St. Luke 16:1-13
9 August, 2009
Emmanuel Lutheran Church—Dwight, IL
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In fiction, an antihero is a protagonist—someone with whom you’re supposed to sympathize—who exhibits major character flaws. However, through the failings of the antihero, the audience may learn some greater moral truth and hope to avoid the same flaws of the character.
Antiheroes are not a recent innovation in storytelling, because long before Captain Jack Sparrow pirated the Caribbean, before Michael Corleone agreed to be his nephew’s Godfather, before Prince Hamlet pondered whether to be or not to be, there was the unjust steward of Christ’s parable in St. Luke 16.
He is called an unjust steward—or in our translation today, a dishonest manager—because he lied, cheated, and stole all in the interest of self-preservation. Yet he is the one who is commended in the story for his shrewdness.
Why does Jesus tell a parable of this rogue—this scoundrel? Is He teaching us that the ends justify the means—even if the means are mean?
Even with his major character flaws, the unjust steward can teach us a valuable lesson because he did not love the wealth entrusted to him so much, so as to lose sight of his own future well-being.
If you’re like me, you probably have a lot of stuff. Stuff you need, stuff you want, stuff you don’t use anymore. In fact, you’ve probably got so much stuff that, in comparison, this man who is called rich looks like a middle-class small business owner.
You may have gained some wealth in your life, but in reality, all the wealth in your possession (bank accounts, real estate, automobiles) has been given to you by the Father. You don’t really own your possessions. Rather, you’re a steward of God’s creation (and that for a short time and a very small amount of His creation).
Despite all the wonderful blessings the Lord has entrusted to your care, there will come a day when all that wealth in your possession will fail. For no amount of wealth can buy you an eternal dwelling. There’s just some things that neither money nor MasterCard can buy.
Yet for all the planning you do for your temporal life, how much have you prepared for your eternal life? How many of you currently invest in, or are living off of a pension, a 401(k), a 403(b), IRA, Roth IRA, mutual funds, or investment real estate? Now, compare that amount to how much you give to the Church to support the proclamation of the Gospel. Compare it to how much you give to help the poor and needy.
Or, how much time do you spend ordering your own financial affairs? Compare it to how often you receive the Lord’s Supper, how often you attend Bible study, how much time you spend in prayer and personal and family devotion.
You may have your nest egg in order, but even for a young man such as myself, we’re not talking more than 60 years. What about eternity?
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” (v 9).
Most of Jesus’ parables are stories straight out of ordinary, everyday life, but with one point that would never really happen. This parable has two.
First, what would you do if you were a manager of someone’s wealth and you were accused of wasting his possessions? You’d probably call up his debtors and tell them to pay up. But what does this man do? “So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty’” (vv 5-7).
Instead of trying to collect on the master’s debt, the steward begins to forgive it! A hundred measures of oil? Write fifty. Forgiven. A hundred measures of wheat? Write eighty. Forgiven. And so on it goes.
But as surprising, if not more surprising, is the reaction of the master. “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation that the sons of light” (v 8). Instead of being irate that he’s losing 20%, 50% of his investment, the master commends the man for giving away his possessions (which makes you wonder how he could have been wasting them in the first place).
This is the kind of stewardship that is required of your Lord and Master in heaven. For unlike the sons of this world, your Father in heaven does not delight in collecting the gifts He’s due, but in giving them out.
As His steward, you are also called to be His hand in giving out gifts. He has entrusted you with more earthly gifts than you could ever use in one lifetime—and He also promises to supply every need you might have in the future. But for the Father, if you horde His gifts to yourself and store up your treasures here on earth, you are wasting His possessions. Rather, He would have you use what has been entrusted to you for the good of your neighbor.
“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust you with the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” (vv 10-12).
As long as the wealth that has been entrusted to you does not begin to demand your unconditional love, you will be found faithful in this wealth which cannot bestow righteousness. Then you will be able to receive the faith that bestows true riches—not gold or silver, but Christ’s holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death.
“No servant can serve two masters,” Jesus says, “for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (v 13).
All worldly wealth will one day fail. But if you despise the love of money and use your wealth wisely and shrewdly in service of your neighbor, you will make the Lord God not only your Master, but also your Friend. And He will welcome you into the eternal dwellings.
Use Your Wealth Wisely; and Keep an Eye on Eternity
In +Jesus’ name. Amen.
Jacob W Ehrhard