July 28, 2013 A+D
St. Luke 16:1-13
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Victor Hugo might well have had the parable of the unjust steward in mind as he wrote the candlestick scene in his famous novel about the miserable state of man. The main character in Hugo’s novel, Jean Valjean, had just been released from prison and was invited. He was having trouble finding a place in the world and was invited to stay the night and enjoy a fine meal with a kindly old bishop. In the morning, full of bitterness, Jean stole silver plates and utensils as he left the house. He was caught that morning by the police and brought back. But the bishop pretended that he had given Jean the silver as a gift. Then he gave him a pair of matching silver candlesticks saying that he had forgotten part of his gift.
It is a marvelous depiction of mercy. That happens to be what the word “miserable” meant in Old French: “in need of mercy.” That is what we mean when we confess that we are poor, miserable sinners. We need mercy. In any case, the event rebirths Jean Valjean and drives the whole story.
The parable of the unjust steward displays a surprise similar to the gift of candlesticks to a thief. The steward, or manager, had stolen from the rich man. He had wasted his property. When he was caught and required to give an account, he chose to steal even more, in order that he might buy friends for himself. We expect the rich man to be outraged and frustrated, to make some attempt to get back what was taken from him, to regret that he didn’t stop the steward sooner. Instead he commends the steward for stealing.
The parables are not meant to show us how God is like us. They are meant to show us how God is distinct from us. God wants to give away His Kingdom. However it was that the steward was wasting the rich man’s property, it was rectified, when the rich man’s debtors were forgiven – not when the debts were collected. Here is the point: God wants to give away His goods to the very people who sought to steal them by violence. He wants as sons and daughters the very people who murdered His Beloved Son. He wants to bestow the Kingdom on rebels guilty of treason. We are not worthy of such mysteries and joys, but God bestows this Good News in His Word.
Our Lord interprets the parable when He says: “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.” Here is the key. Who can receive anyone into an eternal dwelling? Only God. So Jesus says you should make a friend of God for yourself with unrighteous wealth. Ha! What unrighteous wealth can be used with God? Stolen wealth! Only that which belongs to another, which is not yours by right, that which you cannot buy or earn so you steal it. It is not just that the innocent die for the guilty but is the very foundation of the Kingdom.
This is the shocking character of grace. God wants to give away His goods to the very people who sought to steal them by violence. He wants as sons and daughters the very people who murdered His Beloved Son. He wants to bestow the Kingdom on rebels guilty of treason.
The Father forsakes the innocent Son in order to have you. He declares the guilty innocent. He accepts payment from the Son for your debt. Then He goes so far as to say that you were never guilty and He has more to give than you tried to steal. He adds candlesticks to plates and spoons. It is not “Write down 80, even though you owe 100.” It is not even “Write down zero.” He takes the pad. He writes a credit. You aren’t just less in debt or even. He rewards your thievery. He pays more than justice demands. Our cups overflow.
That is the unrighteous wealth that makes God a friend of sinners. It is the Blood of Jesus Christ from the cross and in the Chalice. It welcomes sinners into eternal dwellings as God’s own friends when this creation fails.
Our Lord also says we are to be faithful with unrighteous wealth. To be faithful in this is to want it, to honor it, to love it. It is to keep on taking it. The Blood of Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection, His innocent, substitionary suffering, is the currency of heaven which is given in perfect generosity to thieving sinners.
“ What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” What shall I give to the Lord for His many gifts? “I will take more,” says the Psalmist. I will take more. God wants to give away His goods to the very people who sought to steal them by violence. He wants as sons and daughters the very people who murdered His Beloved Son. He wants to bestow the Kingdom on rebels guilty of treason.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.