Luke 16:1-13 The story that Jesus tells is simple—the scheme that it reveals could be the headline in the Wall Street Journal. The manager of a business has mismanaged the owner’s money and possessions and he is about to get fired. His options are limited. No one’s going to trust him with a similar position. He is unable to do physical work. He is ashamed to beg. What is he going to do when he loses his job? And so he comes up with a scheme.
He tells all of those who owe money to the owner to take their bills and reduce what they owe so that then they will be indebted to him for saving them money and feel obligated to take him into their homes when he loses his position as manager. When the owner finds out about it, with a kind of rueful grin and shake of the head, he commends the man for the shrewdness of his scheme.
It’s important to note that when Jesus tells this story he is not commending the manager for his poor management or his dishonest solution. He is not commending the folks who got a good deal dishonestly. He is not commending the owner for his appreciation of the manager’s cunning.
Jesus simply says: this is how the world works when it comes to money. Everybody is working an angle—everyone is scheming—and even when they get taken in, they can at least appreciate the subtlety of the scam.
But while Jesus does not approve of either man, he does use this story to make a judgment about us and about our use of money. He says, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” In other words, this man at least knew how the world’s economy works-- but much too often Christians do not know how the “economy” of God’s kingdom works and the role that money plays in their lives in time and eternity.
From the story, Jesus shows us that in the kingdom of the world there are owners and managers of others goods—that money is important--and that a day of reckoning comes when managers will have to open up the books and give an account of how well they have managed the owner’s money. That’s how the world works.
In the same way, in the Kingdom of God, in Jesus’ “economy”, there is an owner—God—and there are managers or stewards—you and I—and how we use money is important because there will be a day of reckoning for us when we will be called to give an account of how well we have managed God’s money.
Jesus says that many who follow him fail to exercise the same wisdom regarding money and what is spiritually valuable-- as unbelievers do when it comes to what they value--especially when it comes to the future.
The manager knew that his time as a steward of another man’s possessions had come to an end and so with an eye to the future he made plans to make sure he was in good shape when his money ran out—that he would have friends to welcome him.
Jesus says that we ought to think the same way when it comes to our life as God’s stewards-that we ought to manage God’s gifts with an eye towards our eternal future. Jesus says: “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.”
What does Jesus mean by that? After all, we know how to make friends in the world’s economy. We take clients out to lunch. We give Christmas bonuses. We give discounts to our best customers. We shop with this guy and he shops from us.
But how does this idea work spiritually in God’s economy? How do we make friends for ourselves eternally?
The first thing that we need to realize is that there will come a time for each of us when, in Jesus’ words, “unrighteous wealth fails us”—that is, when money will no longer matter—and that is when we die. All those things that the world values so highly (salary, possessions, investments) will not matter to us in the least because our life as God’s steward will come to an end.
BUT…what we have done with God’s money in this life will matter very much indeed in the life to come! While there is nothing holy or righteous about money in and of itself (it is simply a tool that we use for a time here on earth)-- money can be used in ways that matter eternally to us and to others.
How is that? How do we make friends for ourselves through our use of money —friends who will welcome us into heaven?
We do it when we give money for works of mercy and for works of mission—works that show our faith in Jesus Christ—works that benefit those around us for time and eternity.
In the story of the sheep and the goats found in the 24th chapter of Matthew, Jesus gives us a vivid picture of the final judgment and the evidence that will be presented about each of us concerning our faith in Christ.
A large part of that evidence involves the way we have used the material possessions that God has granted to us for a time: whether we have fed the hungry and clothed the naked and sheltered the homeless and cared for the sick. True Christians did.
On the day of reckoning, when the Lord reads from his ledger, no good deed that we have ever done in the name of Christ for the good of those around us is forgotten. Not one dollar that we have ever spent to help someone in need goes unaccounted for in the final judgment. And those Christians who have received our care (even if we never met them in this life) will be part of that welcoming committee that receives us into heaven.
All the offerings we have given over the course of our life so that the Gospel can be preached and the sacraments administered here and around the world—mean that there will people who will be in heaven to welcome us home because of our generosity in giving to the work of the Lord’s mission.
So, do we do these things and give this money to be saved? NO! We do it because we are saved. We are merciful and generous and giving to others because Christ has been merciful and generous and giving to us—sacrificing his entire life for us on the cross—and we are called to be sacrificial with the money entrusted to us.
It’s just plain old money that we receive in our paychecks—the same money that unbelievers use and misuse in so many different ways that are not pleasing in God’s sight —and yet that same money (used by the child of God) accomplishes eternal things in the divine economy of the kingdom of God.
Whether we always recognize it or not, there is a strong connection between the faithfulness of our stewardship of money and our faithfulness to Christ. Jesus says:
"One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?
We heard earlier in the sermon about the similarities between the world’s economy and the divine economy of the kingdom—but there is also a huge difference between the world and the kingdom: and that is the value that is given to money. In the world’s economy, money is counted as pretty much everything—but in the divine economy money itself counts for very little.
Compared to the forgiveness that Christ won for us by his death and resurrection, what is money? Compared to the Word of God and Baptism and Holy Communion, what is an offering? What is earthly wealth compared to eternal life with God?
Money is a small thing compared to the spiritual treasures we have in Christ and yet the way that we handle our money says much about our faith in Christ—whether it is real and living-- or a pious lie. Jesus says:
"One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. Jesus’ point is this: the way we use money says something about us completely out of all proportion to the money’s actual value—something truly important.
Our giving reveals what’s in our hearts—what we truly believe in. The confession of faith we make in the words of the Creed is important—but so is the confession of faith found in our checkbooks.
So who is the faithful steward? It is the one who uses money in such a way that it shows that he recognizes and lives by kingdom values in the divine economy—who believes that God is the owner of all things and that we are managers—that money and it’s use will come to an end and that we will one day give an account of how we have used God’s gifts.
The judgment of the Jesus is this: No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."
The Good News for us today is that even though we have sinfully tried to have it both ways—serving God and money--Jesus Christ forgives us—not by taking away our debt in part like the unfaithful steward-- or using someone’s else resources to pay it--but by taking the whole thing away and paying our sin debt by his shed blood on the cross.
You see, Jesus is the faithful steward of God’s treasure-house of love and grace and forgiveness. It is these most precious gifts, received in faith, that open our hearts and our hands and our wallets and makes us wise and generous stewards of God’s gifts. Amen.