Trinity 9 – Luke 16:1-9 – August 1st, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Today in our Gospel we hear the parable of the Dishonest Manager. I don’t know of many texts that cause more consternation than this one. I mean, this dishonest manager is sleazy. First off, he wastes the master’s possessions, and then when he finds out he is going to be fired, he basically makes himself a nice little golden parachute. And then this dishonest manager is. . . commended? In fact, he’s not just called “dishonest” – in Greek he’s the unrighteous manager. How can this unrighteous man be commended? Not because he is unrighteous, but because he is shrewd, because he is “wise” – because he sees what is going on and acts accordingly. And likewise, Jesus doesn’t want you to be dishonest, doesn’t want you to be unrighteous – he wants you to see and understand what is going on what is going on in your life.
Listen. He also said to the disciples, “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 to him and said, “What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” There’s the situation. The manager, the bookkeeper, the lawyer running the show is caught wasting, caught squandering, caught messing things up. Things are bad, and the rich man, the owner knows it. So what happens? “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.” Right here, this manager is using his head – he’s thinking clearly. Trouble has come – what is he going to do? Does he plan to try to talk his way out of it – never even crosses his mind. He’s shrewd, he knows he’s guilty and he’s not going to be able to talk his way out of it. Does he try to get some other job – decides not to really quickly, and why? Because he’s shrewd, he’s realistic, he knows his own strengths, and his weaknesses. He’s not the manual labor type – he’s a weakling, and he knows it, he admits it. Or maybe he could just beg, head out to the streets. He’s not going to do that. He’s too ashamed – everyone knows that he was the manager for this big, powerful man – who’s going to sympathize with him? When the fired head of BP starts begging for money, how much sympathy is he going to get? No, his begging would only bring scorn and shame, not sympathy, and a beggar who doesn’t generate sympathy is a beggar who goes hungry. This man sees his situation, understands his situation perfectly.
Now let’s pause and apply this. Compare this manager to Adam. Who is Adam? Adam is the man put by God Almighty into the Garden to tend it. He’s a manager – that’s what Adam is. And God says, “Adam, all this I give to you to care for.” And what does Adam do? He squanders it. Ruins it. Wastes it by his sin. The garden is gone, and now he has thorns and thistles and eating bread by the sweat of his brow. Now Eve’s helping of Adam means she gets pain and suffering and strife. The management, the care of the earth that Adam was given was an utter disaster. And when God calls Adam to account, what can Adam do? Can he talk his way out of it – he tried, “It’s the woman you gave me, it’s her fault.” Doesn’t work. God doesn’t buy it. So what is left to Adam? Is he going to be able to fix things by his own strength? Is he able to say to God, “Don’t worry God, I’ll fix it!” Not really. Is Adam going to be able to be all sympathetic, bat his eyes at God and say, “Oh, I didn’t mean it, give me another chance”? He’s not going to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. He’s guilty, and that’s that.
Now let’s consider you, for you are Adam’s son, Adam’s daughter. You too squander the things that God has given you. Your time, your talent, your treasure – anyone here want to make the case that they have used these gifts like they ought? This is the truth of sin – sin is squandering God’s blessings. God gives us strength – do we use it to serve our neighbor, or do we waste it in vain pursuits? God gives us a Church – do we take advantage of worship and learning like we ought, or do we run off after other things? God gives us wealth – do we use it to provide for our neighbors, or does the love of money become our master, where we worry more and more and more about cash? To sin is to squander the gifts that God gives you – every and any sin can be described this way. Wasting a gift God has given you – and the simple fact is, every one of us here has squandered and wasted God’s good gifts to us.
