Sunday, July 24, 2016
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.
“Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ spoke these words to His disciples but a little before today’s Gospel text. The point is this: What will you do throughout this time of your life in which you have been given management over His blessings and goods? And, what will you be found doing when He returns at a time and an hour you cannot know? Do these questions unsettle and distress you? If so, repent of your pride and idolatry, for you have clearly forgotten that all you have, even your life, your reason, and your strength, are not yours, but they are the Lord’s, over which you have been given management, stewardship, throughout the days of your life. In truth, you have often made these gifts and creations of the Lord to be your idols and gods, and you have lusted and coveted for them, and have greedily clung to them, placing your fear, love, and trust in them before the LORD who has given them all to you.
No, Jesus’ Gospel should not unsettle and distress you, but it should bring you great comfort, contentment and peace. For, Jesus is the “faithful and wise manager” whom His Father, the Master, has “set over His household.” Jesus has done all things necessary and well that you may cease from your striving to acquire and to preserve and to protect what you have, both material and spiritual. Jesus has set you free from slavery under His Father’s Law to live in the freedom of the Gospel, freely showing mercy and freely giving of what you have freely received, to all, without distinction, without loss or resentment or sorrow. For, the one who humbles himself and is merciful will be exalted, and the one who loses his life in this world will keep it in eternity.
The Parable of the Unjust Steward, if it is indeed a parable at all, is one of the most challenging of Jesus’ teachings that we have. Let’s face it, it is challenging to understand Jesus’ meaning in commending a man who squandered his master’s wealth and then dishonestly reduced his debtor’s bills in order to win their favor and save his own skin. What could this possibly mean? Well, here is a case when the titles we have given pericopes (stories) in the Scriptures often do us a disservice. Truly, this parable is much less about honesty than it is about showing mercy. Indeed, one of the most important details in this pericope is that, when He learned that his manager had wasted his possessions, the master did not cast His manager into prison, but he merely terminated him from his position. Thus, this parable is very much like the account of our First Parent’s sin in the Garden when the LORD gave Adam an opportunity to confess his sin and be forgiven. The LORD did not destroy Adam and Eve, but He banished them from the Garden and from access to the Tree of Life. This was an act of mercy on the part of the LORD then, and an act of mercy on the part of the master now.
As in the Parable of the Prodigal Son – another misnamed parable – both of the main figures in the story do unexpected things. The prodigal son shockingly treats his father shamefully, but his father, even more shockingly, forgives him and restores him. In today’s parable, the dishonest manager shockingly cuts deals with his master’s debtors, and the master, even more shockingly, commends him. What is going on here? Well, first, we must consider the actions of the dishonest manager. This man had been caught red-handed squandering his master’s possessions. In fact, the very same word, squandered, was used also in regard to the prodigal son. He knew that he had no way to rectify his situation with his master and that he deserved imprisonment or worse. He was soon to be out on the street and penniless, a pariah among his peers. Holding no faith or trust in his own works and aware of his own weakness and inability, he confessed that he was not strong enough to dig and that he was too proud to beg. Like the prodigal son, he had hit rock bottom. But, that’s when he came up with an idea – an idea based, not upon his own works and merit, but upon his master’s goodness and mercy.
The manager went to each of his master’s debtors and told them to sit down and quickly write a fraction of the debt they owed. He had them do this quickly so that they would not think that he was the one granting them the reduction, but his master. The manager was counting on two things: By showing mercy to his master’s debtors, he was hoping that they in turn might show mercy to him when he was penniless and unemployed. And, he was counting on the goodness and mercy of his master, that, because his debtors would think well of him, he would honor the reduced debts. What he was not counting on, however, was that his master would commend him for his shrewdness.
