Trinity 9 2011

Trinity 9
Luke 16:1-9
2011-08-21

We miwesterners of German descent hate waste. We can’t stand to see rock stars smashing thousand dollar guitars and rap artists smashing thousand dollar bottles of champaigne. We hear the price of dinner at the Ritz in New York and we roll our eyes in disgust. We practically weep because we can’t eat all the zuchinnin in the garden and must turn some of it back into the earth. We think we are against waste but we waste the Lord’s goods by holding onto them. I bet the highest percentage of hoarders in the world reside in middle America. We stash away in barns stuff for the future that may never come and where they do no good and where moth and rust destroy. Repent.

We do that not merely out of greed, but also because of our lack of trust. We are saving for a rainy day, for the day that the Lord forgets us or does not provide. We want to be self-sufficient. We can’t trust in the Lord to provide. “The Lord helps those who help themselves,” we quip, quoting the devil’s favorite and most treacherous non-bible verse. That is the sentiment that leads to Hell. Repent.

Our standard definition of a parable is: “An earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” That is not wrong, but perhaps it is misleading. It seems to me that the definition sends us looking for similarities. Heaven is like a kingdom or a shepherd or a steward – and those are things we know.

But the real gist of a parable isn’t in the similarities but he distinctions. What bears fruit is the surprise, the contrast. Because the Kingdom of heaven is unlike the kingdoms of men. In real life, here on earth, the prodigal son has to earn his way back in, debtors are expected to pay their debts, sheep die for the shepherd.

So let us consider the parable of the unjust steward according to this Word: Jesus said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’

We will need to know something secretes of the Kingdom to understand this parable. It is not an Aesop’s fable or an illustration from Confucius that everyone can understand. This goes deeper than revealing that greed is bad, that vanity has consequences, that we shouldn’t tell lies.

The steward has been wasting his Master’s goods. The Master gets wind of it and fires him. The steward makes no excuses, no attempts at bargaining or requests for another chance. The steward is sent to bring the books to him. We see something here of the Master’s character. The steward could have been imprisoned or even executed for this crime, but the Master has decided to put him away quietly. On the way, he hatches a plan. Before anyone knows that he has been fired, he will befriend them, and they will be in debt to him, by canceling their obligations. So he calls them in, one by one, and offers new terms. Essentially, he forgives their obligations. They are renters. They owe so much of the land’s produce to the owner and the steward has them write down a new number so that their rent is much, much lower. When he goes back to the master with the new rents written in the renters’ own hand, the master has a dilemma. The renters didn’t know the steward was fired. Jewish law is clear that even though they didn’t know, nothing the steward did was legal. So the master has no obligation to honor the contracts. Right then the village is praising him as the most generous man in the history of the world, but after this great boon and generosity, if he takes it back, he will be hated. No one knows the steward was fired except the master and the steward. Thus the steward has been very shrewd.

But his shrewdness is more than simply placing the master into an awkward situation with a kind of reverse black mail, but his real shrewdness is in recognizing the character of his master. His master is generous, merciful. He put up with the steward’s wastefulness. He didn’t inflict the full consequence of the Law upon the steward. The steward threw all his hope into that. He didn’t make excuses or bargain or complain. He threw himself on the master’s mercy. If the master is truly merciful, if that is his truest character, then he will honor the contracts and keep the steward employed for the sake of the good reputation that the steward has gained for him.

There aren’t, of course, masters like this in the real world. But that is the point. The Kingdom of God is similar to a master with a steward but not that similar. Because He goes too far. He acts like no master we’ve ever known, like a master we can barely imagine. He is more generous, more merciful than we are capable of.  Thus He is pleased with the steward when the steward gives away His stuff for free. The wasting that the steward was doing earlier was probably that he was gathering up full rents and putting it into barns, rather than letting the people enjoy it.

We call this parable the parable of the unjust steward. We might call it the parable of the merciful steward. That is the lesson he learns. It is a lesson we must learn again and again. Because it is hard to believe. Our Lord is merciful. He does and is and will provide – always. He gives away His Kingdom for free. The Son has taken our place upon the cross, made Himself a Holy Substitute, a whole burnt offering to the Lord for our sins and for our salvation.

What shall you pay for your sins? Nothing. How much is the entrance fee into heaven? Nothing. How much is the rent? Nothing. How much is this feast of His risen Body and Blood? Nothing. Nothing for you, that is, but it has cost the Father His Son, the Spirit His Beloved, and the Son His very life. But for you it is free. This makes no sense in the economies of men. The Lord had no need to save you, to pay this terrible price, but was moved by compassion. His mercy endures forever. And the Lord is against hedge funds and balanced investments. He throws everything into this sacrifice in order to purchase and redeem rebel murderers who hated him. He doesn’t care what your learning style is or what your preferences are. There is no variety. He just does it, knowing full well that most will never benefit from it. That seems wasteful to us. Why pay for those who won’t eat? Why die for those who won’t believe? Because it is His love and He does with it what He will. His mercy is great. His mercy endures. It is not changed by Hell’s wrath and rage, our sin or unbelief, or the frustration of Midwest farmers. He is merciful, loving, kind, generous in the Son and He has called you to be a recipient and beneficiary of this Kingdom, indeed to even have a part of it.

This is the will of God: that He give away His Kingdom for free to those who do not deserve it.  May He, in His mercy, keep this ever before our hard hearts and stubborn minds unto life everlasting.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

 

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