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What Shall I Do?

Luke 16:1-15

Rev. Alan Taylor

Pentecost 18, Proper 20, series C
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Sep 22, 2013 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The votes are cast and the results are pretty well unanimous.  This parable of the dishonest Manager ranks as the most difficult of all the parables in the Bible, mainly because commentators canít agree on what it means.  Several even admit that they have no idea what it means.

The problem, of course, is ours, not Gods.  Seeing, we donít see.  And hearing, we donít hear.  Internally, in other words, within the text itself, the problem, from our perspective, is in the reaction of the master to his manager who has been unfaithful in his dealings with the masterís property.  The manager is about to be fired.  Since he freely admits that he is too weak to dig ditches and too proud to beg alms, he decides that he will make friends with his masterís debtors so they will receive him into their homes when he is unemployed.  The way he makes friends with them is by cutting the amount they owe to the master.  To one who owed 100 measures of oil, which is equivalent to about 870 gallons, he said, ďsit down and write fifty.Ē He then went on to the next debtor and treated him in a similar fashion, although not giving him quite as good a discount.

When the manager is done dealing with his masterís debtors, in other words, when heís done cooking the books, he hands them over to the master.  And here is the amazing and confusing part.  The master commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness and cunning, acknowledging that he acted according to the ways of the world.  Thus, he says, ďthe sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.Ē

Jesus then finishes the parable with another astounding, and frankly confusing verse.  ďAnd I tell you (He says), make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.Ē

What is our Lord teaching us this morning by way of this parable?  Does He really welcome and even honor dishonesty among us?  Is it possible, as it seems in verse 9, to buy our way into heaven by giving generously or by buying friends with our wealth?

It would be helpful, I think, to consider the context of the parable first.  If you look right before the parable you find the parable of the prodigal son, where the younger son demanded his inheritance and went off and squandered it on lose living.  Right after the parable is the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus.  Remember, the rich man lived in luxury all his life while Lazarus lived in poverty.  In death, the rich man wound up in hell and Lazarus wound up in heaven.  The rich man cries out for someone to go back to earth to warn his brothers about what has happened to him so they will make amends to their lives and not suffer the same fate as he.

So, from the end of chapter 15 of Lukeís gospel, all the way through chapter 16, we have three parables dealing with money and the use of money.  That said, money, and, in particular, the abundance of money isnít really the central point of any of the three parables.  In other words, in the first parable, the young prodigal learns a valuable lesson about the forgiveness and mercy of his father.  In the last parable, the rich man isnít condemned because he was rich.  Rather, he is condemned because he, like his brothers, wouldnít listen to the words of the prophets and apostles.

So, letís go back again to the parable of the dishonest manager.  It is true that the sons of this age are often more cunning in their dealings with one another than are the sons of light.  The dishonest manager, not bound by the same moral compass, by the same standard of right and wrong as a son of light, had no problem devising a plan to take care of himself when his master fired him.  Admittedly, it was a pretty ingenious plan.  My master says you owe him 100 gallons of oil, but, Iím going cut you break.  If youíll pay it now, Iíll reduce what you owe down to 50 gallons.  And there you have it!  The dishonest manager just made himself a friend.

As sons of light we understand two important things about our master.  First, He is exacting.  In other words, whatever debt is owed Him must be paid in full.  Consequently, it is futile to think that hard work that doesnít satisfy his righteous demand is going to be accepted as sufficient.  It isnít!!  Jesus was clear in His Sermon on the Mount when He said, ďbe perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.Ē Our master is exacting.

But, He is also merciful and forgiving.  It is interesting, it seems that even the dishonest manager recognized the mercy of his master.  Near Eastern commentaries on this parable point out something that you and I are very likely to miss.  The masterís response to the dishonest manager should have included imprisonment.  In other words, the manager should have been thrown into prison until such time as he had paid his debt to his master.  But, he wasnít.  And, it would seem that he knew he wouldnít be.

Our God is merciful and forgiving.  While He demands perfection of us and while He will accept nothing less than perfection from us, He provides, through the perfect life and righteousness of His Son, that perfection that we cannot grasp. 

In the latter part of the parable for this morning, Jesus says, ďNo 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 money.Ē Here Jesus confronts us with our ineptness and our weakness because He isnít telling us that we ďdonítĒ do a very good job at serving two masters, or, that we donít try very hard when we serve two masters.  No, He is saying we ďcannotĒ serve two masters.  In other words, it isnít possible for us to serve to masters!  We arenít made that way!  We are made to serve one master and one master only!

Consequently, the time will come when youíll ask the same question the dishonest manager asked, ďWhat shall I do?Ē Iíve sought to serve many masters and Iíve failed.  Indeed, I have not been faithful in all things as a manager in my masterís house.  I have not loved Him with my whole heart and I have not loved my neighbor as myself.  I have squandered the riches He has given me and Iíve been less than generous to others in need.  What shall I do?  Like the dishonest manager, I too am too weak to right my wrongs and, in many ways, Iím even ashamed to acknowledge to my master just how terribly I have failed. 

In a way, like the dishonest manager, it is time for you to lean upon the mercy and forgiveness of God.  He, by virtue of the life, death and resurrection of His Son, will not give you what you deserve.  Rather, He will drape you in the perfect righteousness of His Son, and He will, in time, carry you to the eternal dwellings, where friends who have found their hope in Christ find their home and their peace.

ďLord, let at last Thine angels come,

To Abríhamís bosom bear me home,

That I may die unfearing;

And in its narrow chamber keep

My body safe in peaceful sleep

Until Thy reappearing.

And then from death awaken me,

That these mine eyes with joy may see,

O Son of God, Thy glorious face,

My Savior and my fount of grace.

Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,

And I will praise Thee without end.Ē

In Jesusí name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +





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