Trinity 9, 2021

Most merciful Father, open our hearts, we beseech Thee, and grant us to desire with ardent mind those things which please Thee, to search for them wisely, to know them truly, and to fulfill them perfectly, to the honor and glory of Thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. [C&P #167]

God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

A parable is simply defined as an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. The parable before us today causes concern because Jesus is praising the actions of a man who was dishonest. This concern is good for us, because it helps us to understand how to use parables. If we found significant meanings for every detail in a parable, then it would cease to be a parable. It would be an allegory, where every detail corresponds to something else.

Every parable has a limited scope in what it teaches. Some impress only one thing on our minds. Some teach more. Take the well-known parable of the four soils, or the Sower and the seed. That one teaches several things, and its details invite us to consider it more deeply. But the parable in today’s gospel has different kinds of details. Jesus describes this man as dishonest, but praises his diligence. He’s not teaching us to lie. Instead, He’s drawing a lesson from the difference between carnal, unbelieving minds and the way His disciples usually conduct themselves.

Luke 16:1–9

He also said to the disciples, “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.’ 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. 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.’ 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 is God’s Word. Sanctify us through the truth, heavenly Father. Your Word is truth. Amen.

Dear fellow redeemed:

The thing that surprises those who pay close attention to this parable is that Jesus has something good to say about the thinking of the unbelieving world, and this in contrast to the thinking of Christians. We should ask, “What is it about Christian thinking that’s not as good as the thinking of worldly people?” 

The answer is limited and specific. In our text, it’s called shrewdness. Jesus praises the unjust steward in one thing: the steward recognizes how limited his material possessions really are, and how urgently he should use them for his own long-term good.

Jesus summarized it by teaching, “make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

To understand this well, we must begin with a reminder about what we are in relation to God. He made everything in a matter of six days, then rested the seventh. Human beings were included. God made us, too. This means that we are not the ultimate masters. God is. He gave humans responsibilities and work to do that included authority over Creation, but it did not diminish God’s ownership or authority above us.

So we may own houses, vehicles, clothing, and the food on our plates by virtue of working and paying for them. But we don’t really own them. Our ownership exists only between us humans, not between us and God.

If we understand this, then it’s easier to understand things like the Seventh Commandment and the term “unrighteous mammon.” God does recognize that we possess certain things, if only for a while. That makes it wrong to take what belongs to another against his will or without consent. That’s robbery or theft. To commit such a sin puts too much value on earthly possessions. They become more important to the human heart than God’s own commandments and favor. So we can see that “unrighteous mammon” is something made in the human heart. It’s not the stuff itself, but a kind of idolatry treating the stuff of Creation as more important than our own Creator.

One of the great accusations of socialists against capitalists has been that the capitalists are materialistic: always concerned above all with gathering earthly wealth. That would make it into an idol, and no doubt the sinful hearts of many capitalists find it hard to trust in God more than the almighty dollar. The socialists see their ideas as the solution, but they have the same basic problem. Instead of allowing people to work for wealth, the socialists put their faith in ideas like equity and fair distribution of property. They think, “If only everyone has the same material wealth, we will be close to paradise.” Doesn’t that also make a god out of unrighteous mammon?

The problem is deep, but Jesus unwraps it for us. Deep in the darkness of the human heart lurk the remnants of the Fall into sin. This corruption is deep. Our confessions state, “original sin is not a slight corruption of human nature, but rather a corruption so deep that there is nothing sound or uncorrupted left in the human body or soul, in its internal or external powers.” So we all have the problem of unrighteous mammon. We naturally cling to it as a great and permanent good. We feel secure when we have it and insecure when we do not. But what will finally happen to it all?

That’s right. All our wealth is temporary. Every material thing we might enjoy or fear. Temporary like the brief time when the steward in this parable still had control over his master’s books. He knew he had to hurry. He knew that the wealth represented on those ledgers was not his own: hundreds of measures of wheat and oil — all belonging to his master, but for such a short time still under his control.

Do you remember his plan? I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.” He doesn’t want the work of being a farmer, digging in the soil. He doesn’t want the shame of begging. Yet he knows that he relies upon the goodwill of others. So he does what he can to make them as friendly as possible. He uses his expiring stewardship to spend the wealth of his master, for the advantage of those who owe debts to his master.

You are the steward. You have control of some of God’s earthly riches, but they are all going away sooner or later. You will survive, but where you end is not for you to decide. It depends on others.

Now some people make the mistake of thinking that God wants or needs their money. They may want to pay Him off for a good conscience. Or they may become offended at the idea that they owe Him. But He doesn’t need your stuff. He has plenty. In fact, your stuff belongs to Him already anyway. But in His great mercy toward the world, God has done great things for us all. You live beside billions of people whom God loves, and many of them do need what you can provide.

There are simple material needs. Some people are hungry, cold in winter or hot in summer, or sick. One reason God has blessed you is in order to help them.

There are more subtle earthly needs. Some children lack a father, or a mother. Survivors may miss the companionship of a spouse. Youth or adults may be missing a lot of good sense or friendship. Has God entrusted you with the blessings to help?

There are spiritual needs. Every sinner will perish apart from God eternally unless there is faith in the gospel. Every sinful human needs the work of the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament in order to believe. God desires every sinner to repent and come to the knowledge of the truth. Do you have the knowledge of the truth? Do you have the faith your neighbors need? Can you help send someone to other places that have the same needs? God wants to do this, and He has blessed you so that you may have a part in it.

Your earthly possessions are God’s blessings for your good. Part of your good is learning to be like Him: showering undeserved blessings upon others. 

Make no mistake. You do not deserve your possessions, no matter how you may have worked, bled, or schemed to have them. You are included in the fallen human race. But to top all of His undeserved gifts of grace, God has forgiven your sins. He has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith. On the Last Day He will raise up you and all the dead, and give you and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.

But Jesus warned, the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” He’s aware that every Christian still has the sinful flesh. Our hearts are not pure, but divided. By His grace, we live in the confidence of holy baptism in the New Man, but we are still confused and distracted by the flesh. So we don’t act on our own eternal interests as shrewdly as the sons of this world look out for their earthly possessions. That’s why we need this parable. But your earthly possessions — even your time — are strictly limited. 

Where are your most important concerns: here on earth, or in eternal life to come? If you say reaching eternal life is more important, then shouldn’t everything you do on Earth aim in that direction? Shouldn’t your use of every earthly treasure be in service to God and your eternal good?

We don’t do this as we should. We don’t always see it so clearly in the thick of daily life. For this we merit God’s wrath and should expect His punishment. But God remains merciful. His forgiveness for penitent sinners never runs out, because the atoning sacrifice of Jesus’ holy body and blood stands forever. So you are cleansed. Your baptism strengthens you. Our Lord nourishes you with Word and Sacrament. 

Thanks be to God! For your stewardship of His blessings is a powerful witness of His merciful kindness toward you and toward every other undeserving sinner. Therefore, let us always live… 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria