The Shrewd Steward
Luke 16:1-9 (10-13)
In the holy name of Jesus, Amen. Beloved in the Lord, before us today we have one of the trickiest parables of Christ; no wonder Pastor Timm made this Sunday be the first one I preach. A manager is fired for wasting his rich master’s possessions, and, before he is forced to leave his position, he adjusts the debts of his master’s debtors for his own benefit. However, rather than being condemned again by his wealthy master for this action, he is instead praised for his shrewdness. Praised for his shrewdness? His shrewdness? How can this be? While being shrewd shows that one has an excellent understanding and judgment of how to practically deal with a situation, it also bears a negative connotation of being devious or sly. How is Jesus able to use this cunning act as an example in one of his parables? The shrewd and dishonest manager makes friends with unrighteous wealth, yet Christ says that we too are to make friends with unrighteous wealth. Are we to be dishonest and shrewd? Well, when done justly, the proper handling and stewardship of the unrighteous wealth and mammon of this world leads to eternal benefits.
In our parable today, the manager’s issues start when he mishandles his position under the rich man. Just like the prodigal son, whose account comes right before this one, he wastes and squanders the goods that had been entrusted to him. For that, he is justly punished. He was in a high position under the rich man. He was the manager and accountant of his master’s many possessions. This was an honorable and powerful office that came with great status. You wouldn’t ever want to leave from this spot. However, we all know what happens when there is a scandal, and someone falls from his high place. Just think of some rich bankers or politicians who have gotten into a scandal. Gossip, ridicule, public shame and then, most often than not, they must step down and leave their position. And so, it’s the same with the soon to be humiliated manager. He realizes the gravity of the situation. His way of life is going to drastically change. He will need a new life, but in what? “I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg” (V3), he says. He knows he isn’t physically fit for manual labor, and he knows that doesn’t want to become a nobody on the streets, begging for survival. How humiliating that would be. Here he used to be a big wig and now he would be reduced to nothing. For him those are not options.
But this is where his shrewdness comes into play. He knows what he must do to not be a beggar the rest of his life. He must use wealth to make friends before he is fired so that when he is removed from management these people will receive him into their houses (V4). It’s a smart move. Think again of some those scandalous bankers or politicians, how many of them had friends already lined up before. Friends that can help them get out of jail time, face smaller fines or have another job already lined up for them. They made friends with their wealth and mammon to avoid great public shame and a complete loss of wellbeing for the rest of their lives. They used their wealth and position that has been entrusted to them by God to be prepared for the future. That is what the shrewd manager did. He quickly and dishonestly cut the bills of some of his master’s debtors. He was making friends with unrighteous mammon. He did this to earn the debtors’ favor so that when he was no longer a manager, he would have a place in the future to go to. It is indeed a smart and shrewd act. And yet, while however cunning or sly it was, the master commends him for his shrewdness. The rich man, who was, in actuality, just robbed by his soon to be released manager, praises his shrewdness. Who would do such a thing?
But just think about it. How often do we watch a movie, read a book or see a story in the news of a heist or robbery where the villain was so devious that, while the plan was indeed evil and sinful, it was also rather so impressive since it was so well thought out and flawlessly executed. I trust many of you have seen the movie Oceans 11. A movie about a group of men who devise a most daring robbery of a rival and his Las Vegas casinos. Their plan is so ornate. They learn about security procedures and the behaviors of casino staff. They organize a large boxing event for the day of the heist so there will be plenty of cash in the vault to steal. They created a precise replica of the vault that has the money in it. And after all of that and more, they preform a flawless robbery. So flawless and so beautiful that we enjoy watching it unfold. And honestly while watching it, who among us Christians were on the side of the thieves? Most of us, yes? We were just on the side of people who are breaking the 7th commandment. Funny how that works. So now you see why the manager is being commended. In a worldly way he is acting brilliantly. Jesus notes this. For he says, “The sons of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light (V8.) See how shrewdly the sons of this age act for their lives. They will do anything to be more secure for their uncertain future. They constantly desire to gather more wealth, mammon and friends all in the hope that it all will benefit them in due time here on this earth.
