Trinity 9 – July 23rd and 24th, 2016 – Luke 16:1-13
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
The parable which we heard today is one that causes no end of consternation to folks. If you want the bible just to be a book with nice information on how to be a good, moral person, how you can impress God and make Him give you blessings – well, this one will put you into a tizzy. Because frankly, everyone in the parable is scum – is a liar or a cheat or a jerk. If you want the bible to be a how to book on earthly riches – well, this parable doesn't work either. Which makes sense; Jesus tells it right after the parable of the prodigal Son, and frankly, giving half your estate to a son so that he can blow it isn't exactly great financial wisdom. So then, why does Jesus tell us this story, what is His point? For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. There's the point – it's about being shrewd.
So what is shrewdness? From a worldly perspective shrewdness abounds in this story. Consider: There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.' Remember, with the parable of the prodigal son, the Elder son was indignant that the younger son wasted his share of the estate. So alright, let's get a story where that sort of thing isn't just tolerated. No fatted-calf for this manager – when someone spills the beans, when someone complains about how this manager had been “wasting” stuff – maybe skimming a bit, maybe using the expense account a bit too freely – that's it. You're fired. The rich man calls this manager into the office and says, “turn in the books, cause you ain't got a job here no more.” The big dog is going to eat the little dog. Think about it – you had the manager who was shrewdly taking advantage of his position, even if it was a bit wasteful. You've got the complainers who shrewdly see opportunity to get their competition fired. You know, if the guy above me gets canned, and I'm the one who blew the whistle, guess who is in line for that nice corner office! And the rich man, he just tries to stop the wasting ASAP. All very shrewd according to the world – everyone looking after his own interests, making sure his own bread is buttered.
Except now, this manager – he's up the creek without a paddle. And the manager said to himself, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.” Again, this is shrwedness on this manager's part. You could listen to any business guru or a TED talk speaker talk about this – you have to be realistic, you have to set reachable goals. Denial isn't healthy. This fellow's life has taken a turn for the worse – but he doesn't lie to himself. He doesn't walk out, strutting saying, “meh, who cares, I'll just get a better job from some other rich man.” Nope. He recognizes his situation. His reputation as a manager is toast. And he isn't strong enough to dig, and he isn't going to go begging. He shrewdly takes stock of his situation and does not lie to himself. Instead, he improvises. “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.” So summoning his masters debtors one by one, he said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' He said, '100 measures of oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.'” You get the picture. 100 measures of wheat – now it's 80. And by the by, a “measure” was basically 1000 bushels. This is big time stuff. What he does is utterly shrewd – and under the law of the time, perfectly legal. Books aren't in yet. He's still the authorized agent – he can give discounts. And you know what – if you are going to get fired for wasting the master's stuff, you might as well WASTE it... and build up quite a bit of good-will. Because it's not begging if you walk up to someone and say, “remember how I saved you 20,000 bushels of wheat – say, I need a place to stay and a bit of spending cash – think you can hook me up?” That's “I washed your back, how about you wash mine.” And that's why even the master has to commend the dishonest manager – got to hand it to him, it was some slick dealing there, got himself out of a tight spot.
Everyone in the parable is playing the angles. They are all after the money, and they all work and scrap and fight for it. Money dominates their thoughts. And they are shrewd. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. So then, what about you, O Christian, you who have been called out of darkness into Christ's marvelous light? Jesus is making a blunt statement here – you Christians, you disciples, you don't act very shrewdly when it comes to your faith, to the things of God. I mean, the folks in the story do whatever they can for the Almighty Dollar. So, what about you Christian? How about it – are you shrewd, not in terms of your dealing with money, but shrewd in how you deal with mercy? Do you fight and scratch and claw – to forgive your neighbor? Do you do whatever it takes to show them love, do you care for them by hook or by crook? How zealous are you in showing love and mercy, how eager are you to make peace with your neighbor? Or to put in Catechism terms, when you put the best construction on things, are you really thinking about how to put the best construction – are you working at it – or just kind of shrugging along? And then, seeing your sin, knowing your lack, are you shrewd about receiving forgiveness? Do you crave it, do you prioritize hearing God's Word and receiving mercy? Or do you just putter on?
