Trinity IX - Luke 16:1-9 - August 2, 2015
Order of Service - Pg. 15Hymn #240 Father Most Holy, Merciful and Tender
Let Thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of Thy humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please Thee; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.
Sermon on the Holy Gospel
1) A certain rich man had a steward. This was a normal practice in the ancient world. We see it elsewhere in Scripture. After Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers he is purchased by Potiphar of Egypt. Joseph rises to prominence in Potiphar’s house. Moses writes that Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority. Thus he left all that he had in Joseph's hand, and he did not know what he had except for the bread which he ate. (Genesis 39:4, 6) As Potiphar’s steward, Joseph was in charge of all Potiphar’s possessions. His job was to oversee the property to make sure everything produced what it should and that everyone did as they should. This stewardship ended abruptly when Joseph was accused of seducing Potiphar’s wife. The stewardship was taken from him and he was placed in prison. Years later, Joseph would be placed in another position of oversight, this time for Pharaoh. After proving himself worthy to Pharaoh by interpreting his dreams, with the aid of the Lord, Pharaoh makes Joseph his steward. He says, You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you. (Genesis 41:40) Once again Joseph is a wise and faithful steward, as was in Potiphar’s house, directing Pharaoh’s possessions and saving Egypt from famine because of his prudence and shrewdness.
2) So this is nothing new when Jesus says that a certain rich man had a steward, someone he has set over his fields and property while the rich man can attend to other business. The steward is to make sure those who work in the olive groves produce enough olive oil. He is to make sure the farmers make their quota of wheat. Stewards, like Roman tax collectors, would have made their living by adding an additional amount to the master’s required quota. This often led to extortion just like it did for tax collectors. This steward though was more than your average scoundrel. He was so corrupt that someone made an accusation against him of malfeasance in office, that he was wasting his master’s goods. The master cares only that he gets his cut, but if goods are being wasted, then the master’s cut could have been more. So the steward is wasteful in his stewardship. He is called to give an account of his dealings and turn over the ledger to his master. He is summoned for judgment. He knows that his wastefulness is discovered, for why else would he be called to the master on such term? His conscience convicts him. He knows He is found out. He rummages through his options in his unemployment. He cannot dig, he says, for he is accustomed to luxury. He is ashamed to beg, for as Sirach says, The life of him that dependeth on another man's table is not to be counted for a life; for he polluteth himself with other men's meat: but a wise man well nurtured will beware thereof. (Sirach 40:29) For a man used to such lavishness, begging would be worse than death.
3) He speedily comes to a plan of action. For though this steward, in charge of all the master’s property and possessions, has wasted so much, in light of pending judgment he becomes prudent and shrewd to save his own skin. He calls in his master’s debtors and slashes what they owe. He was either stealing directly from his master’s pockets or he was eliminating his own cut. Either way, this is a stroke of brilliance. His master looks generous beyond all belief to his tenants. He makes the master look merciful and kind, thus improving his master’s reputation. He also provides for himself in unemployment. He does all this so when he put out of his stewardship they may receive him into their houses. These tenants will be so grateful for his generosity than when they hear of his termination they will invite him into their homes to live contentedly. He plays the system. He bets big. And he wins. So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. He doesn’t commend him for being unrighteous with his own property and goods. He doesn’t commend him for wasting his possessions. He commends him for this, that he uses his stewardship for the sake of others, so that when judgment comes, the tenants will testify to his good works and welcome him into their homes.
4) The master of the house is our Lord Jesus Christ. He tells this parable to make His Christians consider how they are using their master’s possessions and property. He wants all of us to follow the example of the unjust steward, not in his unrighteous wastefulness, but in his prudence and shrewdness. Christians often fall into the trap of thinking that good works for our neighbors aren’t necessary. We also are daily tempted to horde mammon and talents so that they sit idle and don’t profit anyone. We are, even as the baptized, not as shrewd with our master’s possessions as the children of this world are with their possessions. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. Jesus commends this example of prudence and shrewdness to us, that we may consider two things. First, what blessings He has so graciously given us already, and to whom they really belong? Second, how can we use those blessings in order to serve our neighbor, making friends with unrighteous mammon with our heavenly goal in mind?
5) We know and have learned in times past that everything we have belongs to the Lord. Yet this is something that our flesh easily forgets. Our nature wants to cling to these things as if they are our possessions. David says in 1 Chronicles 29:11-12, For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, And You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great And to give strength to all. All that is on the earth belongs to the one who created it. The Lord reminds us Psalm 50:10-12, For every beast of the forest is Mine, And the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains, And the wild beasts of the field are Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; For the world is Mine, and all its fullness. Even the promised land itself was not given to Israel to be their possession. They were still merely tenants of a gracious master, as He reminds them in Leviticus 25:23, The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me. So we must remember at all times that everything we have is a gift from our gracious God and belongs to Him. We are merely stewards, caretakers of these gifts. Our bodies are His. Our homes. Our families. Our wealth. Our talents. Our time. It is His. He gives it to us to oversee it, to use it for the benefit of our neighbor and those in need.
6) How can use our stewardship and not be wasteful, as the unjust steward was? That’s the challenge of loving your neighbor. Loving your neighbor is not a cookie-cutter program or a checklist of good works to do for others. Love for neighbor is always individualized and personalized because the Lord has given each one of His baptized children different gifts and blessings, talents and treasures as so many like to call them. Loving your neighbor is a case by case thing because each of your neighbors needs different things in life. Your duty as a Christian is to look around you, consider your vocations, the places where Christ has put you in this life, and ask, “How can I use what I have to help those around me?” Your good works do not have to look significant in the eyes of the world, either. Consider what the sheep are commended for in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 'I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' (Matthew 25:35-36) This is why I say that serving your neighbor in love is the Christian’s challenge. There is nothing more proscribed than what the Lord gives us in the commandments. Yet if we busy ourselves with fulling those for our neighbor then we will never run out of good works to do for them. So we are to use our stewardship from the Lord, our wealth, our talents, our gifts, our time, for the benefit of our neighbor, so that when we come before the judgment seat others may testify to our good works which flow from our faith in Christ. This is what Christ means when he says, I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home. Those whom you serve in love will testify of your good works on the Last Day, and those good works will show your faith in Christ, for only works that are done in faith please God.
7) Joseph ruled Potiphar’s house and Pharaoh’s house with diligence and prudence because the Lord was with him by faith. By the same faith, the same trust in God’s gracious promises, we are called to exercise our faith, to practice it through the doing of good works. There will be a judgment. Each of us will be called to account for our stewardship of the Gospel and our possessions and wealth. Like the unjust steward, we see our judgment in the future. But in mercy we are given time to prepare by faith in Christ Jesus. See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17) And the will of the Lord is this: that you believe in the one He has sent, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of all of your sins, and that you do good works for your neighbor, not to merit God’s favor, but because your Lord Jesus Christ has been your neighbor, loving you as He loves Himself. Amen.