So, what should our response to this be? When God calls us to account for our sin, what shall we say? Shall we pretend that we aren’t all that bad? Oh, no God, I haven’t squandered stuff. . . well, at least I haven’t squandered it as badly as that fellow over there! That isn’t going to cut it. . . but how often are you tempted to compare yourself to your neighbor and feel smug because you are “better” than him? Not good. Doesn’t work. Or shall we try to make things up to God? Oh God, I know I’ve been bad in the past, but I’ll work really hard and I’ll make it up to you? Really? How? What are you going to do that is going to make up for your sin, for the pain you’ve cause the people in your life? We can’t – we don’t get to make up for things, we don’t get to take it back. That doesn’t fly either. Or shall we try to generate sympathy – oh poor little old me? Really? Do you think God, who knows everything, is going to buy a sweet little ol’ innocent me act? No. When it comes to sin we need to be shrewd and say simply, “I am guilty, and I can’t get out of this on my own.
That’s what this unrighteous manager realizes. He knows that he is unrighteous, he knows that he is unable to by his own strength fix anything. So what does he do? “’I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and sit down quickly and write down fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ And the master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” Here’s the plan – he is going to cook the books. Here you, you owe 50 measures of olive oil less. A measure was right around 875, 900 galleons. That’s over 40,000 galleons of olive oil. Quite a sum, isn’t it? Here, have that much free. Or the measure of wheat – that was around 1200 bushes – here, have 24,000 bushels of wheat. Even with today’s lousy prices, that’s a pretty hefty sum. This generosity will be repaid to this manager – if I save you $90,000 and then ask, “Hey, I’m having a hard time, can you help me out,” are you going to say no? Of course not.
There’s only one catch. Will the master let it stand? Will he follow after the manager and say to these people, “That man was acting illegally, pay me the full amount”? And the answer is no – and here’s where the shrewdness comes in. This unjust manager knows the rich man, and knows that the rich man will be merciful with this, and will let it stand. That’s the key – this unrighteous servant is able to live, able to survive because of one thing and one thing only – the rich man is merciful – and the unjust steward knows this and lives.
Now, again, what of Adam? What of you? No strength of your own to stand upon? So what happens? You have no righteousness whereby to justify yourselves, you have no strength to save yourselves. But Who does? Christ Jesus our Lord. And what happens? He is merciful. Christ Jesus, true God and true Man comes down from heaven, and He is holy and righteous – and what does He do? He offers you His own righteousness to save you. You don’t even have to come up with a plan like the manager – God Himself says, “Here you go, I will be your Savior, I will take up your sin, your debt and crucify it, and in exchange, I will give you life in My name.” A good deal. And it was no accident that in this parable, Jesus uses oil and wheat. Oil is associated with Baptism and Wheat with the Lord’s Supper. In the Early Church, even many places today, when you baptized would also anoint the head with oil, rich and fragrant. A friend of mine had her child baptized last week, and when she was home she could smell the oil, and she remarked, “I love it, the house smells like baptism.” And then wheat – you turn wheat into bread, and then you have the Supper. And what do both Baptism and the Supper have in common? Those are places, those are means by which Christ Jesus erases your debts and gives you blessings and forgiveness and salvation. God is merciful to you, and because of this, you live.
So what happens now? For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. Christ here is calling you to be honest spiritually – to be honest in looking at yourself. Be shrewd, see your sin for what it is – sin. Vile sin. But more importantly, true shrewdness, true wisdom and intelligence and smarts is this – see Christ Jesus Himself, see that He is merciful, see how He has come to be your great and wondrous friend, see how by His being put to death, the most unrighteous execution in the history of the world, by this death upon the Cross you are given wealth beyond compare, you are made for His sake to be welcomed into the eternal dwellings of the resurrection of the dead, you are given complete and full pardon and forgiveness for your sin, all on account of Him. This is His mercy. This is the wisdom of God, this is the love of God for you, that Christ Jesus has won salvation and forgiveness for you, and that He gives it to you through His gifts of Baptism and His Supper – and praise and glory and thanks be to God our Father through Christ Jesus our Lord, for this great love unto us, His unworthy yet forgiven and blessed servants. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +