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The text for this morning’s sermon is the parable of the dishonest manager as we just heard in our gospel reading.
I. The Parable Repeated
A brief summary of the story goes as follows:
a RICH MAN hired a MANAGER to look after his business; nothing unusual about that.
Charges were filed against the manager. We’re not told WHO filed the charges against the manager, just that they were filed.
The manager was charged with ‘wasting the rich man’s possessions.’ We’re not told how the manager was being ‘wasteful.’ Maybe he was using an excessive amount of company money for travel and entertainment. Or maybe it was that pocketing some of what should have gone into the register, we’re not told.
When the charges came to the rich man, he called his manager into his office. It was undoubtedly one of those meetings with the boss where the manager was told to ‘SHUT THE DOOR,’ which is always a bad sign.
The owner says to his manager, “what is this I hear about you?”
The manager doesn’t deny the charges or try to defend himself.
Hearing no reply to his question, the owner demands that the manager, “turn in the account of your management.” That is, he’s to turn over ‘THE BOOKS.’ The owner wants to have the books ‘audited’ to see what’s been going on.
And with that, he fires the manager. “You can no longer be manager.”
Then the ‘ex-manager’ gets really worried about how he’s going to survive on ‘unemployment,’ since, in his day, there is no such thing.
He thinks about putting his resume together, but quickly concludes that no one is ever going to hire him for management again with this blemish on his record. He could probably get a job doing physical labor, but frankly, he’s been sitting behind a desk for so long that just the thought of using a shovel wears him out. He could get a piece of cardboard and write, ‘homeless and unemployed –God bless you,’ and stand by a busy intersection. But he is too proud for that.
So far, Jesus has painted a picture that, sadly, sounds very familiar. There’s nothing unusual or shocking about any of this. It’s been all too easy to put this into a very contemporary context.
But here’s where things start to get a little unusual.
The manager concocts a strategy, “so that when I am removed from management, people will receive me into their houses.”
He then begins to summon those who owe the company money. They were buying on credit. It sounds like a ‘bartering’ system where payment was made in ‘oil,’ and ‘wheat.’
But since he no longer has the books with him to refer to, he’s got to ask each customer what he owes. “To the first he says, ‘how much do you owe my master?’ Notice, he doesn’t say, ‘ex-master.’
The first one replies, ‘a hundred measures of oil.” The manager tells this customer to change the bill to “50 measures of oil.” “And do it ‘QUICKLY!’
He asks the second customer, “how much do you owe?”
The man replies, ‘a hundred measures of wheat.” The manager tells him to change the bill to “80 measures of wheat.” “And do it QUICKLY!’
And we should assume that it went on like this for awhile.
Now, the only way that this story makes any sense at all is if the ‘customers’ don’t yet know that the manager has been fired. They must still think that he’s acting as ‘company manager.’ And this is why the manager insists that they make the adjustment QUICKLY. Once word gets out that he’s been fired, they’ll realize that this is a scam.
But for the moment, as long as it lasts, they are not only happy with the manager for what he is doing, they are also very happy with the OWNER whom they believe has given the MANAGER the instruction and authority to slash their bill. There’s no indication that the customers ever come into contact with the OWNER. Their contact is with his MANAGER. The MANAGER is the face of the ‘rich man.’
Now, lets think about this. Once the RICH MAN, the OWNER, finds out what his ‘ex-manager’ has done, what’s he supposed to do? He is in a very difficult position. He’s faced with two options:
He could call back all of those customers who are so pleased and happy with Him and say, ‘hey listen, I know that my manager cut the bill that you owe me, but he had no authority to do that since I had fired him BEFORE he did it. So, sorry, but you’re going to have to add back onto the bill that you owe me what you had written off.’ And as you can imagine, that would not go over very well.
Or, his second option is to act as though this was indeed his idea and that he is in complete agreement with what the manager has done and hold onto tremendous ‘customer approval rating’ that he now has among his customers.
