Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Luke 16:1-15 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. 10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 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.” 14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
Money is a remarkably persuasive false god. Money sits on your shoulder and whispers into your ear: “Now listen to me. I’ll give you a little freedom to do some things, but in the end, you will make all the important decisions in life on the basis of me. I’ll let you fiddle around in the church and have a family and sit on the deck and enjoy a little bit of time not thinking about me, but when push comes to shove, I call the shots. Understood?”
You have in this parable the story of a man who had been accumulating wealth for himself. He was trusting that the needs of his life and his future would be secured through his savings account, his business dealings, and so forth. Now he was cooking the books, skimming money off the top, but like all of us who break the Seventh Commandment and steal money, he’s figured out a way in his mind to justify it. He’s overworked and underpaid. He’s going to pay it back. He needs it more than his master. Whatever the reason in his own mind, his master’s money is the solution. It is the thing in which he trusts.
Well, you can’t trust false gods. And money is a false god. It doesn’t care about you. It doesn’t love you. And it will leave you. That’s what happens in this parable. Everything this steward had been lying awake at night afraid would happen, happens. His money abandons him, and he is left now to figure out something different in which to put his trust. What will it be?
“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg” (vv 1–3). I’d like you to pay attention to the steward’s desperation. He’s stuck. That’s why Jesus includes his comment, “I can’t dig; I can’t beg.” His ship is sinking, and he doesn’t have a lifeboat. Everything he’d worked for (a lifetime’s worth of careful effort and planning, even if it was crooked) was gone. If you haven’t been in his shoes, I trust you understand that you could be at this time, say, tomorrow morning. Or at this time a year from now.
Well, the steward has been fired. From this point, he is no longer legally authorized to conduct any business in the name of his master. And if he does, it won’t be legally binding. But take a moment to notice that the master does not throw him in jail. He could have, but he didn’t. A couple of years ago a local company had a huge downsizing; two-thirds of the employees were let go in one day. The day they let everyone go, they had police at the factory, and they told everyone, “We’re letting you go. We need you to leave the premises immediately.” They had to do this because they recognized that angry or desperate employees can do a lot of damage if they aren’t cut off immediately. That is not what this master does. He lets the steward meander home, get the books, and meander back.
So, the steward uses the very, very small amount of time to take advantage of his master’s reputation for being generous. He figures that his best shot at survival is to bank on his master’s reputation for being exceedingly generous. He had been trusting in his master’s money, but that’s gone. And now he begins to trust in the thing he should have trusted in all along: his master’s generosity.
He quickly calls in each of his master’s clients. You can tell just how much clout this steward has—how quickly people come to him when he sends for them! Now, here’s the key. The steward is fired, and he knows that, and the master knows that, but no one else does. The clients don’t know it. So, one at a time, the steward calls in the clients. And here’s how he does it. “He said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty’?” (vv 5b–7). He cancels about eighteen months’ wages with each account. But notice that he has them change the amount? It happens in their handwriting, not his. This is an important detail, and the reason is this: the next thing the steward will do is take all these changed contracts back to the master. And when he places the books on his master’s desk to review, the master slowly realizes two things: first, these debts have been lowered, and second, my debtors know about it, because it’s in their handwriting. If it had been merely in the steward’s handwriting, he would just change them all back and there wouldn’t be any harm; no one would have known.
But now the master sits back in his chair; he can hear the sound of a celebration party thrown in his honor—in honor of the most generous landowner that county has ever known. They’ve already begun to post Facebook® updates about how good and kind their landlord is. After all, they all assume that the steward just did what the master asked him to do.
What will a normal landlord do? Well, of course, he’ll walk into that party, and he’ll announce, “All right, turn down the music. No reason to party here. Everything that happened today was illegal. I didn’t authorize this. The man is a crook. And so, I’ll be expecting your regular payments at the beginning of the month.” Yes, that’s what any ordinary creditor would do. (That’s what you would do, right?) And if that’s what he did, the steward’s plan would collapse. But he doesn’t do it. Not this master. This master has a reputation for being generous, because he is generous.
He looks up at his former steward and says, “Well played. You knew me. You knew that I would let this stand. You’re a crook and a scoundrel, but you’re really smart.” The text says, “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness” (v 8a)—commended him not because of his character or ethics, but because of his shrewdness. When his ship was sinking, he knew which way to jump. How does this help him? Well, he’s used the master’s generosity to make lots of friends. You know the phrase, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.”
The moral of the story? “Make friends for yourselves with unrighteous money, so that when it fails [when your money fails you, and it will] they will receive you into the eternal dwellings” (v 9 adapted). You’ve got money. Use the money, says Jesus, to get people into heaven. There will be people in heaven who will be there to welcome you and to thank you because God used your offering to get them there. He made it so that your money would have eternal returns.
I knew a guy who came into a bunch of money all of a sudden: $250,000. He decided to give 20 percent to missions: $50,000. As it turns out, the other $200,000 he invested in various things, spent a bunch of it, and you know the story. Within eighteen months, it was all . . . gone. I later asked him, “Don’t you wish you had that $50,000 back?” And he said, “No! That $50,000 is the only part that’s still doing any good.” God has made it so that your money could be a false god to you, and probably is, but he made it so that your money can be used for eternal purposes. So for whatever else you use your money, this parable teaches that you have a Christian responsibility to support—shrewdly and enthusiastically—the preaching of the Gospel.
But there is, as you can see, a backstory to this. It’s not as though you labor under a master who is hard and cruel, but rather one who is unusually generous. And whether you’ve been faithful in your use of his money or have been less than faithful—have squandered it, wasted it, been selfish or greedy—your Master is still good. And in your case, he loves you and sees you through. You will have friends in heaven; you yourself will go to heaven. You will be saved because of the generosity of your Master.
This is Jesus Christ, your Master. He loves and forgives sinners. He gives you more than just earthly wealth and goods; he gives you his body and blood on the cross to save you. And this is for free. You don’t have to do a thing. You don’t have to make back payments or make up for your sins or try to impress anyone. You don’t have to do anything. He’s done it for you. You don’t even have to be “wise”; you just need to know which way to jump when your ship is sinking. You jump and let the grace of God in Jesus catch you.
So then, if you’re stuck and you don’t know what to do or where to go—if you’re too weak to dig and too ashamed to beg—don’t defend yourself and try to get out of this on your own. If your ship is sinking and you don’t know which way to jump or what to grab hold of, jump on—grab hold of—the generosity of your Father in heaven.
Truly Shrewd Stewards Are Christians
Who Trust in the Generosity of the Lord.
Put your eggs in that basket. Plead the mercy of God in Jesus Christ, his death and his resurrection, and it’s yours.
Your sins are forgiven. You’re his dear child. Heaven is your inheritance. Your Master loves you, indeed. Amen.