NINTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY
Parable of the Shrewd Steward
July 29, 2018
When It's Generous to Be Unjust
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Why does Jesus tell stories?
He tells a story today about a master and the steward of his house and estate, similar to today's money manager. And something is wrong: “There was a rich man who had a manager who was accused of wasting his possessions. The rich man called him in and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you can no longer be manager.’ (Luke 16:1b–2, Evangelical Heritage Version)
What had the manager done wrong? He was wasteful. He was not using his master's possessions in the way that the master wanted his money used. Was the manager skimming money into his own Cayman Island slush fund? Was the manager overcharging the tenant farmers, much like the tax collectors of the day? Or what it something else?
Jesus continues: The manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, since my master is taking away the management position from me? I am not strong enough to dig. I am ashamed to beg. I know what I will do, so that when I am removed from my position as manager, people will receive me into their houses.’ (Luke 16:3–4, Evangelical Heritage Version)
The manager is in an almost life-and-death situation. Managing money was the only thing he knew how to do; now his life was coming to an end. In a moment of clarity he recognizes that he doesn't want to do and takes steps in order to live.
He called each one of his master’s debtors to him. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘Six hundred gallons of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and write three hundred.’ Then he said to another, ‘How much do you owe?’ And he said, ‘Six hundred bushels of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and write four hundred and eighty.’ (Luke 16:5–7, Evangelical Heritage Version)
His plan is to start giving out large discounts on the agreements that the tenants has agreed to pay to the master. With one tenant, he slashes the bill by 50%. With another, he gives a 20% discount. Was this manager stealing again from the master? Maybe. Was he being generous with money that wasn't his? Absolutely!
And so here's the surprise (almost every parable has one): The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. (Luke 16:8a, Evangelical Heritage Version)
This translation of the original Greek text is good, but some transparency would be helpful. A more literal translation is this: The master commended the unjust manager because he had acted wisely. Understanding this sentence and those words “unjust” and “wisely” unlocks the purpose of this story.
At first blush this sounds like God is approving of cheating and stealing in some situations. But God hates the sin of theft.
This sentence tells us that He does love to be generous.
Earlier I had asked how the manager had been wasteful. I defined wasteful as not using his master's possessions in the way that the master wanted his money used.
You can relate to wasteful mismanagement. If you tell your financial advisor to invest in a certain way, and he doesn't, he won't be your money man for long. If you tell your kid to take your credit card to buy school supplies, and they come back with apps and Nitro Cold Brews, you'll be upset.
In the same way the master wants his money to be spent the way he wants it spent. How does he want it spent? Perhaps another parable could shed some light on this master's attitude.
In Matthew 20 Jesus tells a story about a master who hires workers throughout the day to work in his vineyard. At the end of the day, he pays everyone the same. The workers who worked the whole day get the same as those who worked a soft hour in the evening. The all-day laborers grumble about this injustice. Jesus ended: But [the master] answered one of [the grumblers], ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not make an agreement with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go. I want to give to the last one hired the same as I also gave to you. Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ (Matthew 20:13–15, Evangelical Heritage Version)
These masters of of these parable are generous. This is why Jesus told stories: to show us His generosity. He's giving away the kingdom of heaven. That's why He came to earth: to generously spend His life on all the sinners of this world.
To us His generosity seems wasteful.
Why would Jesus die for the science teacher who was having a bad day and shouted at my sophomore daughter? Why would Jesus die for the radical activist who is methodically destroying all good institution of society?
To us His generosity seems wasteful.
We worry that if salvation is a free gift from our dear Lord, then we'll take it for granted. Of course we take it for granted! We are sinners. Let us repent of our pride that hopes we can saves ourselves. Our salvation is not in showing God how grateful we are, but in Jesus killing us with His Word and bringing us to life with His eternal promise.
You aren't good enough; you are a wretched miserable sinner, in fact, you are the worst. You are worse than a drug dealer, than a mother who's aborted her three babies, than the President of the United States.
If you are offended by this, take it up with Saint Paul, who wrote inspired by God: This saying is trustworthy and worthy of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15, Evangelical Heritage Version)
Christ died to only to save sinners. By grace He has saved you and now given you a job: to manage His generosity.
Many of you are holding grudges against others and you are just and right to do so. But your “justice” damns you to hell! Leave the management of justice to our dear Lord Jesus Christ; He will repay, not you.
Manage His generosity. Forgive your friends and your former friends. Forgive your paranoid brother, your gossiping sister, your stubborn parishoner, and your stupid pastor. Like the manager, be wasteful and unjust with our Lord's forgiveness, just as He has been unjust to you. Like our dear Master, be unjust which is His way of saying: “Be merciful.”
What is the most unjust thing in the history of the world? Christ dying alone on a cross for you. That's mercy that He has happily wasted on you. This is the true story that He tells to you over and over again.
In Jesus' Name. Amen.
God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Thanks be to God!