You see, when Jesus tells this parable – He had just finished the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, the Prodigal Son – because the Pharisees had been grumbling about forgiveness. Jesus had been eating with sinners – and they grumbled. “That's not how it should work. Why waste your time with scum – you should deal with us, we're the big wigs, we're the important people!” Big time important people, like the dishonest manager, or the rich man, or folks who rack up giant bills. And they should have known better – the Pharisees prided themselves on how they were good Believers... and yet, they disdained their neighbor. In reality they were really striving after wealth, after earthly success and fame. They didn't see their sin – they cared nothing for mercy, they gave no mercy to their neighbor and didn't think they needed any themselves. And so Jesus calls them on it – calls us on it. “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.” If you don't care about God's Word of forgiveness, if you want to be about money, if you want to be focused on earthly power – well, you better do it really well, because there's always a bigger dog coming in this dog eat dog world. Death comes. How will you deal with eternity? Maybe you can make so much money that when you die you'll, oh, I don't know, somehow bribe your way into heaven... do you hear the sarcasm here? You want to live chasing after money, well, good luck... you're gonna need it. Because when it boils down to it, “No servant can serve two masters, 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.” You can't do both. You can either spend your life living to earn and make and take and gather everything into yourself, or you can show love to your neighbor, and give of all that you have. When you get worried about the money, you'll just step on your neighbor. And we know this. It's a story that plays out too often in our own lives.
Of course it plays out. That's what the fall was. Of course in our sinfulness we act cutthroat and shrewd – Satan is shrewd and tricksy, and in the fall he was all shrewd and trapped us into sin and death. Satan thought he was pulling the biggest fast one of all time in the fall. Trapped mankind in sin and death, using God's own law to separate us from God. What better way was there for Satan to show his hatred of God than orchestrating the fall? But here's the thing. Satan forgot something, misjudged something. He forgot just how shrewd Jesus is. You don't hustle a hustler, Satan. While the sons of the world are shrewd – they've got nothing on how shrewd Jesus is. Jesus knows what He wants, and He will get it. He wants you, wants you forgiven. And so Jesus will be utterly shrewd when it comes to showing you mercy, to winning you salvation. Here's how it goes. Jesus says - alright, Satan – you want to play it all cutthroat – tell you what. You can cut my throat. Tell you what, Satan, I'll even throw in humiliation and degradation for free – you can have Me whipped, and mocked – you can even crucify Me. And Satan, in his hatred of God, in His wicked desire to hurt God, took the bait. Crucified Jesus. Went to town on Him. The thing is – that death on that cross undid everything Satan has done to you. The wages of sin is death – well, the spotless Lamb of God just took care of that upon the cross, didn't He? Oh, and look at that – that spotless Lamb rises from the dead – we get to as well now. And Satan's left holding an empty bag of hot nothing, because Jesus is shrewder than Satan. Now Satan will still cause trouble – he doesn't give in. He's not wise enough to figure out that he'll never top Jesus, so Satan will still hound you, mess with you, tempt you. And Jesus just shrugs – knock yourself out Satan – I'll just keep on forgiving them. They are mine, purchased and won with my blood. I'll keep on forgiving them, showing them mercy – doesn't matter how foolish or incomprehensible you think it is.
And so while Satan does his worst to you, Jesus still calls you to His house, calls you way from that. He is wise and zealous and shrewd – and He keeps on giving you forgiveness – keeps on calling you His own baptized child, keeps on giving you His own Body and Blood. And you know why? “No servant can serve two masters.” Can't serve two masters – and Jesus is your Lord, and He calls you here to His House and He reminds you over and over that you are His and that you are forgiven. Doesn't matter what you've done – it doesn't trump what He did for you upon the Cross. It doesn't matter what guilt you feel – He took up that guilt long before you were born. Doesn't matter the temptations that you face – He faced temptation down for you already. You belong to Him. Jesus loves you – it's as simple as that. And while the world will never get that, never understand or accept it – you are loved by Christ, now and forever. If thou, O Lord, kept a record of sin – who could stand? No one, so Christ says to you, “take your bill, and write zero – you owe nothing, for I have paid it all.” Because Jesus is shrewd, He is zealous and strives for what He wants – and He wants you to be saved, redeemed, forgiven, and with Him for all eternity. Jesus is all about giving you mercy – and His mercy endures forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.