The Master’s Mercy

Luke 16:1-13

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Luke 16:8-9  So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly.  For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.  And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord…  In our Gospel text the steward had been entrusted with the office of managing his master’s possessions.  It was a position of respect and responsibility and rewards for faithful service.  But now his position was about to change.  He was being accused of wasting his master’s goods and his master sensed that something was not right.  There was to be an audit; the books were to be opened and examined.

The steward considered his options.  Hard work came to mind, but that did not appeal to him.  He also considered begging but quickly set that notion aside for the shame of it.  Then a third option crossed his mind, and he himself resolved what he would do so that when he was put out of his position of manager, others would welcome him into their homes.

So with speed and efficiency he used his remaining days in office to reduce the debts of his master’s debtors and make friends for himself.  He called to himself every one of his master’s debtors and reduced what they owed.  And since he was still, for the moment, in the office of steward and manager, his actions carried the official weight and promise of the master.  Although he was doing it to look out for himself and doing it with someone else’s possessions, he was nonetheless commended by the master for his cleverness.

And now we ask the age-old Lutheran question, “Was ist das?”  What does this mean?  Well, it most certainly does not and cannot mean that God is teaching us to be dishonest, for we know that God has commanded that we not steal or even covet, but rather receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

What, then, did Jesus mean when he said, “the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light”?  What did our Lord have in mind when He told His disciples to “make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations”?

We know, of course, that there will come a time when possessions become utterly meaningless to us.  You have heard the saying, “You never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.” Our stuff cannot provide for our eternal future.  Those things will fail us when death comes into view or before.  But in the mean time, God is concerned about how we use the stewardship He has entrusted to us.  Jesus said, “If you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?”  His conclusion in v. 13 of our text is that we cannot serve both God and money.

If God were to call tomorrow for an accounting, if the books were opened on your use of wealth throughout your life, how would you make out?  Are you ready for God’s audit?  Would there be any grounds for accusation that you are wasting God’s goods?  In the times in which you live and with the possessions that surround you and with the advertising that assaults you and knowing your level of contentment and your concerns for security, are you ready for the Master’s audit?

If the books were to be opened tomorrow, if an account of your stewardship were required, would you not be in the same fix as the steward in our text?  Are you not like him, focused on providing for yourselves?  He wasted some of what was entrusted to him; have you?

But none of that is what Jesus approved of.  What Jesus was commending was this steward’s attitude when he recognized his predicament.  Jesus doesn’t give the man a pat on the back because he selfishly looked out for himself.  Neither did Jesus praise the fact that the man pulled a fast one before he was completely removed from office.  Rather, Jesus commends the man’s shrewdness, or wisdom, in depending on one thing and one thing only: the master’s mercy!

The steward trusted his master’s character and staked everything he had on the fact that his master would be merciful to those whose debts had been cancelled.  The master had placed him in office.  Before he could be removed from that office and under accusation of wastefulness, he nonetheless acted in the master’s name.  Would the master honor the cancellation of the debts he made?  The steward trusted that he would.  His trust in that mercy provided for his future.  The steward is praised, therefore, for knowing where his situation lay: in the mercy of the master.

The steward’s wisdom was therefore twofold.  First, it was in correctly analyzing that he had no resources to meet the future.  Second, it was in correctly trusting his master’s undeserved and generous mercy.  He staked everything on the belief that his master would honor the words spoken in his name to nullify a debt.

And the master did just that!  And that is the point: the mercy of the Lord.  His is the greatness; His is the power; His is the glory.  It is in His hand to make great and to give strength to all.  Both riches and honor come from Him.  And so we can see that the master commended the unjust steward for action that trusted totally in his mercy.  The master acted in keeping with his word spoken through another.  The debts were cancelled.  The steward’s future was secured.

It was then that Jesus said, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.  And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.”  Jesus calls each and every Christian to examine his dedication to true riches.  After all, the sons of the world calculate and plan and expend all efforts for the sake of earthly riches and earthly security – riches, by the way, that always fail!  Jesus would have us, sons of light, to put worldly wealth to an everlasting use in love toward our neighbor, expending all efforts for the sake of the kingdom of God, and to bring eternal riches to others who will receive with us a heavenly home.  Those riches do not fail.

Those riches are found in the One speaking these words to His disciples.  Those riches are an absolute trust in the mercy of God through the words and actions of Jesus Christ Himself.  For Jesus was appointed by the Father to serve in an office for us.  His was the office of Redeemer.  He is the steward of God’s grace.

Accusations were also brought against Him, that He had misused God’s possessions.  He was, after all, accused of blasphemy – of lying about God – and abusing God’s name.  While none of the charges were true, there did come a day when He was called to give an accounting of His stewardship.  The court was seated.  The books were opened.  And what they revealed was a wretched, deeply blemished account of stewardship and life.  The truth is, every greedy thought of ours – every withholding from God, every sinful desire to increase our pile of things and have more of this world’s possessions, every word and act of selfishness – every one of our sins was there on His record.  The holy Son of God stood accused of it all; He was as guilty as sin.  In fact, as St. Paul says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

In His office of Redeemer, Jesus spoke a word of forgiveness to this world of sinners. Guilty of OUR sin, and not His own, He used His last hours to secure our future, not His own.  He said, “Father, forgive them,” and “It is finished!”  And there on the cross He sacrificed Himself in order to make peace for us with the Master, our Father in heaven.  By His life and death He cancelled all that we, by our sins, deserved.

And just as the steward called the debtors one by one before him, so Jesus called us personally before Him in Holy Baptism.  He called us to Himself and said, “How much do you owe?  Take your debt and write ‘cancelled’ on it.  Your baptism, after all, is a baptism into My all-sufficient death to sin and resurrection to everlasting life.  You have been anointed with the oil of the holy Spirit.  Don’t just write a lesser amount; don’t write ‘paid in part;’ but rather write ‘paid in full.’”

Jesus trusted absolutely in the Father’s mercy for us sinners.  Jesus trusted that in His speaking words of absolution to us, the Father would honor those words completely.  Indeed, in His sending out apostles and pastors to speak in His name, that same trust is evident.  The Master is merciful.  The stewards of the mysteries of God are still there in Christ’s stead to cancel the debts owed to the Master.  The word of the ones He has sent will be honored absolutely.

That, dear friends, is the truth Jesus gives us in this steward who so watched out for his own life and well-being.  The crucial factor in what happened was the master’s mercy.  He trusted that the master would honor the debts cancelled in his name.

Dear fellow redeemed, may our good and gracious God strengthen our trust that our debt is cancelled by the Word and work of Christ.  He is still in His office of Redeemer.  He is still speaking words of forgiveness and life through His apostles, His pastors.  He still comes into our midst and presses worldly wheat and wine into His heavenly service, saying, “Take, eat; this is My body.  Take, drink; this is My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  Risen and reigning over God’s kingdom, He continues to take our bill and write “cancelled” that we may be received with the saints into His everlasting home.  Thanks be to God for the Master’s mercy!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.