In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Of all the parables of Jesus that we hear in the course of the Church Year, the Parable of the Unjust Steward is the one we understand the least, and one it would be nice to skip over. We just don’t know what to make of it! At face value, Jesus seems to commend the unjust steward who gets caught wasting his master’s money, then cons him out of even more money to try to bribe his way into his fellow citizens’ good graces so they will be more likely to help him once he is shamefully unemployed. So much for the Seventh Commandment’s prohibition against theft and the whole “helping your neighbor improve and protect his possessions and income” thing in the catechism’s explanation, right?
That would be a right attitude if this parable was about commending the unjust steward’s behavior. Jesus’ intention was not to say “conduct your business like that guy.” Instead Jesus tells us that the whole point of this Parable is to teach us, to borrow the cliché, “Put your money where your mouth is.” That’s what Jesus meant when He said “The sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.” Those who couldn’t care less about the Church, who see us as fearful people clinging to an imaginary God, know better how to handle their money than we do.
But it’s not just about money. It’s also about time and abilities and interests. The people in the world know that it’s wasteful to spend time and energy on something that doesn’t support your interests and desires. This parable is Jesus saying, “Hey, Christians! Take a lesson from the world’s playbook. Put your resources to work for what you say is your end goal, your greatest desire.” Or, on the flip side, why do you say that being in communion with God and awaiting eternity in heaven with all the redeemed is the most important thing in your life when you don’t support the Church with your money or abilities, or you haven’t cracked your Bible in years, or only pray when you’re in the service on Sunday morning, or can’t be bothered to try to learn more about the faith to better understand the truths of God’s Word? Why say you’re a Christian and this means everything to you when the conduct of your life says something else? At least the people in the world are honest about what their greatest desire is! This is why Jesus hits us with that sobering sentence, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
So, there it is. There’s the crux of the matter, the point Jesus is driving home in this parable. You can serve God or mammon, God or money and things and life in this world. Earthly wealth can either delight you and you can take pride in things, or earthly wealth can be put to good use, supporting the mission and ministry of Christ’s Church on earth, helping to spread the Gospel in our neighborhoods, our cities, our states, our nation, and to the corners of the earth. What will it be? Will you put your time, talents, and treasure to the service of God, or will you put it to work bringing to you the lusts of your hearts, worshipping the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever (Rom. 1:25)?
But before you jump up and send in your stewardship pledge to the church office, remember that your actions have betrayed you. Jesus wouldn’t have spoken this Parable if He didn’t know that, while we can say one thing, and perhaps succeed for a while, we give in and do the other. Mammon is always more fun.
You may be unfaithful in regards to unrighteous mammon and therefore undeserving of true riches, but go back to the Parable. The Master, the One who has given everything in the first place, is merciful. He is not a hard Master. If he was, the debtors in the Parable would have refused to obey the unjust steward. Instead they sit down and reduce their debts, not hesitantly or with questions, but gladly. They knew that debt reduction, and probably even debt forgiveness, was standard operating procedure for the landowner. The text doesn’t say that, but look at the Master’s reaction when he finds out what the unjust steward did. He doesn’t get angry, and doesn’t say “good job.” He commends, He praises the steward! He tells him, “Now you get it! This is how I operate, how I handle My business. I want to be merciful!”
This is the same way God approaches you. God has graciously given you those good gifts you learn about in the First Article of the Creed: body and soul, eyes and ears, reason and senses, clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all you have, and not just gives them to you but richly and daily provides you with all of them, and defends you against danger! And how have you responded to this fatherly, divine goodness and mercy? You have worshipped the creature rather than the Creator, lusted after evil, given into temptation rather than taking God’s way of escape from it. You should suffer unimaginable want and affliction in this life, and should die eternally.
But God will not allow you to suffer and die. Instead He has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to do just that. Jesus had no place to lay His head, and died in your place to forgive you all your sins. He gave all He had in support of His one thing needful, His greatest desire. He gave His life to save you, to forgive you all your sins.
Just like the sons of this world put all their resources into the things they love, so does Our Lord Jesus Christ. He puts all of His resources into you. By the Holy Spirit He gathers together bodies of believers to form congregations. He sends Pastors to congregations to deliver His Gifts in the Word and the Sacraments. Jesus wants one thing: to give you His forgiveness so you can live with Him eternally. And He makes sure that happens. Here He forgives you for serving mammon over God, and feeds you with His Body and Blood that strengthen your faith toward Him and your fervent love toward one another and that faith then wants nothing more than to use every God-given gift in service of the neighbor to give proof of the indescribable love of God.
This Parable may not be the easiest to understand, but in the end it’s not about the unjust steward. It’s all about the abundant mercy of the Master, all about the God who richly and daily forgives you through Christ Jesus. In Him, your debt isn’t reduced from one hundred to eighty, or even one hundred to fifty. In Jesus Christ your debt is paid in full and you are given a surplus of grace and mercy, divine love that will sustain you in this life and bring you into His everlasting home prepared for you.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).