Sunday, August 21, 2011

Homily for The Ninth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 9)


Luke 16:1-13; 1 Corinthians 10:6-13; 2 Samuel 22:26-34

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ Parable of the Dishonest Manager is scandalous to Christians and unbelievers alike. How are we to understand Jesus’ commendation of the manager in the parable for his shrewd and dishonest management of his master’s goods? Unbelievers cry “Contradiction! The Bible is fallible!” while Christians shrug their shoulders in embarrassment. But this only goes to show you that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is still as radical today as it was two thousand years ago and that we are as thoroughly enmeshed in worldly wisdom and values as were those who first heard this parable with their own ears.

Like Jesus’ hearers two thousand years ago, we too are offended by the manager’s wasting of his master’s possessions. This is because we believe strongly in individual, personal worldly and material possessions – “What’s mine is mine. I earned it. I bought it. It’s mine.” We are ready to condemn the manager and see him rot in prison or worse. Thus, we are doubly offended when Jesus has the master commend the dishonest manager in the end for his shrewdness in doing favors for his master’s debtors by slashing their debts by twenty and even fifty percent. How could Jesus commend such dishonest, wasteful, and unjust behavior?

But what does Jesus say? He says, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” What does this mean? Well, the dishonest manager was a man of the world; he had only his own self-interest in mind. We can relate to that. He had been wasteful with his master’s possessions to begin with, but once he realized that he was going to lose his management and his livelihood he shrewdly thought to use his master’s possessions to make friends for himself so that when he was unemployed they would remember and be kind to him. Now, while that may be the kind of survival instinct you might resort to when your back is against the wall and your life depends upon it, I imagine that most of you disapprove of the manager’s proposed solution to his problem. And yet, the master in Jesus’ parable commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.

The key to understanding Jesus’ meaning in the parable is the distinction between “sons of this world” and “sons of light”. You were sons of this world, but now, through baptism and faith, you have been born again as sons of light. And, while the wicked sons of this fallen world will use any means necessary to secure their life and well-being, how much more should the forgiven sons of light use any means necessary to secure their eternal life and well-being? Too often the sons of this world show their desire and love for their life and possessions, perishable things, while the sons of light, Christians, chase after these same perishable things and neglect and risk losing the eternal dwellings and life that is already theirs by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Just as the dishonest manager made friends for himself by means of unrighteous wealth, so too Jesus exhorts you to make friends for yourself by means of unrighteous wealth. The key distinction here, however, is the word means. For the sons of light, unrighteous material wealth and worldly possessions, even our lives in this world are but means to an end, they are not the end itself. The sons of this world consider these things to be an end, but for you sons of light they are only means. This is because you recognize that all your wealth and possessions, even your life, is not yours but is a gift to you from God your heavenly Father over which He has given you management, stewardship. Jesus states this plainly when He says, “If you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” Moreover still, Jesus says that all those worldly and material things that we get so worked over and fret and worry about and risk all, even our salvation, to keep and protect are but little things, unrighteous wealth, and false riches. The shrewdness that you use to keep and protect your little things, your unrighteous wealth, and your false riches, use that same shrewdness with the things that are much, that are righteous, and that are true riches.

For, ultimately, that which you so love and put your trust in that you fear losing it, that has become your master. If little things, unrighteous wealth, and false riches are what you fear, love, and trust then they are your master and you are their servant. Look around. How many people do you see who daily serve such worldly, material, and perishing things? The hours, the days, the years, and the decades we serve and toil to earn, to buy, to possess little, perishable things that never truly belong to us at all and that only collect dust upon our shelves, that lose their luster and appeal and then are taken to the dump when we grow tired of them or when we die and our children see no value in that which we fretted and worried and worked and toiled and sweated to obtain. Who’s serving who? Are you being served by what you possess or is what you possess being served by you? Does what you possess possess you? Are your possessions your master?

“No servant can serve two masters,” Jesus says, “for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” We confess in the First Article “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and Earth.” And we also confess what this means:

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

All that you have, your physical and material possessions, your family and children, even the food that you eat, the water that you drink, and the air that you breathe comes to you as the good and gracious gift of your loving Creator and God. These are His possessions over which He has given you management and stewardship to use for yourself and for your family, and to use for the benefit of others to the glory of God’s holy Name. You are not to waste God’s possessions. You are not to squander God’s possessions. And you are not to hoard God’s possessions in greed, lust, and gluttony. Neither are you to serve God’s possessions or worship them, but you are to manage them in such a way that God’s people are served and helped and God is glorified. Unrighteous wealth is not an end, but it is a means to be used to the glory of God. As the sons of the world are shrewd in using unrighteous wealth to make friends, so much more should you Christian sons of light make use of unrighteous wealth in service of your neighbor to the glory of God.

There is no contradiction in Jesus’ teaching. Jesus would have you be generous with that which is not yours, to be a dishonest manager according to the wisdom of the world. For, the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom and He graciously provides you with more than you need for yourself and your family physically, materially, and spiritually. The dishonest manager took a gamble that his master would honor the debts he reduced by twenty and fifty percent because he believed his master to be gracious and generous. How much more is your heavenly Father gracious and generous toward you, and through you, toward your neighbor, toward all the world? Through the gracious and generous gift of His Son He has given you all that you need to support your body and life: eternal food, eternal drink, eternal forgiveness, and an eternal home. You can never lose these, for they are secured for you as your treasure in heaven. You can never lose these gifts, but you can only reject them and walk away. For your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the ultimate dishonest manager, and He has not merely reduced your debt to His Father and Master but He has canceled and released your from it entirely. He now invites your to partake of His gifts freely and live, and He sends you as managers and stewards of His boundless grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness to shower these freely upon others to the glory of His Father. Scandalous? Yes! Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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