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How to Get Out of a Jam (St. Luke 16:1-13)

Ninth Sunday after Trinity

St. Luke 16.1-9

18 August 2019

How to Get Out of a Jam
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor

+ In the Name of Jesus +

When we think of getting into trouble, we might talk about getting into a jam, a pinch, a squeeze, to be caught between a rock and a hard place – perhaps one is faced with two choices that are not appealing to one’s senses.

In two straight parables in St. Luke’s Gospel, both the parable of the Prodigal Son, and the parable of the Unjust Steward, both of the main characters in each parable find themselves in quite a jam, trouble for sure of their own making.

Both men, it turns out, get themselves into a jam by squandering wealth that doesn’t truly belong to them.

The prodigal son (St. Luke 15.11-32) essentially wishes his father dead by asking for his portion of the inheritance before his father’s death. Amazingly, he is given the inheritance that doesn’t rightfully yet belong to him. He proceeds to go off to a foreign land – leaving behind his father and family as if they were dead – and then parties it up with the gentiles, squandering the wealth he took away through wild living. This is stealing. He fails to help his father improve and protect his possessions or income. His actions come home to roost, however, and he finds himself in a real jam, when famine takes over the land and he has not a penny to his name. He longs for the food the gentile pigs eat. What will he do to get out of this jam he has gotten himself into?

Jesus next continues this line of parables with the unjust or dishonest manager. (St. Luke 16.1-9) This man steals the rich man’s wealth by squandering it. We’re not told how, but he flittered away what didn’t belong to him, and that’s stealing – he failed to help his neighbor improve and protect his possessions or income. His actions come home to roost, he is relieved of his duties, and he finds himself in a real jam because he knows he doesn’t want the shame of taking up two vocations low on the social totem pole: he’s too weak to do hard manual labor, he’s too proud to resort to begging. What will he do to get out of this jam he has gotten himself into?

Each man is described aptly by the Apostle Paul’s warning in today’s Epistle:

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Cor. 10.12; ESV)

Truly each man has fallen. What will each man do?

Today, as the moorings of our civilization sink further and further away from the Word of God, there would be all sorts of excuses made to justify these men and their behavior. The prodigal son and the dishonest manager are merely the victims of global economic inequity. The two men were down for the count because of any number of social or identity politics hang-ups. Thus they had to do what they did, and they should be free from blame and not face any consequences for their actions. Everyone has to excuse these two poor fellows, or else you are accused of the appropriate charge of political incorrectness.

But we cannot excuse away these sins. God does not. Each man stole from their neighbor and now they face consequences. The prodigal can eat the pig pods or beg from foreign people who have nothing to give, or go back to where he came from and face the man he wronged. The dishonest manager can dig ditches, beg for his bread, find new friends and employment, or face the rich man he wronged.

The real jam each faces is not so much that they are hungry or broke and have hit rock bottom – they have – but it really is that they have wronged their neighbor who is greater than they are, who acts in their lives in the place of God Himself – the father, the employer. They face the choice of having to do what none of us likes to do, ever. To humble ourselves and admit we were wrong to the person we wronged. To repent of what we’ve done, ask for mercy and forgiveness, and place one’s self totally at someone else’s good will.

What will each man do to get out of the consequences of having wronged the authority figure in their life? Will they go to them and repent, or will they attempt to go their own way to get out of their jam?

The contrast could not be greater as to what each man decides to do.

When Jesus tells this story about the dishonest manager, He seems to commend the man’s dishonesty or endorses his greed. Not truly, but Jesus is commending him for his shrewdness. He’s quite clever and figures a way to fix the problem himself. Knowing he will soon lose his income he faces reality with cool rationality. He uses the time before he is relieved of duty to his own advantage by buying the favor of his master’s debtors. He undercharges them and leaves his master holding the bag. The master could not go back on the deals his steward made without embarrassing himself and his debtors. Better to let matters go and be rid of the steward who had cost him so much money.

But notice what the steward or manager does not do. He never repents. He never faces up to the man he wronged and never owns up to his actions. He actually compounds the first sin with more sin. He steals and steals some more from the rich master. He shows no remorse. Instead, he fixes the situation himself by making new friends – new employers – from bribes, and these new friends he will eventually let down as well. One who is unfaithful in a very little will also be unfaithful in much, says Jesus.

The prodigal son has an “ah-ha” moment, just as the dishonest manager does. He will try to fix things as well, but he will go back and face his father, show some remorse, beg for a servant’s slot in the business, and work his way back to his father’s good graces with some humility. We know the story’s end: the father runs to meet his returning son, and before the son can get out more than these words of humble repentance, “‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son…” (Lk 15:21) the father shows mercy and unexpectedly and freely restores his son back into his place in the family, much to the chagrin of the self-righteous and unforgiving older brother.

Which man truly got out of their jam? Did the way of fixing things by worldly means really help the unrighteous and dishonest manager? Did not the out of this world way of owning up to one’s sin and facing up to the one who’s been wronged not turn out for the best, as it did for the prodigal son and his father? Would not the rich man wronged by the dishonest manager have shown some mercy if the man had confessed and repented and asked for mercy?

These parables of Jesus describe how things are in God’s kingdom of grace and mercy. Jesus commends the dishonest man’s shrewd moves – but the point is that our Lord would have you Christians to be as shrewd and to act with the same urgency as this wicked man did with the unrighteous things of this world – but to turn those energies towards the things of God. To be quick to be reconciled to those you’ve wronged. To be quick to repent to your neighbor, and to be even quicker to repent of sin to God on high. To earnestly desire the forgiveness of your neighbor and to even more earnestly desire the heavenly and eternal forgiveness of the Lord above.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1.8-9)

You can trust that the Heavenly Father will receive you into the eternal dwellings for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ. God so loved you and the world, that He gave up His innocent and only-begotten Son in order to receive you back, in order to forgive you and cleanse you of your unrighteousness. He declared the guilty innocent by giving the innocent over unto death. He accepted payment from His Son for your debt, for He raised His Son from death’s prison, from your ultimate jam – the grave.

In the eternal courtroom, as Satan accuses you of your sin, the Father goes so far as to say that you were never guilty for His Son’s sake, and He has more to give than you tried to steal or kill or destroy. For His Son lives, He who once was dead has conquered it all. So in God’s calculus it is not “Write down 80, even though you owe 100.” It is not even “Write down zero.” He takes the pad. He writes a credit. You aren’t just less in debt or counted as being even. He rewards your thievery, your squandering, your murdering, your failure. He pays more than justice demands. Our cups overflow in the presence of our enemy. You have forgiveness in Christ, and forgiven, you have eternal life and a place in His eternal dwellings. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation.

This is the “wealth” that makes God a friend of sinners, the “wealth” that you can bank on, why you know you can return each day to the Lord in repentance and sorrow for sin, renouncing it and asking for temptation to be lifted from you: the Blood of Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection, His innocent, substitutionary suffering. It is the currency of heaven which is given in perfect generosity to thieving sinners, that gets you and every sinner out of your eternal jam, extricating you from the clutches of hell itself. It is the Blood of Jesus Christ from the cross and given over to you in the font and in the chalice. God acted for you at Calvary, and still acts even now here today, for it is His good will to welcome you into eternal dwellings as His own friends when this creation fails.

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

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