Trinity 9 – August 18th, 2019 – 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 +
Americans love to cut deals. Think of shows like Let's Make a Deal, The Price is Right, American Pickers, Pawn Stars. Think of the preponderance of small businesses like Scentsy or Mary Kay, or even the auctions for 4H – we love deals. I myself love the hot stove league and hearing the free agent deals in Baseball. We even have a president who wrote a book entitled “The Art of the Deal.” Americans love to cut deals.
And as such, we are pretty well attuned to bad deals. We know lousy business when we see it – and we don't like it. And that's what we have in our parable today – told right after the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin and the prodigal sons. And it sounds like there's bad dealings going all around - “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.'” Seems straight forward enough – if your operation gets big enough, you hire help. You look at the big picture, they handle the details as you want them to handle them, and if they don't – you're fired! The rich man hears of waste and, “boom,” the manager is told to clear out.
And this manager is despondent. And he says he isn't strong enough to dig, and he's too proud to beg, so he comes up with a plan. It's too late to actually cook the books, but he still has the books. And this is a note of ancient world law – until he actually turns in the books, he still has legal authority to cut a deal. So he goes on a spree of making deals. And note something – these aren't small amounts. It's not fifty jars of oil – these are measures – these are the big industrial units of measure. That 20 measures of wheat – that was 24,000 bushels of wheat. And thus you can see his plan. If I basically give you 24,000 bushels of wheat, and the next week I knock on your door and say, “Hey, I'm now down on my luck, can you help a fellow out,” - what are you going to do? And thus we hear, “The Master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” That idea of “commending” doesn't mean that he was happy about it – think of this as grudging approval or the tip of the cap – this manager played hardball and pulled it off – and the rich man is rich enough to where a slightly down year wouldn't hurt him all that much – he can shrug it off.
So... what does this all mean? This is one of those parables that seems to be utterly odd. What, are we supposed to lie, cheat, and steal? Well, Jesus gives commentary, and so we ought to listen to Him. First, Jesus says, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” Jesus tells this story not because we ought to be involved in bilking our bosses or anything like that – but in the story the manager was out to play the game and play it well. He was actually looking out for number 1 – looking, paying attention. Thinking. Pondering, meditating. His mind was on his money and his money was on his mind. And that's the way that the “sons of this world” are – they actually pay attention to worldly things, and they think about how to get them and all that jazz.
But what of the sons of light? How is your game played, oh Christian? The Church isn't about the art of the deal, it's not about politicking and amassing power – at least it shouldn't be. Our primary focus isn't the art of the deal, it's the art of the what? Jesus points to it next - “And I tell you, make friends for yourself by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” The Church is to be about the art of Salvation. The Church is focused upon the “eternal dwellings.” So, O Christian, how do you get to heaven? Are you going to bribe your way in? It sounds funny to say that, doesn't it? That's part of Jesus' point – that it would be silly to think that you can cut a worldly deal to enter eternal life – but if we're honest, we try to do that, don't we? Plenty of money has been donated to the Church throughout the course of history in an attempt to make up for sin; guilty consciences built the cathedrals of Europe. Or maybe we're not that crass – maybe we'll try to bribe God with our works – see what good little Christian boys and girls we are. As though salvation were by works. But that's where we default to, that's what we feel in our guts – because we are sinners living in a sinful world and so we fall back to wanting to make a deal. You wash my back, I'll wash Yours' God.
But that's not how salvation works, o sons of Light. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?” There's a word that popped up over and over again there – faithful. Of course it should – we ought to know how the art of salvation works – we are saved by grace through... faith. Faith is the means, the way in which we receive the benefits of Christ Jesus' death and resurrection. When we receive from Christ – we have everything. When we try to give to God or bribe our way into salvation – we have nothing.
See, these are two radically different ways of living. One can try to live by works, money, deals – or one can live by faith. One can try to always be in control and manipulating the situation and being in charge, or one can live by simply receiving the good gifts of life and salvation that God gives. And these two ways are diametrically opposed. The service of God and the service of money are utterly distinct. And as sinful people we crave power, control, tools of leverage – of which money is the simplest – I use my money and I get my way. But that is not God's way. God's way is this – Christ Jesus Himself goes to the Cross for you, and simply and solely because of what God Himself does, you are rescued from sin and death and your murderous desire to cut someone else apart in your dealings, and you are freely given forgiveness, life, and salvation.
You do realize that when we say that salvation is free, that grace is free, what we are really saying is that we don't get to manipulate God? Christ Jesus saves you simply because He wants to, because He loves you – and you can't manipulate Him into loving you more or less. Jesus' love is free of your control – and that terrifies our old sinful flesh. It ought to – because Jesus' love and His plan is to put your sinful flesh to death – to drown it in baptism and to daily submerge it with confession so that a new man daily rises until that final day when we fully die and then fully rise completely free of sin. That's what your baptism is – Christ Jesus calling you way from the darkness of powerplays and manipulations and instead giving you life, life freely given. It is Jesus saying, “You cannot serve two masters, but I am speaking to you in My Word, and I forgive you, and you are Mine – I will be your master for all eternity.”
And you know what? “With the merciful You show Yourself merciful; with the blameless You show Yourself blameless; with the purified You deal purely, and with the crooked You make Yourself seem tortuous.” When you let your old sinful flesh run wild, the things of God seem utterly terrible and wrong and unfair – and you will grumble and complain. You will think things are tortuous. That's your crooked sinful flesh talking. But this is what Jesus does. He comes to you as the Baptized, and He speaks His Word of Mercy to make you merciful, and then you see His mercy again and again and again in so many things. He forgives you your sin – take and eat, take and drink, given and shed for you for the remission of all of your sin – and being made blameless by Christ, you see that this forgiveness and salvation thing really is good. He purifies you with His Word and Spirit – and then you speak that same Word of forgiveness, give that same Spirit of life to the people in your own life, forgiving and purifying them.
Oh, but how our flesh fights against this! Oh, but we so often want our way! Oh, but we want revenge and people to get their just deserts and so on and so forth and then there's fighting and arguments and tribalism and division and chaos. And so over and over again, Christ speaks His mercy, His peace, His forgiveness to us. He shows us that the problem is really the log in our own eye, and then He removes it, and we see Him as He actually is. And in His Word Jesus makes us to be shrewd in the way of salvation, to focus us upon Himself, His Cross, His death and resurrection, so that we always see and remember Him. Come, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, who takes our sin away and writes the sign of His Cross upon our foreheads, for He is the author and finisher of our faith. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +