[Picture: Parable of the Unjust Steward, by Andrei Mironov (Russia)]
Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the Ninth Sunday After Trinity, 8/18/2019. The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson, continuing to verse 13. To read the Bible texts for the Ninth Sunday After Trinity, click here.
Yikes; this is a tricky text. You’ll have to pay attention today. It gets particularly difficult at the punch line in verse nine.
You should know, first thing, that this text is not what it seems. I know it seems like it’s all about lying and cheating and stealing, but its not. This is actually a story about trust.
And it is a great story because it is one of those stories where Jesus shows he has a sense of humor. He uses a bad guy to show good guys in the Church what they are meant to be doing.
So, in the parable this morning: The bad guy gets called into the corner office.
His boss says, “Jimmy, you’re not just incompetent, you’re a crook. Pack your stuff and get out.”
But, before security can get to him, he cuts down the stairwell, he pulls out his cell phone, he calls his best clients, and he arranges lunch at the most expensive restaurant in town.
Across the course of the lunch he says, “I don’t know if they’ll taper or they won’t taper. I have no idea whether the economists know what they’re doing. All I know is that the market is slower than they think. How’s it goin’ for all of you?”
He lets them moan a bit, and then as the entrée comes, he says, “We’re all friends here. And if it’ll help you make your numbers and keep your job, take your bill and cut it in half. I’m sure my boss would love to take fifty cents on the dollar.”
And by the time dessert comes, this guy is not only a hero, he has become a friend. Later when the boss gets the bill and then he gets the books, and he realizes that he’s been taken one more time, all he can say is, “This guy is brilliant. He’s better at being bad than I ever thought.”
Now, what do all of you do with that story? It’s true that the manager is a bad guy, and so, at some point, the story is about lying and cheating and stealing. But that’s not the primary point.
The primary point of this story is trust.
He is a liar and a cheater and a stealer, but he is also exceedingly clever. And he is an especially shrewd judge of character.
He knows his clients. And so he trusts them to take the deal. More importantly, he knows his boss. So he trusts his boss to honor the deal. In fact, he stakes his life on it.
He’s been fired, and if this doesn’t work, he will starve to death. But he trusts.
And that is the astonishingly simple point of this story. He trusts. He knows what his boss is made of, and he trusts his boss to be true.
Now, you need to hold on to all of that as you try to make sense of the punch line in verse nine.
Jesus tells that story and then he says, “See, pay attention now. Make friends for yourselves by means of your unrighteous wealth, your dirty money, so that when that fails you, they may receive you into eternal dwellings.”
Without the context, and without the cheater, this simply sounds like Jesus saying that you can buy your way into heaven.
Spend your money, make some friends, go to heaven. But this story is not about a trade or a transaction or a quid pro quo. This story is about trust. This is primarily a story about trusting your master.
And the story only works if the boss is true. This story only works if the boss is honest, if he is trustworthy, if he is generous and merciful and forgiving, and honorable.
And so this story starts and ends with Jesus. For you, the story really goes like this:
Jesus is rich. And he is your master. Jesus gives gifts. And he gives them to all of you. Because he gives you gifts, Jesus makes you a steward. And you are meant to manage his gifts well, even cleverly…
At least you could do as well as the bad guy, because you’re a good guy. But most of all, Jesus wants you to know him and to trust him; and then to live now and forever with him. The big difference between the bad guy and you is this:
The bad guy lives for himself, but you are meant to live for Christ. The bad guy finances his own kingdom. But you are meant to finance Jesus’ kingdom.
The bad guy spends money on his own ideas, but you are meant to spend money on Jesus’ ideas. The bad guys makes deals to save himself. It really is a trade or a transaction for him.
But not for you. Because you are already saved, Jesus is asking you so spend all you’ve got to save others. So verse nine reads like this:
Spend! Spend! Spend! Spend everything you’ve got!
Don’t just limit it to your money!
Spend your influence
Spend your opportunity
Spend your brains
Spend it now
Time, influence, all you’ve got
Spend it on me
Spend it on the church
Spend it on others
Spend and spend
until it’s all used up
Until your pockets are empty
Until your hands are empty
Spend everything you’ve got
Spend and be spent
And then don’t worry. You take care of them now, because I’ve already got you taken care of later. Someday you’ll be welcomed with angels and saints, all those folks you never met, but who heard My Gospel because you did not keep my gifts to yourself. They’ll be there to welcome you home.
It’s quite impossible to do that by ourselves. We just don’t have the stuff for that.
But you all can do that because you know what your boss is made of. You can do that because you know your boss is true and merciful and honorable, and keeps his word.
You can do it because you trust Jesus. It’s the simplest of all things.
And that’s a way to understand this story. That we’ve been called to work for him; and that he’s given us gifts to do the work.
We’ve been baptized, we’ve been forgiven. And in just a moment we will receive the body and blood of Christ Himself for our forgiveness, for strengthening, and to make us a community. All that is merciful, divine, and free.
And THEN, then you’re called to be a steward of the church. You are called to live in the image of Jesus Christ.
He is the one who went empty to the cross. Empty pockets, empty hands, for you. Spending his life for the life of the world.
And now he finds himself in heaven surrounded by saints and angels. And he is waiting for you.
It’s all a matter of knowing who our boss is. And of trusting him to be true. Of recognizing what he’s given us, and managing our lives in his image; of bringing all you’ve got to bear.
Not just money, that’s easy, but influence and time and opportunity and talent and intelligence. Bringing all you’ve got for the kingdom of God, for the Church and for others.