Be Shrewd (Luke 16)
Ninth Sunday after Trinity + July 29, 2018
- Order of Service: Prayer & Preaching</span></span>
- Hymns: LSB #738, 730, 781</span></span>
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. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home. (Luke 16:8-9)
Our parable this morning is part of a long string of parables Jesus uses to teach His disciples. It begins with His discourse on the cost of discipleship and goes until He heals the lepers on the border between Judea and Samaria.<a class="sdfootnoteanc" href="#sdfootnote1sym" name="sdfootnote1anc">1</a> It is one stop along the way. But it is a stop that has created controversy throughout Church history.
In the parable, the steward is praised for his unrighteousness. But this isn't the main point of the parable. The parable is not about the unrighteous steward. The parable is about the righteous Lord. About the righteous Lord's mercy to everyone. The righteous Lord shows his mercy to the steward as well as to his debtors through the steward's unrighteous actions.
First, the righteous lord shows mercy to the unrighteous steward. The lord hears an accusation that the steward is squandering his possessions. The steward isn't being wasteful with his own goods. He's squandering the lord's possessions through his own laziness. He has not taken care of what he had been given. The lord calls him to account for it.
But the lord doesn't fire him immediately. He gives him time to gather the books and prepare for the reckoning of the accounts. When we hear about someone squandering their employer's possessions, we want to see justice dealt out swiftly. We want to see them escorted out with their head hanging low. Handcuffs would be a nice touch. We want shame to be brought upon them and their house. We want the unrighteous to suffer without mercy.
But the lord gives him mercy. He says, “Give an account of your stewardship.”<a class="sdfootnoteanc" href="#sdfootnote2sym" name="sdfootnote2anc">2</a> The lord gave the steward the opportunity to justify his actions. To fix the situation into his favor. However, no matter of reworking and cooking the books would be able to save his job. “You can no longer be steward.”<a class="sdfootnoteanc" href="#sdfootnote3sym" name="sdfootnote3anc">3</a> The steward's job was done. After the accounting, he would be unemployed. But the lord mercifully gives the steward this moment to arrange his affairs.
“It is this mercy that the steward banks on in deciding upon the solution to his problem.”<a class="sdfootnoteanc" href="#sdfootnote4sym" name="sdfootnote4anc">4</a> The steward takes advantage of the lord's mercy to make sure that he had a place to go after the accounting. He brings in the debtors, those who were renting the lord's land, and lightens their debts. The two different measures of oil and wheat are equal in value. The steward takes advantage of the lord's merciful reputation. The lord was known as a merciful and honorable lord. The debtors didn't blink about this reduction in their bills. This was not uncommon for the lord. They were accustomed to his mercy.
After the accounting, the lord could easily and justly denounced the steward and the changes he had made to the bills. But the lord is merciful to his debtors as well. He allows the reductions to stand. He accepts the losses because it will serve the greater good of the community. He allows the changes to stand so that his mercy could be extolled. He has no other choice than to commend the unjust steward. But that was his plan all along.
The righteous and merciful lord in the parable is God the Father. The unrighteous steward is Jesus. We are the debtors. The day of accounting is the Last Day, when all the books will be opened and everyone will be judged according to what's recorded there.<a class="sdfootnoteanc" href="#sdfootnote5sym" name="sdfootnote5anc">5</a> What's recorded there? The cooked books. Jesus has cooked the books and taken away our debt. God has accepted the changes Jesus has made. Instead of what should be in the books, the debt you and I owe, the books contain God's mercy shown to us in Baptism.
We often talk about Jesus taking all our debt away. That is the debt of guilt. But there are two debts that people owe God: the debt of guilt and the debt of punishment. The debt of guilt was washed away completely in Baptism. Our sins are forgiven through this one action by Jesus. But we still suffer a lessened version of our debt of punishment. We live in a fallen world. We are simultaneously saint and sinner. We still suffer some of the temporal consequences of sin. Aches and pains. Sorrow. Cancer. But all these things are much less than what they should be. Nothing compared to what our debt of punishment had been: everlasting torment admist the flames of Hell.<a class="sdfootnoteanc" href="#sdfootnote6sym" name="sdfootnote6anc">6</a>
God has shown us great and abundant mercy. How are we to respond? We adopt a two-fold outlook. We are shrewd with the blessings God has given us in this world. We also look forward to the day of accounting when Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.
