“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.” [Luke 16:9]
Many people tend to be shocked and even confused by the parable of the unfaithful steward. The story is about a man who was wasting his employer’s goods, and when he got caught and given his termination notice, he was smart enough to make his unemployed life better. And how did he do this? By wasting even more of his employer’s goods and then dragging other debtors down with him by cooking the books and then ultimately hearing his employer say that he had acted wisely.
So wait… is Jesus actually asking us to be like this? Well no not really, but in a way… yes! You see…
In order to understand this parable, we need to first understand that not all of Jesus parables are alike.
Some of Jesus’ parables teach us to “go and do likewise,” or to copy the example we are given, as in the case of the Good Samaritan or the tax collector who humbled himself in the temple by confessing his sinfulness. But Jesus does not always use this type of teaching within His parables. You see, Jesus finds the illustrations for His stories in everyday life and then He sketches everyday people exactly as they are within His stories. Think of the man who found a treasure in the field of another person and then acted deceptively in order to secure both the field and the treasure for himself. And then, there’s the parable of the persistent widow and the judge who loved neither God nor man.
What we should remember is that Jesus uses these examples of everyday people from a sinful fallen world of His day, to illuminate something that should also take place in the lives of Christians as they seek to further the spreading of God’s kingdom through the proclamation of the Gospel. So Jesus is saying that it’s not a matter of acting like these characters, but of grasping the motivation behind the action, and then applying that wisdom to our own lives and our relationship with God.
In this instance Jesus praises the man because he had acted wisely. So where was his wisdom?
The man knew that he had no way of escape. He had no illusions. He knew that he was going to be fired, and then become unemployed and homeless. And because of this reality he was certain what he needed to do to ensure his security.
But people who confess to be Christians sometimes do just the opposite. They know that this broken world is not all that there is; they know that something eternal and supremely greater follows this sinful existence. Yet they harbor the illusion that some things aren’t really as big of a deal as God’s Word and the preacher make them out to be, and in the end, they tell themselves that everything will be ok. And so they procrastinate. They put off dealing with the eternal consequences that come with persistently ignoring God’s warning. They continue to live a sinful life that they know will put their own salvation in jeopardy. They refuse to acknowledge that in regards to their salvation it is a matter of dead seriousness and that one day soon, they will stand before God’s judgment in everything. And so the wisdom found in our Epistle lesson becomes a dreadful warning: “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” [1 Corinthians 10:12]
Dear friends, it is God’s desire that true Wisdom, which comes through Christ alone would dwell in you the baptized richly. For you see, this is the only way that we can make sense of this parable. In verse 9, Jesus gives us the key to this wisdom when He says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth.” What is this unrighteous wealth?
The unrighteous wealth is any thing of value that we acquire in this sinful world. And that includes all of your time, talent, and treasures. Treasures includes all of your money and worldly possessions. Here God’s wisdom alone allows us to see things here in our lives as He sees them, as they really are. Here, God’s wisdom is teaching us that it is useless for us to claim the eternal life of a baptized child of God, if we are still trying to hide, horde, or exclude some of our stuff from His control and use. You see, there is no room for compromise; you cannot be both a friend of God and of the world. You can’t serve two masters; you just can’t! It will be a futile exercise if you try to withhold some of your worldly possessions from the sight and knowledge of God. This kind of thinking and action, will only lead to the loss of your eternal, true life along with all of the treasures that you never really were able to keep any how. In another parable that Jesus told, this type of person is called “You fool!”
A fool is someone who will not receive the LORD as their lamp in the darkness of this sinful world. You can’t receive this kind of wisdom through any course of study or the granting of a degree from some ivory tower university. This kind of wisdom comes only from God and only through experience, the experience of knowing and trusting in His Word.