But now O Christians, hear the exhortation from Christ that follows this example of shrewdness. “And I tell you, make friends for yourself with unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails, they may receive you into eternal life” (V9). Use the unrighteous wealth of this world just like the shrewd manager did to make friends, but not just friends for the age, friends for an eternity that is certain. After all, that is what Christ did. He used the mammon of this world to make friends not purely for his benefit but for theirs. Just think of what Christ did while he was incarnate in this world. He used the common, unsanctified things of this world, things you could call unrighteous, because they in themselves are not righteous; he used them for his righteous actions. Just consider his miracles where he manifested himself as God. He turned common drinking water into the best wine for the wedding at Cana. He multiplied bread and fish to feed the thousands. He made mud with his own spit and the dirt of the ground, and smearing on the eyes of a blind man, he could regain his sight. But the best thing he had done with the unrighteous goods of this world was when he hung from the most unrighteous thing of all. “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree (Gal 3:13 ref Deut 21:23).” These are the words of scriptures, and it’s the truth. To die on a cross is to die a cursed death. And Christ indeed died cursed on that unrighteous cross. He who knew no sin became sin as he bore the sins of the whole world. He hung cursed and condemned on that cross with your sins. Yet, it’s through his righteous life, that his death as the sin bearer on the cross is able to make the cross holy, and also that he is able to make you holy. Our sins were killed and buried with Christ. The blood shed from his death on that unrighteous tree was the blood that covers our iniquity. Jesus’s death satisfies God’s wrath that would justly burn against you. It’s through Christ’s death and the burying and covering of your sins that you might be made his friend. After all, “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). Jesus used the unrighteous goods of this world to make you his friend. He makes you his friend for your sake, for your good. And not just any friend, an eternal friend. A friendship that is to last throughout all the ages.
So now we can see how Christ’s exhortation can be applied to us. We too are to use the unrighteous wealth of this world that has been given to us by God for our future and for our friends and their benefits. So consider your use of such mammon you have. Is it used to show the love of Christ? Is it used to in ways for the edification of Christ’s church on earth? Is it used to aid in the proclamation of the Gospel? Is it used to help and serve your neighbor? For it’s through the proper use of such goods that friends are made and maintained into eternity. Paul tells us in Galatians: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). It’s through our love of doing of good and proper use of wealth and mammon, for both our brothers in Christ and for everyone else, that people may know we are Christians (Jn 13:35). And indeed, on the last day, it’s your love for such people that Christ greatly commends. For as you have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed the strangers and more, Christ, the king of heaven, will say, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt 25:40). You are welcomed into the heavenly realms by Christ, the one you have served through the lowly. And it’s also those same people, now your sainted friends, who also welcome you and receive you into the eternal dwellings (V9).
Therefore, use the mammon of this world to make eternal friends, so that they too may welcome you into the eternal dwellings, as Christ will. Our future is one that goes on into eternity, so use your unrighteous mammon for such things eternal. However, don’t scheme as the manager did. Christ isn’t commending us to do that. He is commending us to righteously use the unrighteous goods of this world that he has provided to us. Justly give to those who would need it. Provide for your family. Don’t waste or squander what has been given to you. Use what you have receive to teach your children the fear of the Lord and stewardship. Unrighteous wealth can build up the kingdom of God and in turn lead people to heaven. It’s for their good that they can be made to be eternal friends of Christ. Now hear the words of Christ once again. “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” (V9). The wealth and mammon of this world will fail. It is not eternal. The goods of this age will pass. But the friends properly made by the failing mammon, the friends that are in Christ, they are eternal friends. They will eternally benefit from the proper use of unrighteous mammon. It’s on the last day that these people will welcome and receive you into the eternal dwellings. We are all managers of what the Lord has provided to us. Help us good Lord that we may be found to be righteous stewards of the unrighteous goods that you have entrusted to us. In Jesus’ precious and holy name, Amen.