Trinity 9 2022
August 14, 2022
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
The parable in today’s Gospel reading is traditionally called the parable of the unjust steward. In the English Standard Version that we normally use in our liturgy it translates as the word “manager.” I guess this makes some sense because we don’t really have stewards in modern American society, but manager sounds a little strange as well. It makes me think of a manager of a store or restaurant or something like that.
But in the ancient world a steward had much more authority than a manager at a department store. He was more like a regent, an agent of the king who was ruling in the place of, in the stead of, and by the command of the king. He was more like an executive officer in the military, the second in command, who ran the day to day things for the commander when he wasn’t around. While most of society doesn’t work this way anymore, the military is still run with a strict hierarchy that is structured primarily for efficiency.
The reason why this is important is that the rich man in this parable, the master, must honor the deal that his steward makes since it is made with the master’s authority. That means that when the steward says, “Take your bill and write fifty, or eighty” then that is what it is, even if it’s dishonest. The master can’t take it back, even though he’s been cheated out what was owed to him. He must honor the bill.
Now this parable is one of the most difficult of all Jesus’ parables because at the end of it the master commends the steward for his shrewdness, which is in his dishonesty, in his unrighteousness. So that’s the surprise. The master is displeased with his steward because he was wasting the master’s possession. But then he commends him for lowering the bills of those who are indebted and it seems to make no sense. No earthly master wants his steward to cheat him, to give his kingdom away.
For some, this parable makes a certain amount of sense. The master, unhappy with his steward, is then outsmarted by him, and so the master loves it, or at respects it, and that’s a good thing. So the moral would be to use dishonesty to gain something greater, to be shrewd in the ways of the world if it gets you want you want, the end justifies the means.
But that’s not what Jesus is talking about here. In the larger context of when Jesus spoke this, He is responding to the Pharisees and the scribes grumbling that Jesus receives sinners and eats with them. Jesus responds with parables about lost sheep and lost coin and the prodigal son. And now He speaks specifically to the disciples about the way in which He deals with sinners.
This parable should be a little shocking, it should make us uncomfortable and scratch our heads. It’s meant to. Because when we continue to think God is like us, that He should work by our standards of fairness and justice, then we are tread into dangerous territory. God is not like us. Scripture tells us that His ways are not as our ways, and His thoughts are thought as our thoughts. He doesn’t need to justify Himself to you, to the unbelieving world, to any part of His creation. He is not pleased with dishonesty, but He is pleased when debts are forgiven. He wants to forgive debts. He wants what He has to be given away. He doesn’t want He possessions wasted, but He does want it given away for free.
If there is anything you take away from this in terms of ethical instruction and to what it means to be a Christian, it’s that our lives should be marked with praise and thankfulness and gratitude for cancelled debts and God given possessions. To use what we have for the good of our neighbor, to be engaged in acts of charity and generosity and mercy. To demonstrate your righteous faith, that you have been made righteous through faith in Christ, by being shrewd, wise, resourceful in your integrity and in your charity, to be upright in the management of your households, of your finances, of your various responsibilities. Fight against the temptations of envy and greed. God is faithful, He will enable you to endure it. Do good, not because of some sort of reward, but because it is good to do good because God has declared you good in Christ. By faith, receive the goodness of the Lord and be shrewd with what He gives, that is to say, to share the mercy that you have received. That as the Lord forgives us our trespasses, our debts, that would ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us (Luke 11:4). He forgives your bad stewardship. You receive it freely for the sake of Christ, give it freely for the sake of Christ and love for your neighbor.
This is the important thing to remember, the parable about the unjust steward is not about stewardship. It’s about Jesus. The purpose of the parables is to reveal the kingdom of God in Christ Jesus, how He is Lord and King and rules in us by the power of His death and resurrection according to His mercy. This is good news. We all have debts that can never be repaid. If we had to deal with a just steward, we would all be damned. If we had to pay back what we owed to God, there would no hope for us because the bill is too high. King David gets is right in our Old Testament reading, “With the merciful You show Yourself merciful.” And we cry out each Sunday in the Kyrie, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.”
Because Christ is mercy. He is like a steward who shrewdly gives away the kingdom of God, who forgives debts and sins. In the eyes of the world, He wastes the possessions by doing so, but this is way of the Kingdom of God. Mercy is unjust by definition. Mercy is not giving the justice that you deserve, but forging the debt you owe, undeserved, unearned, unjust. The unjust steward is what we need. His injustice is grace and mercy, the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Christ, with all His works, didn’t earn heaven, since it was already His. He served us and became our servant. But He served us in this way, not seeking anything of His own, but that you might have the riches of the Father through faith in His Son.