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Unjust Steward, Merciful Master (St. Luke 16.1-9)

Ninth Sunday after Trinity

“Unjust Steward, Merciful Master”
Reverend Gary Schultz, Kantor

St. Luke 16.1-9

01 August 2021


Only do not Thou forsake me, for if I am left to myself, I will surely bring it all to destruction.

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness.  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 mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

An older gentleman once remarked to me that he had read the whole Bible, and that it was really just “common sense.”  I had to politely explain that this was not really true.  At all.  The Scriptures can at times be confusing at first glance.  The Scriptures certainly do not reflect the “common sense” of the world, something that in our day is subjective and fleeting anyway.  The Scriptures show us that Our Lord does not work in the ways we might expect based on our experience in the world.

Jesus said: To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.” (St. Mk 4.11). Jesus teaches in parables for catechesis of His Church, to teach Christians about the Kingdom of God.  Parables teach that God is not like us, but that He is merciful and gracious.  Parables force us to search the Scriptures beyond the worldly, surface-level meaning to discover a surprise or a twist.  The shepherd dies for the sheep; a business owner pays the debt.  This is not how things work in the world.  Or in today’s case: The master commended the unjust steward for his shrewdness.

The guy in today’s parable thought he was going to pull a fast one over his boss.  “I’m going to get fired anyway,” the steward says to himself, “I might as well make friends with these people by cutting them a deal.”  As steward of his master’s property, whatever he said in this office had the full weight and authority of his master.  He knew what he was doing was wrong.  You can sense the urgency: “Take your bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.”  Did he really think he was going to get away with it?  After all, the master already suspected a problem: charges were brought to him that he was wasting his possessions.

But Jesus’ story gets crazier: Not only does this dishonest, unjust, lazy guy get away with it, but the master praises him: “Good job, son.  That was a pretty clever move.”  Today, the headline would read: “Manager Embezzles Funds: Full Investigation Ordered.”  Why does Jesus commend it to us? For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light, Jesus says.

Jesus is not encouraging the actions of the unjust steward.  The commandments teach us that we are not to steal, to take our neighbor’s money or possessions or get them in any dishonest way; nor are we even to covet, to think about taking our neighbor’s belongings, or get them in a way that only appears right.  Beyond that, these commandments require that we help our neighbor to improve and protect his possessions and income.  The steward’s actions were wrong and worthy only of repentance.

What Jesus commends here is not the actions, but the trust of the steward in recognizing the mercy of his master.  The steward’s words held the full authority of the master.  His reduction of the debt held the authority of the office of both the master and the steward.  He trusted that the master would honor the reductions, because if he didn’t, both the steward and the debtors would be out of luck.  The steward was banking on the fact that the master wants to be gracious and merciful.  The master wants to be in good favor with the tenants.

The steward knew how he would be saved: through the mercy of the master.  He knew he couldn’t meet the demands of the future on his own: I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg, he said.  His only hope was faith that the master would honor the words spoken in his name to end the debt.

Jesus commends the unjust steward in this parable because He desires that we follow the steward’s complete trust in the mercy of his master.  With the same enthusiasm and strength and eagerness as the sons of this world chase after the glory and wealth of the world, the sons of light—that is, Christians—trust in God’s merciful will and delight in His commandments.

With the same energy that the world seeks after the excitement and pleasures of the world, Christians desire worshipping together, studying God’s Word, and praying to Our Father in daily prayer.  We join with the Psalmist: With my whole heart have I sought Thee: Oh, let me not wander from Thy commandments!  Thy Word have I hid in mine heart: that I might not sin against Thee.  Blessed art Thou, O Lord: teach me Thy statutes.  With my lips have I declared: all the judgments of Thy mouth.  I have rejoiced in the way of Thy testimonies as much as in all riches.  I will meditate in Thy precepts and have respect unto Thy ways.  I will delight myself in Thy statutes: I will not forget Thy word (Ps 119.10-16).

