18  Pentecost Proper C20                                                                       
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 16:1-13
September 22, 2013

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
340 "Awake My Soul To Joyful Lays"
657 "Beautiful Saviour"
348 "Jesus, Jesus, Only Jesus"
47 "Saviour Again To Thy Dear Name We Raise"


TEXT: (vs. 10-13) “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 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 mammon.” 

            If you were to examine the budget for the city of Lincoln, you would discover a substantial amount of money coming in to the city coffers from traffic violations. This isn’t surprising really. It’s money that comes in, and they have to do something with it, so it’s a part of the city budget.

            But now, think about the reason we have traffic fines. When we do something wrong while we’re driving, a police officer (if one is around) will give us a ticket, resulting in a fine being assessed. The purpose, of course, is so that we “learn our lesson” and we won’t do it again. When we break the law, the first place that gets hit is our pocketbook, regardless of whether it is for something as simple as overtime parking, or something as serious as speeding or getting a DUI.  We pay for our wrongs, so we’ll think twice about doing it again. It’s like any punishment.

            Are you starting to see the paradox here? On the one hand, we’re fined because we’re supposed to learn our lesson and not do it again; but on the other hand, the city plans and budgets on people breaking the law and getting fined—in fact, they bank on it. If everyone learned their lesson and didn’t break the law, the city wouldn't have that source of revenue. So we’re not supposed to break the law, but yet the city needs us to do it. It’s an interesting concept, isn’t it?

            Our text for today is Jesus’ parable of the unjust steward. Sometimes this is referred to as the parable of the dishonest or shrewd manager.

            In this story, there is a business man who has a steward, or manager working for him. It was his job to manage the finances and collect the accounts which were due to his employer.

            But this manager wasn’t honest. He began to embezzle funds from his employer. In his position, this was probably fairly easy to do. I would guess this had been going on for quite a while.

            But like the way most things of this nature go, his dishonesty was discovered. He was about to lose his job. He had to do some fast thinking. He wasn’t fit for manual labor, and he couldn’t fathom being a beggar.

            So he goes and makes some fast friends with the people who were indebted to his employer. He has each one of them reduce their bill. And naturally, this makes them very happy. I know that if someone came along and reduced a bill that I owed, I’d be very happy too. Anyway, this manager does this so that after he loses his job, he will have somebody out there who likes him enough to perhaps employ him or at least help him out in some way. Suddenly these people are indebted to him.

            One question does come up though; why did the master commend the crooked manager for what he had done? Here is a guy who is getting fired for being dishonest; why is he now being commended for further dishonesty? Isn’t this a paradox, something like the city not wanting us to break the law, but on the other hand banking on the fact that we will?

            There’s a theory about what actually happened. Most likely, this dishonest manager worked on a commission basis. This was very common in those days. If this was the case, the manager might have been simply giving up his commission that he normally would have received on these debts. The commission on the debts would have been 50 percent on the oil deal, and 20 percent on the wheat. If indeed this was the commission, this amounted to a pretty good sum. This of course is just speculation, but it would at least rationalize why the master commended the dishonest manager.

            Whatever the case, the manager felt he had nothing to lose whatever he did. If he was guilty of stealing more of his master’s assets, or if he simply gave up his commission, the intended result was the same. He had made some fast friends by acting shrewdly.

            In verses 8 and 9 of our text for today, Jesus says: “…for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into eternal habitations.”

            Jesus is telling us that the way the world deals with wealth and money is different than the way a Christian is supposed to deal with it. The Greek word “mammon,” which is most frequently translated as “money” or “possessions,” is actually from the Hebrew, meaning “that in which one puts trust.” Here Jesus calls it “unrighteous” to make the contrast between worldly riches and pure heavenly treasure.

            Putting our trust in the unrighteous mammon of earthly wealth and riches might make some superficial friendships for us on this earth, but it does nothing for us as far as God and our eternity in heaven is concerned. This unrighteous mammon can buy us certain things; and if we have enough of it, it can wield some pretty hefty power and influence—that is, amongst people of this world. But God is someone who just can’t be bought, at any price.

            I’d like you to think for a minute about the Pharisees. If we go to the verses just following our text for today, verses 14 and 15 of Luke chapter 16, we read the following words: “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.’”

            Jesus was speaking this parable to his disciples and teaching them a lesson; however there must have been some Pharisees within earshot of this, hence the reason they voiced their disapproval. The Pharisees, as we know, were very self-righteous. They looked down their noses at everyone else. They thought they had special favor with God since in their minds they had kept God’s law better than anybody else.

            This also affected the way the Pharisees regarded money and wealth. They reckoned that wealth was a special sign of God’s favor. They believed God rewarded them monetarily for how good they had kept the law. So they would flaunt their wealth in front of everybody to show them just how good they were, and how they had earned God’s favor. This is why the Pharisees loved money and wealth so much. Of course as we know, this view was totally wrong.

