Readings: 2 Samuel 22:26–34 | 1 Corinthians 10:6–13 | Luke 16:1–9
Text: Luke 16:1-13
Luke 15 is one of the most popular chapters in this Gospel. It’s refreshing to hear the parables of the Shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep, “And on His shoulder gently laid, And home rejoicing brought me.” (LSB 709:3). We love to hear about the coin because we rejoice that God values us so highly: “Never grudging for the lost ones That tremendous sacrifice; And with that have freely given Blessings countless as the sand.” (LSB 851:1). And of course, countless generations of those who have erred and returned with contrite hearts to a gracious heavenly Father: “I once was lost but now am found; was blind, but now I see” (LSB 744:1).
But no such pious hymns ring out about the parable which follows, which is before us today: The Parable of the Unrighteous Steward. Nevertheless, it too has a comforting message of salvation for the lost. It just that it usually cuts us in a way that too close to home.
“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 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.’ 3 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. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’
This steward is facing a danger common to us all: unemployment—aggravated by the fact that he has not been trustworthy with his master’s possessions. He’s afraid for his livelihood and future, and that brings out our deepest fears in this life. It’s the root of looting during disasters, hoarding before the you-know-what hits the fan, of servers who slip just a little more from the tip jar telling themselves they need it to make ends meet.
And what the manager does benefits him, and only temporarily makes his master look good:
5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 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.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. (φρονίμως)
Notice that it says the master commended the manager for his shrewdness—his aptitude at working the system to his own advantage. The master in this particular is not God. It is a kind of wisdom the unrighteous manager displays, but it is not the kind which God commends, noted by the same Greek word: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise (φρόνιμος) man who built his house on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24)
That brings us to the point of the parable:
For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
Worldly, self-serving cunning can be found the world over. It can be found in us, as even Christians and church leaders fall to embezzlement. But it’s not much benefit to just dwell on the outward behavior, without getting to the problem in the heart. Yes, the problem is sin. It is unbelief in God as Creator and provider. But we make more of it than that. It’s what God is shining His holy light on when He says: “You shall not covet your neighbors house… his ox or donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (9th and 10th Commandments, Exodus 20:17) That craving for the stuff, by which our sinful mind thinks we live, is a spiritual problem which the Apostle identifies: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:…covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God comes.” (Col. 3:5-6)
It is transgression against the commandment of God, but it is also idolatry: to fear, love, and trust in Mammon. So, our Lord drives the point home to our hearts, where it needs to land and do its work of repentance:
10 “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. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 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].”
Martin Luther understood this, as he wrote in the Large Catechism about the First Commandment:
6 Surely such a man also has a god—mammon by name, that is, money and possessions—on which he fixes his whole heart. It is the most common idol on earth. 7 He who has money and property feels secure, happy, fearless, as if he were sitting in the midst of paradise. 8 On the other hand, he who has nothing doubts and despairs as if he never heard of God. 9 Very few there are who are cheerful, who do not fret and complain, if they do not have mammon. This desire for wealth clings and cleaves to our nature all the way to the grave.
10 So, too, if anyone boasts of great learning, wisdom, power, prestige, family, and honor, and trusts in them, he also has a god, but not the one, true God. Notice, again, how presumptuous, secure, and proud people become because of such possessions, and how despondent when they lack them or are deprived of them. Therefore, I repeat, to have a God properly means to have something in which the heart trusts completely. (Large Catechism, I 6-10)
If we worship and serve Mammon—the things of this life—then we will suffer tyranny under this false god. Mammon is ruthless and cruel. His favor is as fickle as a mad king. Who can save us from this slavery and tyranny? Only the one, true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This is a persistent sin for us, and also one for which the Lord of Glory was nailed to the cross. All idols, mute and helpless to save, fall down before the one true God, and His Son, Jesus Christ. The light of Christ shines in the darkness of our hearts, and the blood of Jesus was shed in love to save us from this false worship, that we may serve the living God! “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you,” the Lord’s Apostle writes, and “2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col. 3:2-4)
You have a different God than the unbelieving world imagines. So the way of Christ is not the way of the world, even if we use the very same money, food, and institutions as those who abuse God’s gifts. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. With renewed hearts from God, our goals are different, and so it’s apparent in how we use the things of this life—this “Mammon.”
Here, I think we can learn a great deal from the Christians who came before us. In the early 4th century, there were several wealthy Christians who heeded the Lord’s word to the Ring Young Man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matt. 19:21) This was the start of the ascetic movement in Christianity, and contributed a great deal to the growth of the Church. Our brothers and sisters recognized something that we today are often dull to hear: The things of this life, the Mammon, is given to us by God for a time, and we are obligated to put our faith into practice with how we use our earthly treasures.
These same words about where your heart is, there your treasure will be also, are said in Luke 12:
“32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:32-34)
You and an unbeliever have the very same green in your wallet. You have the same 24 hours, 7 days in the week. The difference is who is your God: He who made heaven and earth, who redeemed you from the slavery to sin and the futility of a heart that loves money rather than the true God.
And that is what we see in the Church still today. Look at how Christians are generous with their money and possessions in service to God’s Church, showing mercy to those in need. When the world legalizes and promotes the killing of babies, notice how many crisis pregnancy centers were opened! Notice how, in our own town, Christians and congregations donate to make a ministry like Obria thrive and grow. When the early church lived in a culture of abandoning unwanted children, it was Christians who made the sacrifice to adopt them and raise them to know the God who made them and does not reject them.
When the world embraces the cult of transgenderism and seeks to indoctrinate the young and vulnerable, the Church doubles down on studying the theology of gender, investing in youth conferences and education for parents.
When the world tells you that you can privatize your faith and don’t need the congregation or pastor to minister to your soul, Christians instead confess their faith in the means God established and they build up the congregation, support the pastor, repair the facilities for those things.
This is the Lord’s Word to every one of us, and to us as a congregation. It calls for continual reflection about who our god is and what service we are rendering. When we are more interested in our own comforts, thinking of it as my money, thinking “other people will give to the congregation,” or the government will take care of the poor, or if I tell someone that their lifestyle is wrong I might lose their friendship—repent, because this is your heart serving Mammon.
Where our congregation has only been interested in the things inside these four walls, fretting over how much is saved in the bank, and failing to give to District or Synod or any other mission—these are signs that our service has not wholly been to our Father who delights to give men the Kingdom. We need to repent of that, and ask Him to forgive us, and give us a new heart that desires to use what He has given us to do the things He command us to do.
The world will say we’re crazy. The devil will tempt us to think and act like everyone else. We won’t be able to keep up with the world’s standards of opulence. Our treasures will not be the things of this life, but the souls of sinners who, who like us, were saved by our telling them repentance and forgiveness in Jesus alone. Although we will not look successful in the world or Mammon’s judgment, we will receive the commendation that truly counts—and lasts for eternity: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matt. 25:23) In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.