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Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity. Luke 16:1ff.
The Steward of Unrighteousness




The Ninth Sunday after Trinity, 2012


Pastor Gregory L. Jackson


Bethany Lutheran Church, 10 AM Central Time


The Hymn # 628            Shepherd of Tender Youth               3:74
The Confession of Sins
The Absolution
The Introit p. 16
The Gloria Patri
The Kyrie p. 17
The Gloria in Excelsis
The Salutation and Collect p. 19
The Epistle and Gradual       
The Gospel              
Glory be to Thee, O Lord!
Praise be to Thee, O Christ!
The Nicene Creed             p. 22
The Sermon Hymn #283            God’s Word               3:90

A Difficult Lesson

The Communion Hymn # 175            When I                        3:93
The Preface p. 24
The Sanctus p. 26
The Lord's Prayer p. 27
The Words of Institution
The Agnus Dei p. 28
The Nunc Dimittis p. 29
The Benediction p. 31
The Hymn # 50                    Lord Dismiss Us                3:86

KJV 1 Corinthians 10:1 Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat; 4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. 5 But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6 Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.

KJV Luke 16:1 And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. 2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. 3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. 4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. 5 So he called every one of his lord's debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? 6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. 7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore. 8 And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. 9 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.


Ninth Sunday After Trinity

Lord God, heavenly Father, who hast bountifully given us Thy blessing and our daily bread: We beseech Thee, preserve us from covetousness, and so quicken our hearts that we willingly share Thy blessed gifts with our needy brethren; that we may be found faithful stewards of Thy gifts, and abide in Thy grace when we shall be removed from our stewardship, and shall come before Thy judgment, through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one true God, world without end. Amen.



A Difficult Lesson

This lesson proves how difficult a parable can be – impossible for the unbeliever to discern.

Human reason looks at the Parable of the Unrighteous Steward and says, “This teaches me that I can buy my way into heaven.”

That is why Luther said it must be taught correctly or the monks and priests would make a lot of money from it.

And that is exactly what has happened among the Lutherans today.

First we have to understand the meaning of mammon. This parable is about mammon rather than money itself. Money is a tool for exchange, something the Greeks under Alexander realized. Rather than hoard gold, as the ancient rulers did, they coined it to pay for expenses and buy war goods.

Mammon refers to that money which is in excess of normal needs – food, housing, and clothing.

So the parable seems to say, “Make friends of the mammon of unrighteousness and you can be welcomed into heaven.”

Luther found people easily drawn into despair over works, because that was all they learned from the Medieval Church. This parable is ideal for teaching the wrong lesson.

KJV Luke 16:1 And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.

First, it needs to be emphasized that this steward was an unbeliever. He is called unrighteous or unjust in the parable. His actions are not commended at all, but his shrewdness is. This can be called an example of arguing from the lesser to the major, typical in Judaism.

If a dishonest, bad, unbelieving steward can be so shrewd that he saves his own job, then how much more should believers be clever in the use of their resources, especially in taking care of their neighbors and the poor?

The steward is the business manager of a large family estate. He takes care of all the daily routines and manages the money. This steward did not do his job well. It was not a matter of bad luck. “He wasted his goods.” Someone had discovered the dishonesty and reported him to the wealthy man. “The same was accused unto him”

Lenski:
In his masterly way Jesus places the essentials before us with a few simple words: the rich man and the dishonest steward. This man’s business was extensive; he employed a general manager with full power to handle all affairs as we see from his dealings in v. 5–7, and the values of his affairs were large. Jesus at once places us into a typically worldly atmosphere which is unlike that of the preceding parables. This steward is crooked—nothing new in managers who have powers like his.
Lenski, R. C. H.: The Interpretation of St. Luke's Gospel. Minneapolis, MN : Augsburg Publishing House, 1961, S. 823.


2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.

This is not an investigation but a firing – not “Did it happen?” But “How did it happen?”
The steward has to close the books, give an account of his management. The steward has one last bit of work to do before he is sent into unemployment.

3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. 4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.

This is a bit of humor built into the story. The manager quickly assesses what he has to do because:
  1. I cannot dig for a living.
  2. I am ashamed to beg.

As a fired manager, his prospects are not good, especially since he has probably been living high on the hog and enjoying a high profile.

But immediately he has a plan so that he can get another similar plan. He is not going to waste his energy in sorrow and regret.

5 So he called every one of his lord's debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? 6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. 7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.

For anyone taught about honesty, this is a shock. He has already wasted his employer’s money. Now the manager is reducing the goods owed to the owner – as a final effort in keeping employed (rather than turning over a new leaf and being a good manager).

The men owing the money are bound to be pleased by this, since the reductions are considerable. One receives a 50% discount. Another, 20%. The two mentioned are just samples of the many who owe the master. He called “every one of his lord’s debtors.”

8 And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.

Jesus did not say anyone was a believer or a good person in this parable. The master is shrewd, so he immediately appreciates the cleverness of his servant.
It reminds me of two dog breeds we watch over – the Cattle Dog and the German Shepherd. Sassy is  a combination of both, and both are known for “independent thinking.” That is exasperating at times, but also something to admire. Once Sassy realized that I did not always lock her kennel door, she began pushing it out each time, to check. Sometimes it is shut but not locked, to keep Precious from stealing her food. Most of the time I lock it so we can go out for a time and not worry about her separation anxiety. She is calmer in her kennel. Sassy knows the implication of each trip. The post office ends in the dog park, so going to the post office is exciting. Dairy Queen does not imply dog park, so she is much quieter and calmly waits for her treat at the end. If I touch an envelope or packing tape, I am going to the post office, so that means dog park and lots of happy barking. Shrewdly, she looks out the window, to indicate how much she wants to go to the dog park. Once outside early in the morning, at 100 degrees, she is not eager to go anywhere.

If someone wants a working dog, does he want a shrewd, independent one who is more trouble but capable of solving problems? Or does he want a cute but passive lap dog?

Shrewdness is the issue in the parable. What is the approach that is admired? What is being criticized? These two are shrewd in business. The owner does not want someone so clever going over to his rivals and favoring them in a deal…again. The owner is shrewd so admires that quality.

9 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.

There is an interesting parallel, not obvious in the English. The previous verse calls him, literally, the steward of unrighteousness, which emphasizes his status as an unbeliever.

So the steward of unrighteousness made friends using the mammon of unrighteousness. Jesus is saying – Look at how the unbelievers are careful about their resources. The steward used his position to stay in his job. The owner had a right to fire the man in anger, but saw more to be gained in keeping him.

Therefore, if the unbelievers are wise, the believers should also be wise in the same way.

The mammon of unrighteousness is not “ill gotten gains” but simply extra wealth. But how convenient it would be to say to a Mafia member or a crooked businessman, “Now you have this mammon of unrighteousness. Make friends by building this new college chapel or library. We will put your name on it so everyone knows what a fine fellow you really are.”

Luther makes a great point of showing how the Planned Giving Counselors of his age built more institutions, more churches, while leaving the poor to starve in the streets.

The lesson ends with Jesus saying, in effect, “When money no longer matters, and you enter eternal life, the people you helped will speak up for your good works that followed faith. If mammon can be used to keep a job or build even more wealth, then mammon can also be used to help people in various ways.”

There is a great contrast out there today, which I experience daily. One on hand is the false idea that money will build the church. People pray for grants, because a foundation will answer their needs. Church bodies fling millions of dollars at projects because that will make it work. Congregations spend millions to fix up their buildings because people will attend if they look prettier. Long ago I saw Babtist figures for spending money on evangelism. Based on ad campaigns, if everyone saw the slogan, they would reach millions with their clever slogan, which was either “I found it” or another phrase.

And yet I see congregations with millions to spend, but they have to urge their members to buy chicken wings at one particular business to make more money. There is never enough.

Some people recognized long ago that a congregation relying on rummage sales, and government subsidies, and insurance goods will still be poor. It is unlike the steward, who was “ashamed to beg.” Commercialism, government programs, and “grants” for “free” ads are a message saying to everyone, “We can’t or won’t support ourselves. We need you to do God’s work for us.”

In contrast, I have seen a few people spending a few dollars to get some important works about Lutheran doctrine out in public.

The healthy (sound) doctrine of the Bible is our most precious treasure. Shrewd people value that treasure, knowing that it is not lost by being shared.

Many books are quite expensive. I saw a first edition of Twain for $40,000 but a first edition of Harry Potter was $160,000. A set of Luther’s sermons can be bought for a few dollars, a catechism for even less. I bought a few remaining catechisms from one author. The one remaining went up in price to $80. However, some people have put together scans so everyone can have (and study) the early catechisms for free.

It depends on what we value.

People say they want the best for their children, but they do not spend what matters most – their time – with their children. And they do not give them the best literature to read, the best doctrine to study, to best music to enjoy.

It is not very shrewd to waste money on expensive fads that go away when quality is long-lasting and inexpensive.


1. This parable does not teach us how one should cheat another; for Christ calls him an unrighteous steward, and numbers him among the children of this world, therefore his wisdom is praised, not his unrighteous dealings.

2. Spiritual wisdom distributes temporal possessions to those who need them, and in their place Christ welcomes the givers into the eternal tabernacle. For he himself says, Matthew 10:20: “Whosoever giveth a cup of cold water unto one of the least of these my disciples in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward,” an. d in the day of judgment he will say, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matthew 25:40.


I. FAITH ALONE MAKES US GOOD, AND FRIENDS OF GOD.

4. The foundation must be maintained without wavering, that faith without any works, without any merit, reconciles man to God and makes him good, as Paul says to the Romans 3:21-22: “But now apart from the law a righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe.” Paul at another place, Romans 4:9, says: “To Abraham, his faith was reckoned for righteousness;” so also with us.

Again, 5: “Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Again, 10:10: “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” These, and many more similar passages, we must firmly hold and trust in them immovably, so that to faith alone without any assistance of works, is attributed the forgiveness of sins and our justification.

5. Take for an illustration the parable of Christ in Matthew 7:17: “Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but the corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” Here you see that the fruit does not make the tree good, but without any fruit and before any fruit the tree must be first good, or made good, before it can bear good fruit. As he also says, Matthew 12:33-34: “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by its fruit. Ye offspring of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things?”

Thus it is the naked truth, that a man must be good without good works, and before he does any good works. And it is clear how impossible it is that a man should become good by works, when he is not good before he does the good works. For Christ stands firm when he says: “How can ye, being evil, speak good things?” And hence follows: How can ye, being evil, do good things?

6. Therefore the powerful conclusion follows, there must be something far greater and more precious than all good works, by which a man becomes pious and good, before he does good; just as he must first be in bodily health before he can labor and do hard work. This great and precious something is the noble Word of God, which offers us in the Gospel the grace of God in Christ. He who hears and believes this, thereby becomes good and righteous. Wherefore it is called the Word of life, a Word of grace, a Word of forgiveness. But he who neither hears nor believes it, can in no way become good. For St. Peter says in the Acts 15:9: “And he made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.”




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