The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
A 15th century Italian guy by the name of Niccolo Machiavelli is renowned for once counseling his prince that “the ends justify the means.” You’ve probably heard this before. It wouldn’t surprise me. If we don’t outright use this phrase in our daily lives, we certainly can’t deny that we do often incorporate the meaning of it into our lives, living out this counsel through our words and our actions. The ends justify the means. Basically, as long as the desired end result is attained, then it doesn’t really matter how you got there. It might be ugly. It might be mean and nasty. People might get hurt along the way. But…if you get the result you’re looking for, then its okay, right? You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet, right? Don’t ask how the hot dog gets made. You don’t want to see the hot dog made. Just enjoy the hot dog. The ends justify the means.
Not surprisingly, this very well-known (and accepted…and sinful) guiding principle is often used as a way of understanding God’s Word. Basically, we filter God’s Word through Machiavelli. Case in point: Today’s lesson about the dishonest steward/manager, who is actually commended for his dishonesty. Apparently the ends do justify the means. Jesus teaches us in this parable that the manager had been lax in his duties, and the boss had finally had enough. It was time to cut the dead weight loose. I don’t think anyone would fault the boss for this. If you’re not doing your job; if you’re basically stealing from the company by collecting a paycheck and doing nothing in return, you deserve to be fired.
The problem in all of this was not that the boss was going to fire the lazy manager. That was only just and right. The problem was in the fact that the boss gave the manager a heads up. The manager knew what was coming. He knew he was getting the axe. So what did he do? He called in all the people who owed the boss money, and then he cut huge, insane deals with them. How could the manager pull this off? Wouldn’t the people question the crazy, out-of-the-blue, bargain-basement deals that seemed too good to be true? Would you? Some of you know the answer to that question. Don’t ask too many questions, right? Take the deal and run, and if it does turn out that it is too good to be true, plead ignorance and blame it on the guy who made the deal with you.
How could the manager pull off such a caper? It’s really quite easy when you think about it. He’s the manager. He’s the guy the boss put in charge to run the operation. The boss entrusted to him his own authority. That means that whatever the manager said and did was understood as coming from the boss. It was the boss’ word and will the people beheld; word and will that came directly from the boss through the manager. The boss, in good faith, trusted this man, and the customers trusted the boss and his trust in this manager. Remember, too, that the people coming in who owed the debts had no idea that the man was about to be fired. All they knew was that they were receiving a huge forgiveness of their debt. The manager, the one who spoke on behalf of the boss, was making the deal, so it must be legit, right? If the manager is doing this, surely the boss is on board, right?
And what happens when the boss finds out about the manager’s impulsive generosity? Does he flip out? Does he break down? Does he even mourn his losses? No. In fact, he does the just the opposite. He commends the dishonest and lazy steward for his shrewdness. This guy was able to hustle and bargain and deal himself into being taken care of once he left the boss’ employ for the last time. So…the ends do justify the means? In the end, the dishonest manager secured a good life from himself. That’s to be commended, right? The ends justify the means. Isn’t that what Jesus is saying here?
That brings up a good question: Why would Jesus teach His disciples such a story? Was this a warning to the disciples about proper stewardship? Was this a jab at the Pharisees, who, we’re told, were lovers of money? Was Jesus teaching us that as long as the desired end result is attained, it doesn’t matter how you get there? My friends: To ask such questions misses the entire point of the lesson.
So then what it is it about? In a word…trust. You see, this lazy, dishonest steward knew exactly how the boss would react. There wasn’t the slightest hint of doubt in the manager’s mind. He had absolute trust in the mercy and grace of the boss. Mercy and grace? This guy was going to get fired! Yes, and we’re never told that the boss didn’t carry through and fire and the guy. In fact, we can say with a high degree of certainty that he actually did still fire the guy. Now he has even more grounds to terminate this guy’s employment.
So where does the grace and mercy come in? Folks: Jesus never said that the boss canceled or amended any of the deals that the dishonest manager had struck with the debtors. In fact, that’s precisely what the manager was banking on. He knew, without a doubt, that the boss would fully honor the forgiveness that had been set forth in His name and authority. He knew that the boss would show mercy to those people who had trusted that the deal was legit. The forgiveness would stand. That’s just who the boss was, by nature—a man of His Word.
The manager also knew that he would be provided for after his termination. He wouldn’t receive the miserable punishments that he so justly deserved for his poor stewardship and management. He wouldn’t be consigned to the life of a destitute beggar who had just been tossed out on his ear with only the shirt on his back, if that. He wouldn’t receive the proverbial death sentence that he rightly brought upon himself with his wretched and thieving, lazy ways. Because of the boss’ unconditional mercy and forgiveness, the steward could be assured of his future. He knew that those who were so richly shown grace would, in turn, show him grace. By means of unrighteous wealth (mammon); that is, by means of things that can’t bring about righteousness and salvation, this man brought the grace and mercy of the master to the people. When his own unrighteous wealth failed, just as it was about to do, the grace and mercy that was unconditionally shown to the people would also bear fruit and be shown to him, as wretched and undeserving as he was to receive it.
My fellow redeemed: This is a lesson that your Lord and Savior is still teaching you today. Trust in your Lord. He is a loving and gracious God. There is no debt that He can’t or won’t forgive. This is for certain. He is a God of His Word. How can I say such a thing? Easy! Look to the cross of Jesus. Look to the cross that He nailed His own Son to…for you, for me, and for the entire world. “God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son to die for it.” To flip Machiavelli on his head, these means are what justify you. These means matter. This is how your debt of sin—your death sentence—has been completely paid for and forgiven. The end result? “It is finished, once and for all.” The means of Christ are what justify and save your end!
Look hear! Listen to His Word that bespeaks you debt-free and guilt-free; the Word that calls you “son” and “daughter” of the King. Look here and receive the means He still freely gives to you for your complete forgiveness and confidence and assurance. This is absolute proof that your Lord loves you and forgives you. Let there be no doubt! Let there be no faithlessness!
May your heavenly Father, through the undeserved and unmerited gift of faith He works in you through His Holy Spirit, keep you steadfast in this one, true faith unto life everlasting; the faith that clings to Christ’s all-atoning sacrifice alone. When your Lord does call you to give an account of all that He has so graciously entrusted to your care and management, may you go with the sure and certain joy and peace that comes with believing without a doubt that you are completely redeemed because of God’s grace alone, which is yours because of the all-atoning work of Jesus Christ alone. May your Lord commend you—now and always—for your faithfulness; faithfulness that is witnessed in your management of all that He has entrusted to your care, and faithfulness that is witnessed in all that you say, think, and do as His baptized and redeemed children by grace.
To Christ alone be all the glory!
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