accounts must be paid in full.  After all, he was fired at the time.  This action, however, would crush many hearts that presently believed he had lightened their load.  Secondly, the master could remain quiet, pay the price of this clever rascal’s salvation and continue to enjoy the reputation of the generous and merciful man that he was.  You know which option he chose.

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.  Having provided sizable economic relief, the manager and the master would have been the heroes of the community.  The master congratulates the manager – not for his dishonesty – but for his singular trust in the mercy of his Master.  He is not commended for his ethics - being called a son of this world.  He is commended for his accurate insight into his master’s nature.  He had experienced extraordinary mercy at the beginning of the story.  He risks everything in the confidence that this mercy and generosity are at the core of his master’s identity.  If he is wrong he will lose everything including the freedom of his family.  But his trust is born out.

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.  “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.  If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches...You cannot serve God and money.  Dear Christians – your money is only for this world – it will fail you!  Your special things – all you’ve accumulated – your securities are not secure. 

Yet how the world trusts and yet wastes money.  There are business schemes aplenty – investment shell games – governmental waste and pork barrel projects – individual greed – materialism on steroids - mismanagement aplenty.  If God called for an accounting tomorrow – if the books were opened on your management of His money – how would you fare?  In the generosity of your thoughts and actions, in the portion you prayerfully commit for the Gospel, in the cheerfulness that you extend God’s mercy to those in need, in the teaching of your children about managing God’s gifts to them, in the priority you assign to win friends for eternity, are you ready for God’s audit?  As the dishonest steward used his master’s possessions to win short-term friends, so we should use the blessings God gives to win friends for eternity. 

If the books were opened, would there be accusation that you are wasting any of God’s goods?  Would there be accusation that you are hoarding God’s goods for self, for family, for future?  Would there be grounds for accusation that you are seeking first matters of self-interest rather than the kingdom of God and His righteousness.  “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds” the Lord swore through the prophet Amos.  If God never forgot any of the things done and left undone in your management of His possessions, are you ready for His judgment.

Is it not true that we are all unjust stewards (managers)?  We have been unjust in a very little and in much (v. 10).  We have been unfaithful in that which is another’s (v. 12).  Our inborn error is that we think we are the masters – just like the Pharisees.  The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.  And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts.  For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. 

Beloved, if the books were opened tomorrow, if an account must be given of our stewardship, must we not look for a solution outside of ourselves?  We cannot justify ourselves!  We are in the same fix as the manager Jesus spoke of?  Not that we are deliberately dishonest or intending to be a crook!  Yet as he focused on the world and providing for himself, don’t we?  As he wasted some of what the manager had entrusted to his care, haven’t we?  Our only hope is the one who sits in judgment on us – the God-Man and none other!  Our only hope is to throw everything on the mercy of the master!  That’s what was commended here - the dishonest steward’s perception of the nature of his Master.  He staked everything on the belief that his master would honor actions taken in his name that nullified the debt of others!  That trust secured his future!   That’s the point!  The mercy of the Lord -amazing mercy – perpetual mercy and amazing trust in His mercy!  The master acted in keeping with His honor and His Word spoken through another.  The debts were cancelled.  Julian the apostate was wrong about this parable – dead wrong!  Concerning God’s money and God’s mercy take a lesson from a crook facing a crisis! 

Consider also another crook facing a crisis!  On the day the account was called on his management – it was done by means of capital punishment.  On the cross next to Jesus he staked everything on the mercy of the Master asking simply to be remembered.  Today you will be with me in paradise…Jesus promised as He balanced the books with His own blood.  Fellow-redeemed, Jesus in His office as Redeemer spoke a word of forgiveness to this whole world of sinners.  He completely changed the status of our debt!  Guilty of our sin, not His own, He used His last hours to secure our future, not His own.  Father, forgive them. 

And just like the manager called the debtors one by one before Him, so Jesus called you personally before Him in Holy Baptism.  He called you to Himself and said, how much do you owe?  Take your debt and write cancelled on it.  Your Baptism, after all, is a baptism into my death.  Don’t write some lesser amount, don’t write paid in part, but rather write, paid in full. 

In the parable the debtors received the benefit of the master’s forgiveness through the actions of another.  So have you!  God wills that you also use His means of grace to erase completely – not just half - the debt of others.  He will commend us unjust stewards and receive us into eternal dwellings where there will be joyful feasting forever.  Even today He invites us to His table – continually exchanging His righteousness for our failings.  Here He entrusts us with true riches thereby freeing us and loosening our grip on fleeting things.  He always gives infinitely more than we pray for.  Concerning the Money and Mercy of the Master, Take a Lesson from a Crook facing a Crisis.  Freely you have received (Matt 10:8) – freely give!  In the Name of Jesus, Amen. 


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