And as the Rich Man sees the position that the manager has created for him, he just sits there and smiles. He is thoroughly impressed with the MANAGER. He’s not impressed with the manager’s ‘wastefulness.’ But he’s impressed with his “shrewdness.” “The master COMMENDED the dishonest manager for his SHREWDNESS.”
II. The Meaning of the Parable
So, what are we to make of this? Is this a lesson in ‘business ethics,’ or ‘how to recover from failure,’ or ‘how to stick it to your boss if he fires you’? Of course it isn’t.
Keep in mind that Jesus is speaking this parable to His disciples. If this were a lesson in ‘basic management skills,’ it is a very strange lesson for Jesus to be teaching them.
The job of the Disciples is to go to the ends of the earth to teach all who will listen about the one, true God as He makes Himself known to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. How does this story ‘instruct’ them in the nature of who God is and what He is like? And how does it ‘instruct’ us through them?
With this story, Jesus paints a word picture of our situation before almighty God.
You better believe that charges are right now being brought to God about your mismanagement of what He has entrusted to you; just think of the money, and time, and possessions, and the people, and the opportunities that He has ENTRUSTED to your management. There isn’t one who can say that he has managed what belongs to the “RICH MAN” faithfully. To start with, how often do we either forget or ignore the fact that all that we have belongs to God? How easily we believe that all that we have is ‘MINE.’ “IT BELONGS TO ME.”
Charges are being brought to almighty God against us at this very minute. And we know who the accuser is. Satan, who the Scriptures say, “accuses us before God, day and night.’ (Rev.12:10).
And there is no arguing or refuting the charges, because they’re true, and we know, our own conscience brings charges against us. Not sure?
In the 5th Chief Part of the Small Catechism – “Confession,” Luther says, “Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Heave you been hot-tempered, rude or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Heave you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?”
So, what shall we do? The dishonest manager said to himself, “what shall I do…?” Which happen to be the same words that the Prodigal Son said to himself when he realized what a desperate situation he was in after WASTING his father’s wealth.
To the credit of both the Prodigal Son and the dishonest manager, both of them realize that the solution to their dilemma does not lie within them. The Prodigal Son counts on the mercy of his father. The dishonest manager counts on the mercy of his boss.
His entire plan that his “friends” should take him into their homes completely falls apart if the Owner retracts the deal that he has made with them. He is counting on the Rich Man being merciful. And in the same way, so should we.
If the Rich Man in this story is God, before whom we will all be called to give an account, then Jesus is the manager; He is the ‘face of God.’ And what Jesus is telling us is that He has the Father cornered. He could act ‘justly’ and according to the Law, and rightly cancel all of the forgiveness that Jesus Christ has written over our debt with His precious blood. But then, who would ‘praise’ and ‘honor’ a God like that, let alone ‘love Him with all of your heart and soul and mind?”
No, the Son has boxed the Father into a corner, and FOR HIS OWN NAME’S SAKE, He must honor the DEEP DISCOUNT that His manager has written over our debt.
But here’s the point, the Father LOVES to be cornered like this. He delights in being ‘hemmed in’ like this. And He commends His Son for His “shrewdness.” “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” And He ‘commends’ all who are so ‘shrewd’ as to corner Him like this in the Name of Jesus.
For the truth is, this is precisely what the Father sent His Son into the world to do. “For God so LOVED THE WORLD that He sent His Son,” to slash your debt to the Father, not by 20% or 50% or even 99% but by 100%. And when the books are opened and examined, there beside your name will stand these words, “Paid In Full.”
And this, not arbitrarily or capriciously, but for the sake of His only-begotten and dearly beloved Manager. For when the charges that were brought against us were laid upon Him, God exercised His JUDGEMENT upon Him and SHOWED NO MERCY! All so that He may be GRACIOUS AND MERCIFUL to you.
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses… God made alive together with [Jesus], having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)
“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (Romans 8:33-34).
The hope of each and every sinner is not
that the Father will never know about our mismanagement of what He has entrusted to us,
or that our merits and good qualities will outweigh our faults and failures.
The only hope of each and every sinner is that God is merciful, for the sake of His Son, upon whom have been laid all of the charges that are brought against us.