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.
A few weeks ago, I happened upon an article ranking the seventy-six best board games of all time. The list included classic strategy games like Stratego and Risk, card, dice, and word games like Uno, Yahtzee, and Scrabble, contemporary social games like Trivial Pursuit, Scattergories, and Pictionary, along with monetary, budgeting, and trading games like Payday, Sorry, and Monopoly, the latter of which, notably, came in second only after Chess.
These last three games are notable in that they have made entertaining and fun something that most of us likely feel is dull, mundane, and even torturous, namely budgeting, money management, and finance. The large part of what makes games such as these entertaining and fun is that we are able to manage enormous amounts of money, property, and possessions and attempt to build them into even greater fortunes and to make risky, bold, and, sometimes, foolish, moves with no risk or repercussions at all in our real and actual lives. And, that’s what makes these games great! Because, no matter how much, or how little, you have, we all have to make the best of what we’ve got, for ourselves, and for others. Better to learn good management and stewardship skills early on, when the money is only paper and the job is spinning wheels and rolling dice.
Consider this in relation to Jesus’ parable about the dishonest manager. The manager had been questioned by his rich employer of “wasting his possessions” and mismanaging his wealth and he was commanded to “turn in an account of his management,” that is, to bring the accounting books for the master to examine. Notice that the manager made no argument in defense of himself. He knew that the charges were true and that he had no escape. He knew that he would be fired and that no one would hire him. He knew that he would have to live day by day fighting to secure the meanest manual labor or, worse yet, simply begging on the streets, which would not provide him enough to live.
But, that was when the dishonest manager came up with an ingenious, if morally repugnant, plan: He went to each of his master’s debtors and he reduced their bill by as much as fifty percent! His plan was based upon two premises: First, he knew that the debtors would treat him well when he became unemployed, and second, he knew that his master would honor debts he had reduced.
Now, we all want to cry out, “Unfair! Dishonest!” And, rightly so, for, the manager’s plan is a clear violation of the Seventh Commandment, “You shall not steal.” Thus, we are all rightly surprised, and perhaps scandalized, when we hear Jesus’ teaching that “the master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” This simply would not work in our world. We would not be commended, but we would be arrested, for mismanaging our employers’ money, property, and possessions in this manner. Ah, but therein lies the key: Even when we manage our own money, property, and possessions, we are truly managing those things that belong, not to us, but to God. Moreover, our God will indeed honor the debts that His Son, Jesus, has, not reduced, but, in fact, has paid for us, fulfilled, and satisfied in full by His suffering and death on the cross for you, for me, and for all men of every time and every place.
You see, Jesus knows you. He knows your fallenness. He knows how you love money, property, and possessions and how you trust in them and fear losing them. Jesus knows that you have taken His Father’s good gifts to you and have made them your idols, your gods before and instead of Him. He knows how you, in your sinful corruption, blindly and intentionally worship created things in place of the Creator of all things, even yourself. Therefore, He teaches you, He disciplines you, that you may learn proper stewardship, management of the good things His Father gives you. He doesn’t want you to not use, benefit from, and enjoy His gifts, but He wants you to fear, love, and trust in Him, the Giver, above and before the gifts that He gives. And, one key way that you demonstrate this is by giving His gifts to others.
Jesus taught, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” What this means you already know well enough, for you are well schooled in the worldly ways of spending money to make money, buying low and selling high, and flipping property to make more money. You are indeed very shrewd in these worldly matters, and the world rewards those who excel in this way. However, these things truly belong to your heavenly Father. Therefore, I ask you, in what way is He honored and glorified in your worldly dealings, O sons of light? Do you give back to Him a portion of what He has given to you as a thank offering? Moreover, do you give to others of what He has given to you and win glory and praise, not for yourself, but for God? You see, that is precisely what the dishonest manager did, he assured that his master would be glorified, even as he gave away what belonged, not to him, but to his master.
You see, Jesus does different kinds of things in His parables. Sometimes He wants you to “Go, and do likewise,” as in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, but other times He sets up for you a negative example in which, it is not the action that He encourages – in this case, dishonesty in handling the financial affairs of another – but rather the recognition and confession of who your true Master is and of what true riches consist. To illustrate this, Jesus taught, “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.” Jesus would have you learn that there is no righteousness in mammon, that is worldly riches and wealth, and that you cannot gain righteousness through them, whether honestly or dishonestly. However, knowing this, O sons of light, you are liberated from fearing, loving, and trusting in unrighteous mammon to use it in fear, love, and trust in God for the benefit of yourself and your family, and to the benefit of your neighbor, to the glory of God. Jesus would have you see money, property, and possessions as a “little” thing, and He would have you believe and know that you have been entrusted with “true riches,” love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. “One who is faithful in a very little,” Jesus teaches, “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? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?”
So, what does this all mean? Your Lord Jesus would have you be thankful for the gifts you have received from His Father and use them for your benefit and for the benefit of others, but always to the glory of God. You are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. For, if you fear losing what you have, then your fear is misplaced and you are serving mammon. And, if you love your wealth and possessions more than you love God or your neighbor, then your love is misplaced and you love mammon and not God and your neighbor whom God loves. And, if you place your trust in material wealth and possessions for life and security and hope for your future, then your love is misplaced and you trust in mammon, not in God. “No servant can serve two masters,” Jesus teaches, “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.”
Your Master is good, and He keeps His promises. He has done all that was necessary to purchase you for His own, to redeem you, and to make you righteous. You are righteous through His Righteous Steward and Manager, Jesus. Jesus did not merely reduce your debt or even forgive it, but He paid your debt Himself in full, “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” He knew that His Father would honor the debts that He had paid in full, and He perfectly feared, loved, and trusted in God alone.
“The master commended the dishonest manager,” not for his dishonesty, but “for his shrewdness.” Shrewdness is akin to wisdom, therefore, what was the wisdom of the dishonest manager? The manager’s wisdom was, as the Proverb teaches, “the fear of the LORD.” Recognizing and confessing that he was caught in his sin and that there was nothing he could do to make himself righteous before his master – that’s the preaching of the Law of God which always shows our sin – he placed his complete fear, love, and trust in the goodness of his master, not in himself, not in money, property, or possessions, and he shared his master’s mercy with his neighbors that his master would be praised, honored, and glorified. In the same way, you, O sons of light, go and do likewise, in the fear of the LORD.
And to forgive, renew, and strengthen you for this service, your Lord Jesus is present with His gifts of grain and wine combined with His powerful, creative, and life-giving Word that you may eat His body and drink His blood and bring His stewardship to your neighbor in need to the glory of His Father. Your debt has not been canceled, but it has been paid in full. You are “free to worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight all the days of your life.” Go in peace. Serve the Lord.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.