The Shrewd Steward
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Luke 16: 1- 13. Focus on the purpose of money to buy friends and influence people. Be sure to check out Kelly Crandell and our male quartet as they sing – The Prayer for the Children.
While reading the Bible, Mark Twain, once quipped, “It’s not the parts of the Scripture that I don’t understand that bother me. It’s the parts that I do understand.” There are plenty of passages of Scripture that speak to us and trouble us. But, for me, this is not one of them. This is simply one of those texts that we don’t know what to do with. And neither did the early church. They kept adding endings to Jesus’ parable trying to make sense of a story that obviously commended the wisdom and resourcefulness of the dishonest steward.
The first attempt in verse 9 is sheer jibberish. “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.” Taken at face value, Jesus is telling us to buy friends so that when the money runs out these folks will let us into heaven, which makes no sense whatsoever since no one can buy their way into heaven.
The next attempt in verse 10 to vindicate the parable was to tack on some proverbial wisdom: He who is honest can be trusted in all things great and small; but he who is dishonest, cannot be trusted at all. A nice thought, perhaps, but it has nothing to do with the parable. In our parable Jesus is commending the wisdom of the dishonest steward’ resourcefulness, not his honesty.
Things go from bad to worse in verse 11 when we are offered a little moralism to take home with us. “If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches?” Again, probably true, but it totally contradicts the parable.
Finally, not satisfied with any of the above endings, Luke decided to go with a sure-fire winner. Quoting Jesus completely out of context, we read, “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.” Amen!
But once again that makes no sense because the master commends the unjust steward for his resourcefulness when he learns what he did. This is not a parable condemning the unjust steward or his sin. There is no moral judgment implied in the parable. In fact Jesus commends the unjust steward for his shrewdness, which brings me to the point of this story.
The key phrase for this parable comes in the version that comes right after our final verse. In verse 14 it says: “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all of this, and they scoffed at (Jesus).”
The reason they scoffed at Jesus is because, once again, Jesus is putting the interests of people and of a majority in the community ahead of the few who are wealthy. Jesus, nor God for that matter seem all that interested in our getting and accumulating money. Money is merely a tool in Jesus’ eyes to benefit people, particularly the poor. Thus when you are asked to pick up your cross in Luke’s Gospel you are also asked to give away all that you have too.
If you keep track of who owes what to whom Jesus seems to be saying time and again then you will never be operating on God’s terms. If instead you see people who are in need, be they the old bent over woman or the man with dropsy, whom Jesus heals on the Sabbath or if you be a lost sheep or a lost coin or a lost son it doesn’t matter what you lose or how you lose it, especially when it comes to the Father, only that you are found.
In other words money is merely a tool among many to help you get along with your neighbors. Money is the tool by which you can win friends and influence people.
He’s not saying go and rip off your boss or anyone else, but what he is saying if you put money before people you will always lose, like the rich man who built bigger barns than he needed or the rich man who ignored the poor man Lazarus who sat outside his house.
These are the stories that surround our text for today and they tell us that forgiveness of sin, forgiveness of debt is the means through which salvation is offered or denied in God’s kingdom not money. So why is this forgiveness of debts so important?
It has to do with God’s perspective on life. It’s a grace filled view of the world and all that dwells therein. It is literally a renaming of the reality in which we live by a God who remakes the creation through his love and grace. The kingdoms of the world say it’s about the money. But in the kingdom of God it’s about the people.
Bottom-line it all boils down to the same thing: deluded or sane, selfish or unselfish, there is no bad reason to forgive. Extending the kind of grace God shows us in every possible arena – financial and moral – can only put us more deeply in touch with God’s love and grace in our own lives.
The moral of the story is this: the reasons don’t matter to God. There is never a bad reason to offer forgiveness. If an unjust steward is commended because he forgave others simply to save his job or give himself a safety net in case he got fired, then forgiving debts is simply telling someone else that scorekeeping is up to the only one to whom anything of value belongs –the Lord.
Contrary to popular Christian belief though we are saved from the power of sin by God’s grace we are never completely freed from its embrace and so the question becomes how are we to live with this reality that though we were yet sinners when Christ died for us and was raised for us we still continue to abound in the power of sin?
If there were a simple way to sum up the moral of this story it might go something like this: In the same mysterious way that Christ’s forgiveness has brought salvation to the world, when we do the same for others, in some mysterious, even miraculous way we are also saving ourselves.
Besides, we’ve got more important things than scorekeeping to think about and act on: the work God has given us to do, to love and serve Him, with gladness and singleness of heart, still awaits our attention. Amen