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(The congregation had previously recited the 1st Article and Small Catechism Explanation)
So, you say you believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And you say that you know what that means. You acknowledge that "He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse, children, land, animals and ALL I HAVE."
Do you realize how you have condemned yourself by these words? If you really do believe this and if, by your words, you have truthfully testified that "this is most certainly true," then how will you explain how you have managed these things God has given to you and entrusted to your care?
Have you treated all of that you have as 'a gift from God' or as though it was all yours? Are you thankful to God for all that you have? You have acknowledged that it is your duty to thank and praise serve and obey Him for all that you have. But how often, instead of being thankful and praising God have you complained about what He has given to you? Have you complained that the spouse He has given you has certain, 'manufacturing defects'? Or that the children He has given to you don't work the way they're supposed to? Or the parents He has given to you make too many demands on your freedom? Or have you complained that He hasn't given you enough clothing and shoes, or food and drink; you demand more, better, newer? You got a peek at your neighbor's new house and home and now you're no longer satisfied with yours.
What are the charges against you that could rightly be brought before God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth for wasting what He has given to you?
"There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions." In the parable, we aren't told WHO brought the charges against the manager to the rich man, but this morning, it was our dear Dr. Martin Luther who has brought charges against us. And we, by our own words, have brought them before God.
God has given you life, in all of its parts and pieces, from the material things to the social, psychological and spiritual things that constitute life. In addition to all these He has given you time. The time of your life is from God. What have you done with it all? What are you doing with it all? Have you wasted any of it? Are you wasting any of it?
These are fair questions. Your life in all of its parts and pieces is not yours to do with as you please. You belong to God. He continues to hold the deed to your life. YOU ARE THE STEWARD OF YOU. And you are accountable to God for your stewardship of your life.
"And [the rich man] called his manager and said, 'what is this I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.'"
Just like this manager, we will all have to give an account of our life to God. The writer to the Hebrews puts it like this, "No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are NAKED AND EXPOSED to the eyes of him to whom we must give account." (Heb.4:13).
"Naked and exposed" makes us thing of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before they wasted the life and the very good creation that God entrusted to their care and 'dominion.' After their mismanagement of what God had given them 'dominion' over, they couldn't stand to be found "naked and exposed" before God. They tried to clothe themselves with fig leaves. God said, 'that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen.' And He gave them clothing to wear that would cover their guilt and their shame.
"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."
This man's mind immediately turns to where we all instinctively turn in the judgment before God – inward. "What shall I do?" "How can I save myself?" But after an honest assessment of his options, he concludes that there's nothing he can do to save himself. "I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg." Blessed is the man and the woman who comes to the same conclusion as this man does; and the quicker the better.
"I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses. So summoning his master's debtors one by one, 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, 'how much do you owe?' He said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.'"
As the disciples listen to this story unfold from the lips of Jesus, they've got to be thinking the same thing that you and I are thinking right now. That's not fair. The oil and the wheat don't belong to manager. They belong to the rich man. What gives the manager the right to give away what doesn't belong to him, and as extravagantly as he does? Whatever mismanagement he was accused of before, surely this mismanagement is even worse.
And now comes the great shocker of the parable. Everyone who was just half listening because they thought they had already figured out just where this story was headed suddenly snapped to attention. "The master COMMENDED the dishonest manager for his shrewdness." What? The master commended him?
Listen carefully. The details are important. The master does not commend the dishonest manager for his dishonesty. He commends him for his shrewdness. The manager realized that his only hope for future clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, depended not on what he could do, but upon the mercy of others. He set out to gain the mercy and compassion of others so that he would have an "earthly dwelling" with earthly clothing and shoes, food and drink, goods, land, animals.
And with that the story is over. We're not told what ever became of the manager. We don't know if the master made him repay what he had wasted, or if the renters took him into their homes as he hoped they would. We're simply not told. We're waiting for Jesus to make His point, but He's already made it.
So, what is the point of this parable? How are we to apply it to ourselves? "What does this mean?"
If this story is a lesson on what you should to do if you get fired or how to stick it to your employer after he gives you a pink slip, then application would go something like this, 'do you best not to get caught wasting what doesn't belong to you. But if you do get caught use your imagination, be clever. The end justifies the means. Shrewdness is rewarded.' But this is, after all, Jesus teaching His disciples. Could He really be encouraging them to secure 'earthly dwellings' for themselves and by any means possible? Of course not.
In fact, this is another one of those parables from our Lord that only works when you apply it from the lesser to the greater. Going from lesser to greater we could hear the point of the parable like this. Just as this dishonest manager recklessly gave away what belonged to his master in order to secure 'earthly dwellings' for himself, the disciple of Jesus Christ should be even more reckless in giving away what belongs to God to secure "eternal dwellings." And what do you have that belongs to God that you can give away? Your life in all of its parts and pieces. And in fact, this is God's will. It's just what He wants you to do with what belongs to Him. We're guilty of mismanaging what God has entrusted to our management when we withhold and try to keep for ourselves what God has given us to be lavishly used in the service of others.
Now, there's a application that works, at least in theory. But in reality, if in the move from the lesser to greater, this is as great as it gets; it's really not very great is it? Because in reality we never do really live up to the master's expectations of us. Even with our best intentions and sincerest efforts, we waste what we have been entrusted with time after time. If this is as far as the application goes, it still hasn't really gotten off the ground.
But if the meaning and application of this parable were to move from the lesser to the much greater, that is, the much greater than us, if this parable was actually about Jesus Himself who is telling the story, if this were the story of God the Father almighty who has entrusted to His only Son the management of all that belongs to Him, well then this parable will not only get off the ground but will reach all the way to heaven and take us with it.
If a rich landowner commends his dishonest manager for his shrewdness, how much more does the God the Father almighty, commend His honest manager, Jesus Christ, for managing all that has been entrusted to Him exactly according to God's will. It is the will of God that the manager of His mercy be ridiculously generous with it in order to win friends for Himself. For whoever is a friend of Jesus is a friend of God.
If a dishonest manager is commended for cutting the debtors bill by 40 and 50%, how much more is Jesus Christ to be commended for slashing our debt before God, not by 50% or even 90%, but by 100%. He has written over the debt we owe God the Father with His own blood – 'paid in full.'
If a dishonest manager is commended for trying to secure for himself an "earthly dwelling," how much more is Jesus Christ to be commended for securing for you and "eternal dwelling?" Jesus gave His "body and soul, eyes and ears, reason and senses and all His members" unto death for you. He gives you clothing and shoes, clothing you with His righteousness. He gives you "food and drink" that is His own body and blood, a foretaste of the feast to come in the "eternal dwelling" He has prepared for you.
Don't worry that this isn't fair. Grace and mercy by definition are never 'fair.' But grace and mercy is what Jesus Christ has been entrusted with managing according to the Father's will. And the Father commends His faithful manager for His shrewdness. "This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Luke 9:35).
I tell you, He is using His righteous wealth to make friends for Himself. He wants to make a friend out of you. He wants to take you into His house. It doesn't get any greater than that.