But, why did the master commend his dishonest manager? Jesus explains saying, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you in to the eternal dwellings.” The manager is not being praised for his dishonest and illegal activities. Rather, he serves as an example of how one may use unrighteous wealth to make friends for oneself. We are all managers, stewards, of unrighteous wealth – the material, monetary, and even spiritual “stuff” of this life and world. None of it belongs to us, but it is all the Lord’s and we are but managers and stewards of the Lord’s goods.
We are the manager in this parable [as we are the prodigal son in that parable]. We have been entrusted with the Lord’s possessions to manage, to steward, on His behalf. But, we have squandered and wasted them. We have managed them poorly. We have put our fear, love, and trust in them before our LORD who created them and us, and have made them into false gods and idols. We have greedily sought to acquire them and have fiercely clung to them. We have covetously desired those things that belong to others and secretly wished that we would have them and that they would not. It is not that we have been dishonest with our management, but we have been utterly merciless, and that is by far the greater sin.
The Prophet Samuel confesses, “With the merciful You [O LORD] show yourself merciful, with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you deal purely, and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.” The LORD desires mercy from you before obedience and sacrifice. The LORD desires that you show mercy to others as He has been merciful with you, for mercy is faith, hope, and love in action, and love is the fulfilling of the Law. When you show mercy, you show love for the LORD and for your neighbor. Mercy is also faith, hope, and trust because the merciful love not their lives or the things of this world more than they love the LORD and their neighbor, and they are free so to do because their hope and trust are not in men or in possessions, but in the LORD alone.
However, while we are the manager in this parable [and the prodigal son in that parable], there is someone who is the manager and the son with us, and before us, and in our stead, and that is God’s Son and Steward Jesus Christ. Jesus became these men for us and redeemed them, and redeemed us. As God’s Manager and Steward, Jesus didn’t merely reduce the debt we owed to our God and Master, but He paid it off in full in His own holy, innocent, shed blood. Therefore, our God and Master has commended Him and has given Him all authority in heaven and on earth and the Name that is above every name. And, as God’s Prodigal Son, Jesus took all of our sins upon Himself and placed Himself into the mercy of His Father who has restored Him, and us in Him, to full and complete Sonship and has blessed us with an eternal inheritance. “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?” That one is Jesus.
We are called as managers, stewards, to use what has been given to us to help and to support our neighbors in need. By aiding them with our financial and spiritual resources, we make friends of them. But rather than being received into their houses, as the manager had hoped, we will be received into the eternal dwelling of our heavenly Father on the day when unrighteous wealth fails, that is, death. What will you do throughout this time of your life in which you have been given management over His blessings and goods? And, what will you be found doing when He returns at a time and an hour you cannot know? Show yourself merciful as you have received mercy from the Lord. Keep yourself blameless and pure in the absolution of Jesus’ blood. Humble yourselves. Die to yourselves and to the passions of your flesh. Live in the freedom of the Lord’s mercy and grace and permit these to flow through you and from you to your neighbor. This is what it means to be a manager and a steward of the Lord’s possessions. This is what it means to be a Christian.
And, do this quickly. Do it now! Do not procrastinate as men are want to do. For, a day is coming when you will be called to account for your management of the Lord’s possessions. But, do not be afraid! You are not asked to give of anything that you have not freely received, only not to fear, love, and trust in it so that it becomes your idol, your god, and you become enslaved. That is to say, be as shrewd in your use of unrighteous wealth in the service of others as you are tempted to be in service to yourself. In this way you serve your true Master, your Lord and your God.
Yet, you cannot serve your neighbor, and consequently your Master, Lord, and God, unless you are first served by Him. Therefore, also be as shrewd in obtaining the heavenly things of forgiveness, faith, and the Spirit as you are in obtaining material wealth, for the heavenly things are certain and do not fade away, while the things of this world are perishing day by day. And, behold, your Master’s Steward and Manager Jesus is here now to forgive your debts anew, to strengthen your faith, and to equip you for service in His kingdom to the glory of His Father. Jesus summons you and proclaims to you that your debt is paid in full. To God alone be the glory.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.