3. August 2012
The Sunday of the Unjust Steward
A common problem for Christians is understanding the less-than-obvious sayings and actions of Jesus. No one balks at “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Its the Golden Rule, after all. Yet, even for Christians, words like “No one comes to the Father but by me” pose a real challenge. Jesus is saying only Christians go to heaven. There is no other in heaven or on earth by which we can be saved. No faith Jesus Christ crucified? Damned. Guilty as charged.
There are two courts in the church: the court of public opinion and the court of the last judgment. The first is a sham and the second unavoidable. The first is full of second chances, loopholes, plastic justice, and not-nearly-divine Judy’s. The second is all-or-nothing, no escape, hardcore justice, and the divine verdict of Jesus. Ah, that we would no consider what others think of us! Who cares with the public think? They can go to hell with their repeat offenses and love of badness. What does Jesus say? That’s the only question that matters.
For Jesus, the Pharisees sat as judge in the court of public opinion. They were disgusted with his eating, conversing, touching, and just plain loving tax collectors and sinners. He had private chats with prostitutes. He partied at leper colonies. He visited the emasculated eunuch on the road. He went to Levi and Zaccheus’ homes despite both having cheated his own friends out of their hard earned cash. For all this and more, the Pharisees were justly repulsed.
Just in our eyes, true, but according to heavenly justice? Not at all. Jesus is no respecter of persons. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Lost in drugs, alcohol, and worse. Lost in the despair of their own ego. Lost in petty theft and highway robbery. Lost in their perverted use of sex. Lost in love of stuff. Lost after being swallowed by the cushions of the armchair of life. Forgotten, sat upon, vacuumed, and lost forever.
Jesus loves dead people. He loves people who have been condemned by public opinion so many times that they think there’s nothing left. He loves people who know and believe they haven’t been good enough, strong enough, or lovely enough. He loves the ugly, the shamed, the desecrated, the mutilated. He loves the one lost sheep, the one disappearing coin, or even the one son squandered everything and lost every shred of humanity in the pigsty. He loves them not because they’ve tried hard, jumped through the right hoops, or even kept themselves alive.
He loves them despite their wastefulness and being an utter waste. How then are we to understand today’s parable? Doesn’t it teach the opposite? Jesus 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. 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.”
Caught. Guilty. Thief. This manager is a crook and a waste. He is about to get called onto the carpet. He knows the hammer is about to crush him but he is also on the ball. 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. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.” Sharp-witted and clever. Faced with pending just deserts, he figures to get when favors by cheating. He’s going to use his master’s property to gain benefit for future posterity.
A hundred measures of oil is cut to fifty. A hundred measures of wheat cut to eighty. He’s already squandered the master’s possessions on wine, women, and song. Now, he’s even cutting the master’s holdings but debt reduction all for an advantage with his fellow scumbag friends. And what does the rich master say to this thieving, self-interested freeloader? Its the only question that matters: The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.
In the court of Pharisaical public opinion, this manager is a jerk, a crook, and pretty much deserves whatever the righteous judge has in mind. But the master is an unrighteous judge. He doesn’t care about his stuff. He doesn’t miss the cash, or the oil, or the wheat. All he cares about is his reputation and its been boosted by the shrewd manager and his accomplices. There’s no one in this parable who does the right, good, or true thing. They’re all villainy.
And yet, Jesus gives them to us as a noble example. 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 yourself by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into eternal dwellings.
Jesus is not readily understood on this point. What is He talking about? Certainly, it seems He is telling us stop craving wealth and use it to make friends, some who may also be welcomed with you into heaven. Good. Go waste some money making friends. Stop being a Pharisee, and loving your money. All true.
Jesus said to them in the subsequent verses: You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail. (Luke 16:16-17)
The one who cares about public opinion is a miser who only loves fellow good, right, and lovely people. That’s what the court of public opinion demands, that is, justifying yourselves before men. All are full of this highly esteemed behavior. But none of it is God’s behavior and instead an abomination in his sight. Now, that’s Law and prophets business and lasted until John. Now in Jesus the kingdom of God has been preached, revealed, and has erupted onto the scene. Everyone is pressing into it. Why?
Time is short. Life is ending. The earth is dying. Tick tock, tick tock goes the clock—for you and all your outrageous kind. No more need to keep up appearances. No more need to worry about tomorrow. Be shrewd and waste the master’s stuff. See a beggar? Give him from the master’s hand. Someone owes you a great debt? Forgive it and let the master take care of it. Worried about your reputation? Never mind that, its all over anyway.
The Christian life is one of reckless abandon—loving the unlovable, forgiving the unforgivable, giving to the least and the last. You know you’re a rotten manager. So what? You never were going to be a good one anyway. The rich master entrusted everything to the worst bums ever to sit in his pews. He didn’t expect them to give a perfect accounting when he finally comes back to judge. He’s not a bit surprised by our waste, our disgusting luxury, or even by our piss poor attempts at caring for the sick and needy.
Its only in the court of public opinion that these things matter. Santa Claus cares whether you make the cut not the master. Your friends might consider your donations to the church a waste of time, effort, or money. What recklessness! You should be investing in yourself not your friends and neighbors. You keep sending money to that corrupt overseas mission? Don’t you care that half the money ends up in the wrong hands? Nope, you shouldn’t. Pharisees see your poor management and corruption and don’t want to have anything to do with you, certainly not eating, drinking, touching, or loving.
Jesus doesn’t care about the sham human court of opinion. His justice is not our justice, nor his righteousness our righteousness. He sees red-handed thieves, dirty whores, lovers of stuff, and haters of God and has compassion on them. He takes what is His and gives it to them freely, abundantly, and even wastefully. Why bother saving this unrighteous? Why bother but because they are His. He came to seek and save the lost, the worthless, and the dead.
He takes what His eternal Father has made Him a steward. He takes his own life and gives it to us criminals, stone cold in our trespasses. He gives like the wasteful manager, knowing that the only thing that matters is the Father’s reputation. He gives to lead us to love His Father, that we may be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
Jesus has forgiven you a great debt by taking what He was entrusted and wasting it on you. But you are no waste but are the beloved of God. Jesus’ life is given to you that He may receive you into the eternal dwellings. He declared “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” His blood was freely poured upon your head to call you one of the Father’s own. His own flesh is given to you to eat and to drink, purifying you of wickedness and deceit. The Father commended Jesus for forgiving us our trespasses, raising Him from the dead on the third day.
The stewards of this world are cunning but only operate in the court of public opinion. Jesus is the judge who acquits you by the Father’s own riches, that is, His own life shrewdly given,to all, unrighteous sinners though they be.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church