Trinity 9 – August 5th, 2012 – Luke 16:1-9
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
“For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” With these words, Christ Jesus our Lord lays down the gauntlet, He really chides us. We here, we who know Christ, we run around like fools, whereas the wicked, the evil act least act shrewdly, at least take stock of their situation and what is really going on. This text today is a wake up call, a call for Christians to start thinking, pondering their life, their salvation – but Jesus does this in a backhanded way. Instead of holding a positive example before our eyes, Jesus shows us a liar, a cheat, a thief – one who plays the game of the world well, and we are supposed to draw the parallel to our own lives. This we will do this morning God willing. Let us begin first by examining the shrewdness of this manager.
“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions.” Now, this is the first sign, the first inkling that the manager was shrewd. This manager has a cushy job – he’s basically in charge of buying and selling possessions for a rich man, he’s in charge of the business. And what’s he doing – he’s skimming a bit off the top. He’s been sweetening his deals with other people and living the good life. He’s like the businessman today who uses the company card for “business” – because of course he needed to take that potential customer out to the finest restaurant in town, take him out for a nice round of golf on the company expense account. He needed to take that expensive business “trip” all on the company dime. Maybe even just a little extra old fashion skimming as well. Again, this seems like a pretty sweet deal – but here is the problem. He’s dipped a little too deeply, enjoyed a bit too much of the high life with the company footing the bill – and he got called out. “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.’” And the shoe drops. You’ve been wasting my possessions – you’re fired. Go collect your books and bring them to me tomorrow.
So now the situation has changed. Instead of being able to live this life of luxury, he’s losing his job. The tables are turned. So, what will this man do? Weep? Rant? Complain? No – he takes stock of his situation. “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.” Let’s see what we can do, shall we? I’ve had a nice, cushy job – but that’s going away. I can’t dig – I’m a soft, indoor worker, that type of job would kill me. I’m too proud to beg. Now, consider – this isn’t really admirable… we value strength, we know you shouldn’t let pride get in the way – but this manager is a wicked lout. He’s a weakling, he’s sleezy – but he is at least honest about himself. When troubles come, there are no vain boasts about what he’s going to do, no bluster. He knows his limitations, great as they are. And so, he hatches a plan. “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’” You know what – I haven’t turned the books in yet. It’s time to cut a deal, it’s time to get in good with other folks, so that way I can sponge off of them and land on my feet. “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 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 plan goes into effect. He is going to give people a discount. One man owes 100 measures of olive oil – now because of the manager he only owes 50. A measure of olive oil was 875 gallons – so, what – fourty-some-thousand gallons of olive oil discount. That’s a pretty penny. Or the wheat – a measure was 1200 bushels or so – here fellow, take 24,000 bushels of wheat on me. If someone gave you 24,000 bushels of wheat and then knocked on your door and said, “Well, I got fired, I don’t have a place to stay, do you mind if I crash here for a bit” of course you are going to let him in and stay.
And with things all set up, things all prepared, the accounts get turned in. And it’s all technically legal – the manager was still an authorized agent, he had authority to deal. “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” And the master had to hand it to him – the guy was sharp – a liar, a cheat and needed to be fired, but he was sharp. This is shrewdness according to the ways of the world, where it is expected that you are supposed to lie, cheat, and steal all in order to get ahead, all in order to live it up now. And this manager is shrewd for a son of this world.
But now, what of you, what of the sons of light? What is shrewdness, what is true wisdom for us? Well, let’s go through the story again, but we are going to flip it and think of it in terms of a child of light. So to begin, we had a manager who was wasting his master’s possessions. How does that apply, how does that describe the Christian? Well, consider what we as Christians are. We are stewards of God’s wisdom and God’s blessings. We know God’s truth, we know the Law, we know the commandments, we know what is good and God pleasing. We have blessing after blessing from God – all the first article gifts that we talk about in the explanation to the Creed – body and soul, house and home, family and friends. And what do we do? We waste them. We ignore the commandments and sin. We engage in wickedness and vice. We abuse our blessings – instead of seeing them as gifts we vainly boast that we have earned them. Instead of being content and trusting in God, we covet and fret about making more and more. We know the Good things of God, and yet we sin in thought, word, and deed. And in this we see that we aren’t as shrewd as the manager. He at least lived what he thought was the good life – and we, we know what it is that is good. We know what is God pleasing. We know how to live, we know how to have peace and contentment and security. And what do we do? We blow it. We waste it. We worry when told not to worry, we hate our enemies when told to pray for them. We fill our lives with sin that wastes and destroys and taints the blessings we have received, and everything turns to dust and ashes in our hands. We give over to sin.
And then we get called on it. Even as the manager was brought before the rich man, so the Law of God, when preached, lays us bare, shows us our sin. Give an account of your actions – have you been perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect? Or have you wasted what He has given you? And just as the manager had to turn in his account – well, the wages of sin is death. So the Law comes crashing down – you have sinned, and you will die. That’s what’s going to happen. So what becomes the reaction? Often the reactions are unwise. How many people who know better still live as though they will never die? How many Christians live in denial, pretending that they aren’t sinners, pretend that they haven’t offended God with their sin. How many think that they will just be able to work out things with God by their own strength, by their own powers? There’s a lot of ego, there’s a lot of pride, there’s a lot of people who think God owes them. That’s utter foolishness – the manager knew that he was up a creek… you would be wise to recognize this as well. By your own powers, by your own strength, you cannot make things up to God, you cannot find a way out of your own sin, you cannot save yourself. It’s only vain human pride and folly that would say otherwise, but yet so many Christians end up falling to folly, end up falling to pride.
No, often we are not shrewd, often we are not wise. We must see ourselves, our sin, our lack truly, and then we must realize that we are weak. We are weak, but God is strong. In the story, the manager lives not by his own strength, but he lives off of the master – he makes his living by living off of the master’s stuff. Likewise – you will not have salvation or redemption by your own efforts or power – you only have salvation in Christ. It is not your hard work that will redeem you – it is Christ’s work. It is Christ’s death and resurrection which wins you life and salvation – anything else is a waste. If we trust in ourselves, we will die – if we trust in Christ Jesus, if we delight in the salvation which He earned for us, we will be received into the life everlasting. And this is the wondrous truth that we cling to – that the Holy Spirit who has given us faith points us to over and over. We are saved by faith in Christ Jesus, apart from the works of the Law. And so over and over Christ comes to us, sends us His Word to drive us to repentance, repentance away from our sin and foolishness – and instead He holds before us His Cross, He says to us, “Behold, I have paid the full penalty for your sin – I have swallowed up your death, and because I live, you too shall live and have life in My Name.”
Christ our Lord warns us, warns us that sin and Satan will try to shift our focus away from Christ Jesus, away from His Cross. He calls out to you today to be wise, to be shrewd. He calls out to you today so that you would keep your focus upon Him and the salvation He has won for you. He brings His forgiveness and mercy, His Spirit to you in His Word proclaimed, in His Holy Supper. Be wise, be shrewd – cling to Christ and His salvation, and you will have life abundantly. God grant that He continually fix our eyes upon Christ! In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +