Text: Luke 16:1-13
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Jesus tells a story in which the hero is a crook. This is shocking to some people. But the point of a story is to teach. And some of our best characters in novels and movies are not exactly paragons of integrity.
In this case, the crook in the story is a dishonest manager. And he is about to be fired. Running out of options, he hatches a plan to “make friends and influence people,” people who owe his boss money, people who might be able to help him out after he is fired. He starts acting as a sort of bill collector, and dishonestly takes it upon himself to renegotiate what these people owe his boss. He is not doing this to be nice, nor even for the good of the company, but rather to curry favor with those who might be able to help him when the pink slip finally shows up. His motives are completely selfish, and it is a brilliant plan.
The boss is simply amazed – not by the dishonesty, but by the audacity and cleverness.
Jesus is teaching us about our priorities. For we’ve all met, or at least read about, really clever criminals – even to the point of lamenting how great a person could be if he would only get a job and use his creativity for good. And indeed, one can, in a way, admire the character who wears the black hat – not for his evil, but rather for his skill with a gun, his courage, or his ability to hatch a plan. Sometimes we can’t help but root for the villain in a movie or novel – simply based on his or her “pluck.”
And the Lord Himself marvels at such audacity and drive. For notice what the business owner in the story commends the dishonest manager for: not his dishonesty, but rather his shrewdness. His difficult situation impelled the manager to act decisively, boldly, and with purpose. Like watching a wild-eyed bird of prey at work, we observe the dishonest manager’s focus, stamina, and sheer genius. And just as we can look upon a swooping eagle in wonder, we can likewise observe the men of this world with awe – even if their methods leave much to be desired.
Our Lord Jesus tells this story not to encourage us to be dishonest, but rather to be shrewd, to be wise, to keep our priorities straight, and to fix our eyes on the prize of serving the Lord’s kingdom as redeemed sinners wishing to use our own salvation to bring hope to the lost, and to give glory to the Lord.
“For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” observes the real Master, our Lord Himself acting as the narrator. For Jesus is gently calling us to repentance for not being as committed to the kingdom and as diligent for the sake of the Church as a common crook can be when his own livelihood is on the line.
Indeed, we who are so lazy, we who cannot find time to pray, we who have so many other things to do on a Sunday, we will make time for all of those things if something jolts us out of our complacency regarding the management of our time and money. And that jolt may come in the form of a health issue, or the threat of a job loss, or family troubles, or news of a possible hurricane – or any number of things that might serve to give us a wake-up call.
There is no shortage of trouble in this fallen world, but the good news is that we have something far greater to look forward to.
We may well react to trouble like the dishonest manager, saying: “What shall I do…? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.” Indeed, as the old saying goes: “Desperate times call for drastic measures.” It is when one is in trouble, when the stakes are high, when a lot is laying on the line that one is willing to take a risk.
Dear Christians, the Lord’s kingdom is worth the risk. In fact, He is the one who took the risk on our behalf. He went into battle with Satan for us. He died for us. He paid the penalty of sin for us.
For us He rose from death again;
For us He went on high to reign;
For us He sent His Spirit here
To guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.
And for us, the kingdom has been given as a free gift. We are redeemed by grace, dear brothers and sisters! God loves us unconditionally. He has come into the world not to condemn, but to save. And that is exactly what He has done at the cross.
And rather than to be motivated by selfishness, we have been freed up to be motivated by selflessness. Rather than ask ourselves like the dishonest manager: “what can I do to feather my own nest?” (since our nests are already infinitely feathered), we can instead ask: “what can I do for the sake of the kingdom, to help bring others into the same eternal riches that I enjoy?” We can afford to take risks, dear brothers and sisters, not because of the bad things that might happen to us in this fallen world, but rather because of the Good News of what did happen to us at the baptismal font. We have already won, dear friends!
For we do enjoy riches: the kind of riches that never rot, never grow old, never get spent up, never devalue, and never end. And just as people can be shrewd with gold and silver, we Christians are called upon to be shrewd with the Gospel. “Desperate times call for drastic measures” and we certainly live in desperate times. In love, we can bring the desperate into the peace and joy of God’s kingdom.
And what a payoff we receive in taking risks for the kingdom of God! When a person comes into the kingdom, that person has eternal life and everlasting joy. What is our priority, dear brothers and sisters? For “no servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” proclaims our blessed Lord.
In God’s kingdom, we do not serve money, but money serves us – or more accurately helps us to serve the kingdom.
For that is what it is to be shrewd – to put what God has given us back to work for Him.
The Lord was shrewd enough to defeat death by dying, to conquer disobedience under a tree by means of obedience upon a tree, to crush the serpent’s head with His foot even as His own heel was bruised. It was the height of audacity and cleverness. But even more importantly, it was the supreme act of love to save us by telling us to tear up the un-payable bill of our sins because He has paid in full, “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”
And when our own “unrighteous wealth” fails, we will be received “into the eternal dwellings.” For there is only one thing more audacious than a sinner in trouble, and that is a sinner who has been redeemed, who can sing boldly to God: “These are Thy works; all the glory be Thine!”
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.