If you take today’s Gospel, the Parable of the Unjust Manager, at face value and compare it to today’s Catechism quote, you would find that they don’t seem to go together. It seems like Jesus commends the unjust manager, who does the opposite of helping his neighbor to improve and protect his possessions and income. So, does Jesus want us to waste people’s money and con our employers out of their money to bribe our neighbor so they will treat us kindly when we get fired? Not quite. We have to remember how we read the Parables. The Parables are always about how things work in God’s Kingdom, which is different from how they operate in the earthly kingdom. Parables always reveal something about God’s relationship to us. Though this Parable may seem to teach us lessons contrary to Christianity, Jesus uses it to reveal the vast mercy and grace of our God.
The Parables are not moral tales like Aesop’s Fables, nor do they go alongside Emily Post’s etiquette columns. However, they do help teach us earthly lessons from time to time. Today’s is one that does that. To borrow the cliché, this Parable teaches us to put our money where our mouth is. That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” The sons of this world, those who do not have faith in Christ, may use God’s good gifts for selfish reasons, but we, the sons of light, can learn something from them about how to use our money. But it’s not just about money. It’s also about time and abilities.
Those of the world know that it’s wasteful to spend time and energy on something that doesn’t support their interests, desires, or long-term goals. Talk to any accountant or financial planner and they’ll set you straight. Put everything at your disposal to work to achieve your long-term goals. Don’t waste time and energy on things that don’t support your end goal. This Parable is Jesus saying, “Hey, Christians! Take a page from the world’s playbook. Put your resources to work for what you say is your end goal, your greatest desire.” To say that in another way, ask yourself a question. If you say that being in communion with God and being prepared for eternity in heaven with all the fellow redeemed is the most important thing in your life, then how are you putting your time, money, and other resources to work for that goal? Are you supporting the congregation with your money or talents? Are you spending time in Scripture, strengthening your faith? Are you praying at all times, or was the last time you prayed the last time you came to church? What Jesus teaches us by way of the unjust manager is that at least he was honest about what his real desire was—his own comfort and self-preservation. He did everything he could to achieve that goal. If your greatest goal is heaven, are you doing and supporting the things that strengthen your faith that will keep you steadfast in it until the Lord draws you to Himself? That is why Jesus hits us with that sobering statement: “No 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.”
So, there it is. There’s the crux of the matter, the point Jesus is driving home in this parable. You can serve God or God or money or self and everything else that will fade away, rust, destroy, be eaten by moths, stolen, left here when you die. Earthly wealth can either delight you and you can take pride in things, or earthly wealth can be put to good use, supporting the mission and ministry of Christ’s Church on earth, helping to spread the Gospel in our neighborhoods, our cities, our states, our nation, and to the corners of the earth. What will it be? Will you put your time, talents, and treasure to the service of God, or will you put it to work bringing to you the lusts of your hearts, perishing as idolaters as St. Paul reveals of the Israelites in today’s Epistle?
But before you jump up and send in your stewardship pledge to the church office, remember that your actions have betrayed you. Jesus wouldn’t have spoken this Parable if He didn’t know that, while we can say one thing, and perhaps succeed for a while, we give in and do the other. Money and self are always more fun.
Though you are unfaithful in regards to unrighteous wealth and therefore undeserving of true riches, go back to the Parable, to one major detail that goes unsaid but pulls the whole Parable together. The Master, the One who has given everything in the first place, is merciful. He is not a hard Master. If he was, the debtors in the Parable would have refused to obey the unjust steward. Instead they sit down and reduce their debts, not hesitantly or with questions, but gladly. They knew that debt reduction, and probably even debt forgiveness, was standard operating procedure for the landowner. The text doesn’t say that, but look at the Master’s reaction when he finds out what the unjust steward did. He doesn’t get angry. Instead He commends, He praises the steward! He tells him, “Now you get it! This is how I operate, how I handle My business. I want to be merciful! It’s not about what I get out of it, but how My people are served.”
This is the same way God approaches you. God has graciously given you those good gifts you learn about in the First Article of the Creed: body and soul, clothing and shoes, food and drink, and all the rest. But He doesn’t just give them to you, but richly and daily provides you with all of them, and defends you against danger!
Even though your response to these gifts has not always been the faithful use of them and you should suffer eternally for that, God will not allow you to suffer and die. Instead He has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to do just that. Jesus died in your place to forgive you all your sins. He gave all He had in support of His one thing needful, His greatest desire. He gave His life to save you, to forgive you all your sins.
Just like the sons of this world put all their resources into the things they love, so does Our Lord Jesus Christ. He puts all His resources into you. By the Holy Spirit He gathers together bodies of believers to form congregations. He sends Pastors to congregations to deliver His Gifts in the Word and the Sacraments. Jesus wants one thing: to give you His forgiveness so you can live with Him eternally. And He makes sure that happens. Here He forgives you for serving the things of this world instead of God, and He feeds you with His Body and Blood that strengthen your faith toward Him and your fervent love toward one another and that faith then wants nothing more than to use every God-given gift in service of the neighbor to give proof of the indescribable love of God.
This Parable may not be the easiest to understand, but in the end, it’s not about the unjust steward. It’s all about the abundant mercy of the Master, all about the God who richly and daily forgives you through Christ Jesus. In Him, your debt isn’t reduced from one hundred to eighty, or even one hundred to fifty. It’s not even reduced to zero. In Jesus Christ your debt is paid in full and you are given a surplus of grace and mercy, divine love that will sustain you in this life and bring you into His everlasting home He has prepared for you.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.