The unjust steward was commended for his shrewdness. While you cannot be unjust, you can “make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.”<a class="sdfootnoteanc" href="#sdfootnote7sym" name="sdfootnote7anc">7</a>
Jesus makes the point in the parable that you will sin because mammon is unrighteous.<a class="sdfootnoteanc" href="#sdfootnote8sym" name="sdfootnote8anc">8</a> When Jesus speaks about mammon, it is always unrighteous. Mammon sets itself up as an idol opposed to God. You end up having faith in either God or mammon. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”<a class="sdfootnoteanc" href="#sdfootnote9sym" name="sdfootnote9anc">9</a> You must pick one or the other. This is the heart of the First Commandment: “You shall have no others gods before Me.”<a class="sdfootnoteanc" href="#sdfootnote10sym" name="sdfootnote10anc">10</a> Neither God nor mammon share their glory.
As with stewardship, mammon is often only seen as money. It includes anything of value. Luther reminds us that as we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are praying for “everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body.”<a class="sdfootnoteanc" href="#sdfootnote11sym" name="sdfootnote11anc">11</a> This includes the money in our bank accounts, the clothes in our closets, the government and so much more. Our greatest stewardship comes as we are on our knees in prayer. St. Paul encourages us “that supplications, prayer, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”<a class="sdfootnoteanc" href="#sdfootnote12sym" name="sdfootnote12anc">12</a> This “quiet and peaceable life” involves prayers for the proper use of God's blessings and repentance for their misuse. How is our stewardship? Are we lazy like the unjust steward, squandering it all without knowing what happened to it? Or are we shrewd with our Lord's blessings so that no one can bring an accusation against us?
We fail often in our stewardship, but we continue working with God's blessings because He is faithful. He has freely given these blessings into our care and will bring us the resources to stand ready for His accounting. Not fearing. Ready for His judgment. When we are sure that we have dealt faithfully with what God has given us, we will be praised for our stewardship. So, what has God givesn us? What is the extent of our stewardship?
- Our building and its location
- Our congregational members
- Our neighbors and community
- The food distribution
But above all this, He gives us His love through His Word. The Word that shows Him to be the most merciful Lord anyone could imagine. This is the stewardship we often forget. Even if you are unable to give financially or physically to this congregation, you still have a mouth. A mouth filled with His Word—His love—to give your neighbor. An invitation to Church or Bible study. An invitation to supper or coffee. Even a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on can show that you are a shrewd steward of your Lord's blessings. The same merciful Lord who has given you this stewardship has promised to strengthen you through it. “Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.”<a class="sdfootnoteanc" href="#sdfootnote13sym" name="sdfootnote13anc">13</a> Reading and studying His Word, experiencing His love for all His creation, will gill you with the proper words. Giving you the confidence to fulfill your stewardship.
Through this parable, Jesus calls you to be shrewd with what He has given you. But shrewdness isn't selfish. You have been given the gift of salvation. You aren't to keep it to yourself. You are to share it. But share it shrewdly. Knowing when you're scattering seed for the Kingdom and when you're tossing pearls before swine.<a class="sdfootnoteanc" href="#sdfootnote14sym" name="sdfootnote14anc">14</a> Shrewd Christians are selfless because your Lord is selfless. Shrewd Christians are merciful because your Lord is merciful. Shrewd Christians are forgiving because your Lord is forgiving. As He has forgiven and blessed you, He calls you to forgive and bless others. Amen.
<a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote1anc" name="sdfootnote1sym">1</a>Luke 14:25-17:10
<a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote2anc" name="sdfootnote2sym">2</a>Luke 16:2
<a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote3anc" name="sdfootnote3sym">3</a>Luke 16:2
<a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote4anc" name="sdfootnote4sym">4</a>Arthur A. Just, Luke 9:51-24:53, 614
<a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote5anc" name="sdfootnote5sym">5</a>Revelation 20:12
<a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote6anc" name="sdfootnote6sym">6</a>Romans 8:18
<a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote7anc" name="sdfootnote7sym">7</a>Luke 16:9
<a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote8anc" name="sdfootnote8sym">8</a>Luke 16:9
<a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote9anc" name="sdfootnote9sym">9</a>Matthew 6:24
<a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote10anc" name="sdfootnote10sym">10</a>Exodus 20:3
<a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote11anc" name="sdfootnote11sym">11</a>Small Catechism, “Fourth Petition”
<a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote12anc" name="sdfootnote12sym">12</a>1 Timothy 2:1-2
<a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote13anc" name="sdfootnote13sym">13</a>Matthew 10:19
<a class="sdfootnotesym" href="#sdfootnote14anc" name="sdfootnote14sym">14</a>Luke 8:4-8; Matthew 7:6