Our Father in heaven is the Merciful Master.  He has entrusted to you gifts of which to be a steward: your body and soul, eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all your senses.  You’ve misused the gifts that you have been given to be the steward of.   You’ve misused your body and soul with the thoughts and actions you do when no one else is observing.  You have not given completely of your time, talent, and treasures in service to God’s Kingdom here and abroad.  You have not made the study of God’s Word and daily prayer your top priority every day.  You have not managed faithfully the gifts of body and soul, possessions and reputation that Our Father has given you to manage.  No matter how hard you try, you misuse that which is given to you.  Your salvation must not come from you, but from somewhere else.

Jesus tells this parable because He is the True Steward of the Master’s Gifts.  He holds the Office of the Merciful Father perfectly. Jesus’ words and actions carry the full weight and authority of Our Father in heaven.  For there is no God besides Him who is known to us in Jesus Christ.  His cry from the cross: “It is finished” cancelled the debt of your unfaithful stewardship.  The debt that you owed is taken upon Him.  He has written on your bill: Zero.  Paid in full.

As the steward called the debtors one by one before him, so Jesus called us personally before Him in Holy Baptism.  He called us to Himself and said, How much do you owe?  Take your debt and write “cancelled” on it.  Your Baptism is a Baptism into My all-sufficient death.  You have been anointed with the oil of the Holy Spirit.  Don’t write a lesser amount, don’t write “paid in part,” but rather write “paid in full.”  Through your baptism into Jesus, the debt was placed upon Him, nailed to the cross, and buried in the tomb.  You are free.  Through your baptism into Jesus, you’re raised with Him in His perfect life.

Jesus tells this parable to destroy any thought of trusting in yourself for salvation.  Jesus tells this parable for those who are suffering, anxious, or sick, for those who mourn the loss of loved ones, who have too much on their plate, who are overwhelmed by the world, who don’t know how they will get everything done or pay all the bills, who face an uncertain future.  Jesus tells this parable that we would throw ourselves upon the grace and mercy of Our Lord.  Behold God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. (Introit).

The Lord God created man in His image and appointed him caretaker in body and soul over the vast possessions He had given, the entire world.  Man, however, wasted the Lord’s possessions; squandered and threw away the gifts the Heavenly Father placed into his hands; man lost God’s image as well as the dominion over the creatures by his fall into sin.  The first man’s prospects in accounting to the master were grim indeed.  But God received him in grace for the sake of His Son, sent as Mediator and Redeemer.

Jesus, the Son of God, who in the fullness of time became the Seed of the woman, took on human nature and was appointed Lord of the House by the heavenly Father.  Since He also proved Himself faithful, diligent, and obedient in His ministry as the ordained Mediator, He won back the lost possessions for the human race, so that by virtue of His merits, we again can be accepted and appointed caretakers and stewards by the Lord God.

Jesus trusted absolutely in the Father’s mercy for us sinners.  Jesus trusted that in His speaking words of absolution to us, the Father would honor them completely.  Indeed, in His sending out apostles and pastors to speak in His name, that same trust is evident.  The Master is merciful.  The stewards of the mysteries of God are still there in Christ’s stead to cancel the debts owed the Master.  The word of the ones He has sent will be honored absolutely.

That’s the truth Jesus gives us in this steward who watched out for his own life and well-being.  The crucial factor in what happened was the master’s mercy.  He trusted that the master would honor the debts cancelled in his name!

God strengthen our trust that our debt is cancelled by the Word of Christ.  He is still in His office of Redeemer.  He is still speaking words of forgiveness and life.  Today He comes into our midst and puts wheat and wine into His heavenly service, saying “Take eat, this is My Body; take and drink, this is My Blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  Risen and reigning over God’s kingdom, He continues to take our bill and write “cancelled,” that we may be received with the saints into His everlasting home.  Thank God for the mercy of the Master! Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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