Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity, AD 2021

Luke 16:1-9

One of the biggest obstacles to faith in the Christian life is thinking that God is like us. We may think God is better than us in every way, but still fundamentally He acts like we do. We can see this in false religions – in every person’s attempt to reach God. One Lutheran theologian wrote that every false gospel can fall into one of three categories – moralism, mysticism, and rationalism.1 These three all view God as just us but better. It goes like this: God is morally perfect, therefore if I am morally perfect I will reach God. Or God is secret and spiritual so the more I detach myself from mundane things and people I will become like God. Or God knows all, so if I learn everything there is to know about God I can reach him too. All of these make perfect sense to us, are explained easily, and are completely wrong.

When we think God is like us, we think that we have to earn His respect. Sure we have to get on his good side by being perfect – perfectly good, perfectly spiritual, perfectly knowledgeable – but still we seek His approval. We think that we have to somehow we have to climb into His good side, because that is how we act. We don’t favor people that treat us poorly. We do good to those who do good to us, and we don’t want to show mercy to people who wrong us. Maybe we are outwardly friendly to people until they lose our respect, and once they lose it they have to gain it back. So we think God is similarly fickle with us.

Today’s parable is so powerful, and can be so confusing, because it doesn’t match that way we want to think of God. Today’s parable of the unrighteous manager – really “steward” – isn’t an Aesop’s fable with an easy answer – “Just do ‘x’ and you will be fine.” Instead it shows how much God is not like us. It shows how we need to abandon that type of thinking if we want to understand. This parable demands that we really sit and listen to God instead of assuming we know the answer, that we trust God’s word above all else.

Jesus presents to us the story about a rich man who had a manager. Really “steward” is a better word than manager, because the man does not just manage the rich man’s goods. As steward, he has full control over the goods and the choices he makes are final, just as if his master had made them. This is important for the later part of the parable. For the rich man hears the steward is wasting his things and tells him he is removing him from his position. The steward’s final task is to get the tally of accounts in order so the master can give them to his replacement. Shrewdly, the steward knows he cannot take some other menial job, so he plans to make friends with the master’s debtors. He gives all the debtors deep discounts on what they owe, and being the steward his word is final. Here we would expect the master to rebuke the steward for his dishonesty, but instead he commends him!

What does this mean for us? For one, Jesus is not telling us to be dishonest, or to cheat others. We must read this along with the commands in the rest of scripture, not pitting one scripture against another. So scripture forbids us as taking this as “be smart enough to get yourself out of a bind by any way possible.” Knowing that, how can this apply to us, what is Jesus getting at with the example of a dishonest steward?

Jesus comments, “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 yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Jesus tells us to emulate the shrewdness of the sons of this world, those who work in unrighteousness, who look out for themselves. We must emulate them in the right way. Too often we do follow the shrewdness of the sons of this world, looking to apply their lessons to our own pleasure. We want to emulate great businessmen and be ruthless in dealing with others. We want to emulate celebrities in making ourselves stand out by what we wear or how we act, so others will think we are great. We spend so much time thinking of life hacks and short cuts and seeking the new great thing. Indeed, the sons of this world put their effort into these things and are often successful at them.

This is not the way of the sons of the light. We should not emulate the shrewdness of the sons of the world in their goals. Their goals are for the things which moth and rust destroy. Their goals are for themselves, who are dust and shall return to dust. They are for this age which is fading away. We as sons of light, baptized and believing in Christ apply this shrewdness to heavenly things.

We also are stewards. God has created us. He has created everything that we have. Everything we possess comes from His provision. Yes, it comes often through simple human means, but God is the one who puts those human means in place. And like stewards, what we choose to do with what we have been given by our Lord is final. He will not rescind our decision. Therefore, we can be wise or foolish with what we steward.

What is wisdom with what we have? It is to act as the steward did with his master’s possessions. He gave them away. He released debts. The steward first used resources only to his own benefit, which is why the master dismissed him. Being lazy and wasteful with the resources only led to problems. The steward then learns to use his master’s resources to his own benefit by using it to the benefit of others. See how this goes against the wisdom of the world? If we were the masters, we would expect the steward to accumulate what we have, to be quick on collection. God expects us to give away what he has given us. The reward and value is in providing for others, our families, the church, the poor. It is in forgiving the debts we hold against others – both of money and of forgiveness. We make friends through these acts of giving “our” things, knowing that nothing is really ours. We are stewards giving away the things of our master. And this is shrewdness which greatly pleases Him.

For what we give to others is a natural growth and reflection of what Christ has done for us. Christ did not use his power to become a God-king on earth. He humbled himself. He took all that He had and instead of holding it to Himself, He emptied himself for us. You could say He wasted everything God had given Him to steward by dying, by letting himself be arrested and crucified. Yet being the very Son of God, He knew how His Master would respond. He knew the Father would approve of His shrewdness. And for emptying himself, the Father give Him an eternal dwelling, sitting at the right hand and ruling over heaven and earth.

Christ now rules through His church, canceling debts left and right. He does even more than rewrite your bill for less. He rips up your bill and gives you a deed and title of your own. You are no longer a servant. Through faith, you are a son, you are an heir. This does not make sense with the way we want to view the world. How could God be so wasteful toward us? In this case, reason is our enemy. We put away our normal way of thinking and hold to the Word of God. The Word of God says you are baptized, you are forgiven, your debt is gone. Faith is believing God’s Word when every other word in the world says otherwise, even your own flesh and experience. Faith is having a gun to your head and being completely calm. Faith is forgiving and giving away to others, knowing you are gaining more than you had before.

God is not like you. He is far better than you can imagine. He would waste everything to have you. Waste what He has given you in charity and forgiveness. This world will not last forever. The shrewd steward invests for the heavenly dwellings. Amen.

1 See Adolf Koeberle, The Quest for Holiness

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