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Trinity 9 2011 – “The Unjust Steward” – Luke 16:1-9

21. August 2011
Trinity 9
Luke 16:1-9

For the faithful Christian, there is a proper use of the wealth given to us by our Father. We have been given all that we need to support this body and life. Not only do we have clothing, shoes, home, land, and animals, we also have automobiles for transportation, farm equipment to make the toil of the land a little easier, cell phones and internet to communicate with the world, wells and city water for easy relief from thirst, air conditioning to beat the heat, and more. While we could live without some of these things, they have been given to us by our Father for our benefit, out of his goodness, and mercy.

The Gospel parable of the Unjust Steward is not about the gifts given to benefit our life. The parable is concerned with simply money, but mammon, that is, the greed for that which is more than the basic needs of the body. In other words, money in a derogatory sense, the idol that is worshiped, craved, and greedily sought.

As a parent, I spend a great deal of time distinguishing for my children the difference between what we need and what we want. How often we are convinced that we have only what we need! We are convinced have no mammon. The parable is spoken by Jesus because he knows we have been given more than we need. Jesus knows there is a great danger of greed, squander, or ill-gotten gain with this God-given surplus.

This is the sin of the Steward. He also said to His disciples:  “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 2 So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ 

The steward of the parable wasted his master’s property and got caught. Instead of being satisfied with his wages, he consumes his master’s wealth. He squandered it just as the Prodigal Son had squandered his own inheritance. He is a reckless caretaker of his master’s wealth. Those who care for another’s property should use it to benefit the owner.  His actions make the mammon unrighteous.

The proper use of God’s gifts is more than simply being thankful. We sing “We give Thee but Thine own, What-e’er the gift may be; All that we have is Thine alone, A trust, O Lord, from Thee.” Certainly it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him. Also, in service to God, we also use this wealth to the benefit of those neighbors around us. Where God gives, he gives in excess. God gives this excess so that you may give to others in public confession of His work for you.

The challenge of a surplus is discerning its best use. Extra wealth doesn’t take long to burn a hole in your pocket. It is no surprise that the steward could squander away the rich man’s wealth. Wasteful spending is all around us, not just with our own finances but in business and in government. Many are lacking the wisdom to spend mammon appropriately and for the most benefit.

The steward, after hearing of his pending job loss for wasting the possessions, calls in the debt of his former master’s debtors to gain some positive reputation with them. Not only had the steward squandered his master’s assets, now he was giving away even more… changing the bills of debtors.

3 “Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’ 

5 “So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ So 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?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’

We shouldn’t place all the blame on the steward. Likely the debtors collaborated with him, knowing they were next to give an account before the rich man. The sons of this age are interested in self gain, saving face, and all this through dishonesty and waste. Their sinful actions make the mammon unrighteous. There’s plenty of sin to go around.

So, then, why does Jesus say: So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. 9 “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.”

Does Jesus advocate following the example of the dishonesty of the steward? No, the dishonest manager is commended for his shrewdness, not for his dishonesty. Shrewdness is having a sharp sense of judgment. He is commended for his quick thinking in working with the debtors to win their favor. Although the sons of this generation are dishonest, unjust, wasteful, and greedy, they act with quick judgment with the mammon they have. They use this wealth shrewdly for the benefit of making friends. They serve their mammon with faithfulness and devotion, using it in service to the worldly kingdom.

If the sons of this age act shrewdly with dishonest, unrighteous, dirty money… how much more should the sons of light act shrewdly with the wealth of this world! The sons of this age believe mammon is their own, to do with as they please. The sons of light are in the Father’s graces. The sons of light know that the surplus they have is a gift from God and to be used for God’s purpose.

And so Christ says to his disciples “I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth…” We use this worldly wealth for the benefit of those around us. “Making friends” is benefiting those in need and endearing ourselves to them. The wealth of this world is made unrighteous by corruption, evil, greed… sin. In the hands of the sons of light, mammon is made good by God, to be used wisely for his purposes.