In His Word and in the experiences of your life, God proves Himself to be true and perfect. “This God—His way is perfect; the Word of the LORD proves true (as you live your life trusting in the promises of His Word and the presence of His Spirit in all aspects of your life). He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him.” [2 Samuel 22:31]
So in order to correctly understand Jesus’ parable today, we must concentrate on one point, and that is the illustration of the dishonest or unrighteous manager or steward. This man, as Jesus portrays him, is only one of the uncountable number of sinful people who have come and gone in this sinful world. We could say that he is typical of everyone who does not know or care to know their true Master, Creator, and Savior. So within His parable, Jesus is holding up this man before our eyes today, and He wants us, the baptized Christians to see what a completed unrighteous person looks like; He wants us to see in this man his complete confidence in the resources of this sinful world, and then He wants to inspire us to do the complete opposite with those same worldly goods.
When Jesus opens our eyes to see this necessity, He has then helped us to see our own fully developed righteousness, or an opposite mindset that sees all treasures of this world as being simply a means to help build and further the Kingdom of God within a fallen and sinful world. He opens our eyes to understand that…
That which is wise and right before God often looks like foolishness to the world.
To live in order to serve; to know that one is simply a steward who does not have any real ownership over stuff; to risk persecution and ridicule; to dare to trust in God in all danger, and at last choosing to suffer martyrdom rather than being unfaithful to God—all this friends seems like foolishness to the world. But really this way of thinking and living implies wisdom, realism, and a true sense of right and wrong, “For what is the hope of the godless when God cuts him off, when God takes away his life?” [Job 27:8]
This morning, Jesus says to us, “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.” Jesus has now shown us how the people of this sinful world use their time, talent and treasure to make friends and even greater security for themselves. And now, He orders us to do the same thing but to make our use of these things to do the very opposite.
Let’s recap what Jesus is really saying: The unrighteous or unsaved people of this world are stewards or managers, and we are too; they are entrusted with property and assets—so are we; the things the unsaved collect and use are really unrighteous and meaningless to God and His offer of salvation—and so are the things we have; the unsaved world makes friends with their stuff—and so should we; the lives of the unsaved comes to and end, and so do our lives.
You see friends, Jesus is allowing us to see that our lives run in a parallel with the unsaved of this world, that is, until in a flash, both the lives of the unsaved and the saved meet very different ends. It is at the time of death that these parallel lives are no longer parallel, but suddenly they go in completely different directions.
And it all hinges on the friends that they made.
The lives of the saved, of the good and righteous stewards burst off into eternal dwellings; into a place prepared for them by their true friends, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Three friends yes, but One God! You see, it is God alone who is your one and only true friend. And it is Jesus alone who has promised you that He has gone ahead of you to prepare a place in the paradise He has both restored and prepared for you!
Dear friends, to the world our lives may seem no better than their own, in fact they could make a good case that they are better off. They strive to live in luxury and many times they will actually achieve that goal by living for themselves and taking advantage of everything this world has to offer, even other people. But we know a truth that they will never know unless they allow God to change them as He has changed us through the truth of His Word and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
To those who are perishing, the cross of Jesus is foolishness. To those who are dying in their sins and place their hope only in the things of this world, baptism is foolish because it is simply water and some words. To those who hunger for something greater than themselves and think that the treasures of this world will satisfy their hunger, the Lord’s supper is simply a small bite of stale bread and a sip of simple wine. But to we who are being saved by faith and grace that comes to us through the message and power of the cross of Jesus, these things are the very wisdom of God. For we know, that it is the very power of God that brings eternal life. And we know that it is the Word of God that distinguishes baptism from a mere washing; it is the Word that distinguishes the Lord’s Supper from a mere snack and constitutes both of these as sacraments that give faith to believe in the forgiveness that they offer.
This morning, Jesus implores each of us to get smart; to receive the Wisdom of God just as He offers it. He asks you to see that everything in this world is temporary and will pass away. He asks you to see that these things here are simply tools that you are to use to further the proclamation of His kingdom to the unsaved so that they too may experience God’s love and forgiveness and look forward to a place prepared for them also in God’s heaven. If you have been led to see this truth and agree with it then you too have become wise. I pray that this is so for you, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!