9th Sunday after Trinity
17 August 2014
St. John’s, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Ponder for a moment the passages from Scripture that you hear about rich men, as Saint Luke records: The prodigal son wastes his wealth immorally, the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Zacchaeus—a rich tax collector, even in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we hear the Blessed Virgin Mary praising God that “the rich He has sent empty away.” There are many other examples, most of which do not paint a pretty picture for the wealthy. Attempting to get great riches would not, then, appear to be the virtuous lesson.
And yet, that is the goal of our world. In this era, students are often selecting careers, not on the basis that they have talents and abilities for them, or that these careers are fulfilling vocations, but on the basis of what makes the most money.
Guidance counselors, friends, and teachers will promote this attitude, often telling those who choose vocations of service that they are “wasting” their intelligence and abilities. Students are making huge mistakes according to some professors and leaders if they choose to be counselors or therapists, work in the field of child care, or choose to work in a vocation of serving that will never produce much of a salary.
So how is it that this rich man commends the unjust steward—the dishonest manager? And who are these men? Too often we read ourselves into parables, and try to twist them into lessons on “how to behave.” In reality, this story is one of Jesus describing the saving Gospel coming to us, His lowly debtors.
Yes, you and I are the poor people with gigantic bills. We owe the Lord more than we can ever pay Him. We are the ones who have their bills slashed. And in spite of the unfavorable image that our Lord paints of the often unbelieving rich, the rich man here represents our Heavenly Father. Those who are indebted to Him are all people. And, believe it or not, JESUS is the Unjust Steward—the Dishonest Manager.
What? Jesus – dishonest? Jesus – unjust? But wait. Don’t get hung up on that. He is called unjust. Accused of being wasteful. However the better title would be “the Merciful Steward.” Note also that the Rich Man (God the Father) is not the one bringing charges – He simply has heard the charges.
Think about it. The scribes and Pharisees, religious leaders of the Jews, were accusing Jesus of wastefulness. He wasted His time and energy, and even Table Fellowship (!) with public sinners. Jesus would teach and eat with tax collectors, adulterers, and others who had bad reputations. He welcomed them, in order to preach and teach God’s Law and Gospel. He was (and is) the Steward tearing up their bills and freeing them of their eternal indebtedness.
Of course, knowing the generosity of our Great Merciful Steward, we still cannot plan to take advantage of Him. “Oh, I know that Jesus makes up for my faults and failures. He pays my true debts. Besides, we have how many other members here – let them take some responsibility! So I can just keep on racking up earthly debt, and give a little less to God—He’ll understand.” Thinking and saying such thoughts is a shameful sin in itself.
Vacationing, and then conveniently “forgetting” to present our scheduled tithe or offering to the Lord is poor stewardship on our part. Or thinking that we are punishing only certain individuals, pastors, or church bureaucrats by withholding gifts from God, simply because we disagree with His servants, or dare to push our own earthly standards of success on the Lord, is also poor stewardship on our part. And the selfishness that often accompanies such supposed lapses of memory or expectations of the Holy Spirit regarding His work, is harmful to our souls.
Another shameful sin is refusing to admit that we are hopelessly indebted to God, and deserve nothing but the debtors prison of hell. In our society we are used to the idea of large debts. We don’t see the downfall of such bondage. And when it carries over to matters spiritual, we don’t see the comparison.
You and I are poor, miserable sinners. We have racked up astronomical debt of sin and rebellion against our rich master, our Heavenly Father. But thanks be to God! He does not want us rotting in prison. He praises His Steward who has taken our bill and actually paid it in full.
When He bore the scourge of the whip and the piercing of the nails, when He quietly suffered the punctures of the crown of thorns, when He endured the hanging and slow, cruel death on the cross, He was taking your bill, and marking it – not simply a reduction in what you owe, but signing it as paid in full!
Jesus, our Great Steward, has indeed been faithful in delivering to you “unrighteous wealth.” That is to say, you have received wealth that does not belong to you through your own work and investing. Dr. Luther had it “Right on the money,” so to speak, when he teaches us to confess, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him…”
Take opportunities to let your friends of this world hear the Message of heavenly wealth. Speak the encouragement of Christ, who has paid your eternal debts, to your family and loved ones. Call those who are not with you this morning, and let them know that you missed them, and that the Great Steward wants to cancel their debts, and desires their presence around His pulpit and altar.
Will you be a good steward of such responsibilities? Perhaps you will try, as each one of us should, but not one of us will do it perfectly. And that will go onto our bills of debt before the Lord.
Just, Arthur A. (1997). Luke 9:51--24:53 (pp. 612-621). Saint Louis: Concordia Publ. House.