            As far as Jesus is concerned, money is just so much tinsel and glitter. The amount of money in one’s bank account doesn’t say anything about the heart and soul of the person. And when a person misuses worldly wealth by making it the object of trust or by using it in a selfish way, they show that they are not fit to be given the true heavenly treasure. A Christian needs to always faithfully practice good stewardship with the gifts God has given.

            In verse 10 of our text for today, Jesus gets to the core of human nature. He says, “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” I think this speaks so well in a lot of situations. Think of the kid who continually steals money from mum’s pocketbook or dad’s wallet. How far do you think the parents will trust him? Or think about the kid who hot-rods around with dad’s car. How quick do you think the parents will be to help him get a car of his own? Or what about the clerk in the convenience store that helps themselves to candy and cigarettes. What kind of a future does that person have with the company? And if this sounds rather arbitrary, I can tell you that the jails and prisons are full of people who started with the small stuff, and it just progressed from there.

            If you've seen the news over the past couple days, you might have heard about 19 year-old Joey Prusak from Hopkins, Minnesota, who works for the Main Street Dairy Queen.  He was waiting on a blind gentleman when he noticed that he dropped a $20 bill.  An older woman behind him picked it up; but instead of giving it back to the man, she put it in her purse.  This just didn't fly with young Joey.

            So he confronted the woman, and she refused to give the money back.  She said it was hers; and even when he told her that he had seen everything, she still persisted.  He then politely told the woman to leave the shop, as he didn't want to serve anybody who was that disrespectful.  And after a barrage of foul expletives and angry words, she left; but she still kept the money.

            But instead of saying, "Oh well, too bad, so sad," young Joey Prusak went to the blind man.  He reached in his pocket and took out a $20 and gave it to the man.  He then apologized for what happened, and asked the man to accept the money on behalf of Dairy Queen.  His actions did not go unnoticed either.  It is a human interest story about an act of kindness that made national news.  And all young Joey wanted was to do the right thing.     

            The point of it all, is that we are to use our worldly wealth in a way that is God pleasing. We are to spend our money in such a way that shows we possess the true treasure of heaven. But do we?

            Even though we laud the unselfish actions of Joey Prusak at the Dairy Queen, I think we are all guilty of selfishness and worldliness at times. I think that money sometimes has priority over the master himself in our lives, which is a classic case of mis-management. I think that we often forget that all the money and goods we have on this earth belong to God, and we just manage it.

            The sin that exists in this world also affects us and the way we handle our earthly wealth. We need money, the church needs money, charities need money, it’s the only way we can exist in the world. And this sinful love of money can so easily overpower us.  That's certainly what was driving the woman who stole the blind man's $20.

            At the conclusion of his first letter to Timothy, Paul gives this warning in verse 10, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” How true those words are. I’m sure you can think of people you know where this has been the case.

            As easily as it is to fall into a “money trap,” we need to know that there’s a way out of it. And that way is Christ. We know that regardless of how we might have mis-used our wealth, and how much we’ve let it control our lives, that Jesus is there for us. He is there to forgive us. And what’s more, he’s there to give us the true riches of heaven. Through faith in him as our Saviour, we have something more precious than money can buy. We have peace, forgiveness, acceptance, and a reward in heaven. This reward is one of faith, not of works or earthly riches or power. This is a reward that is freely given to us by God.

            So where does this leave us? Paul gives us some good direction here. In II Corinthians 5, 14-15 we read: “For Christ’s love compels us (or 'the love of Christ constraineth us,' if you prefer the King James Bible)….And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

            The love of Christ is the thing that motivates what we do with our earthly treasure. Because Christ loved us and died for us, we will in turn reflect this love in our lives. This love will also guide how we use our checkbooks.

            Certainly it is not wrong to have nice things, or enjoy a vacation, or to spend money on ourselves in other various ways. We can, without compunction enjoy the wealth that God gives us. The important thing however, is that we don’t forget God’s work in all of this. Using our money to help others is a God-pleasing thing, a way that we can demonstrate that the love of Christ rules in our hearts.  Young Joey Prusak at the Dairy Queen is a good example of this.

            How much we give and how we go about doing this is between each individual and God. He does give some guidelines in the area of stewardship; but the best guideline of all is given by Paul in II Corinthians 9:7:  “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

            The city of Lincoln counts on people breaking the law to provide part of the city’s budget. Thankfully that’s not the way the Lord operates. If we give our money grudgingly or unwillingly (like paying a traffic ticket), that’s not the type of stewardship God wants. Some churches were guilty of doing this too. But Luther brought this idea to a screeching halt when he tackled the selling of indulgences for forgiveness.

            As forgiven and restored children of God, Jesus wants us to look at other people the way HE looks at them. He wants us to look at the work of his kingdom as something worthy of our support. He wants us to value the treasure of heaven as something which needs to be shared.

            Jesus concludes his parable with a warning: “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 mammon.”

            May we always remember that God is our master, and may we always faithfully serve him and others with our time, our talent, and our treasure.