Jesus continues: 10 He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. 11 Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own? 

The parable is not just about temporal blessings, those that benefit the body. It is given as an example of how we ought to treat the treasures of the church, the Holy Gospel. We have been given the stewardship of the Gospel, the best of gifts.

Some act recklessly with this gift, showing little concern for its integrity. They suggest that we need to dress up this message, smooth out the rough edges, and package it in simple sayings. These marketing gurus sell the Gospel short of its message by reducing Jesus merely to a Mr. Nice Guy who gave good advice. Offensive messages such as describing man as a sinner in need of forgiveness are removed. In the process, these gurus destroy the need for Christ’s death and resurrection. The justification of the sinner is sidelined in the interest of a cheaper Gospel of righteous living and meaningful life.

In contrast, God wisely gave us means of His Word, His Baptism, and His Supper to speak the whole truth of His Gospel. We should not listen to the marketing gurus and discount His Gospel by stepping back from the whole ministry He has given us. Reducing the Gospel to merely words without its proper teaching and means of grace makes us no different from any of the cults around us.

Messages of moral teaching can be found by listening to Mohammed, Buddha, or Joseph Smith. There we hear the same message of life change that these marketing gurus suggest. Those who could benefit from the truth of forgiveness of sins and life eternal are instead left to “price shop” not just to Christian churches but the cults for the morality that best fits their perceived needs. We are poor stewards of the Gospel and act without wisdom if we alter the Gospel and waste its gift of salvation.

God provides the mammon of this world out of the same goodness and mercy as his gift justification of the sinner,. We receive the earthy excess in view of His justification of us. All good gifts come through Jesus Christ our Lord, who died for our sin.

How should we use these earthly gifts? Jesus says, “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.”  How can these friends won through mammon welcome us into these eternal dwellings, that is, heaven? Is Jesus suggesting that we should use the wealth of this world to gain entrance into heaven as has been falsely taught by the church of Rome or the ascetics of the wilderness who gave away everything and escaped to the wilderness? Are those of heaven who were fed, clothed, or sheltered by us in this world going to welcome us into heaven by virtue of these works?

No, these works merit us nothing towards heaven. Had it not been for Christ’s death and resurrection, these works would be no different from the unrighteous sons of this age. Indeed, there would be no sons of light if the true light of the world, Christ, had not come into the world. “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you… While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (Jn 12:35-36) To be a sons of light is to be separate from this world, distinct from the outer darkness, distinct from the unrighteous sons of this age.

As a son of light, your use of mammon is not unrighteous like the steward. Your mammon is made righteous by God. Those born of Christ produce fruit in keeping with their faith. As we learned last week, a good tree produces good fruit. Christians, freed from the curse of sin by Christ give freely of the wealth given to them. Their conscience is not burdened by identity, status, who is their friend, or how to get ahead in business… as with the sons of this age. Rather the Christian is free to act as God’s benefactor for the good of the neighbor. The wealth used in faith is purified by God. It is used for his purpose and in his wisdom. It is made righteous.

When we are welcomed into the eternal dwellings by these friends, they will thank us for demonstrating our faith to them by clothing them, feeding them, or housing them. They will remark how Christ was proclaimed in our lives. We will not enter on account of these deeds, but we will be joined by the faithful throng whose lives saw and heard faith which was not dead but alive… a faith given in baptism but proved by good fruits. They will give thanks to God for the confession of the gospel of Christ expressed not just in words but in deeds.

The life made right with God at the cross is lived in this grace. The grace of God comes to us in His Word and Sacrament where the Holy Spirit makes us new, retooling us for righteous use of his gifts. The steward squandered his master’s wealth and yet shrewdly used what little capital he had left to gain some friends. How much more can we be faithful stewards of his gifts and gain not just friends here on earth but by God’s grace,  friends into eternity.

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

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana