At times, the wicked seem to prosper.
We’ve all seen it.
And we’ve all had our doubts about whether or not and what God is doing about it, because the wicked shouldn’t prosper, right? But sometimes it seems like they do.
Today, Jesus says to His disciples, but it’s important to note that “the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him” (Luke 16:14). Today, Jesus says to His disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager’” (Luke 16:1-2).
All the parables, including this one, reveal the kingdom of God to us. That’s what parables do, but this one is strange in that the rich man—who is God—seems aloof and deals with a man who is eventually revealed to be not only dishonest but unrighteous or evil.
In this parable, the wicked seems to prosper, and God seems aloof because the charge has to be brought to the rich man.
He doesn’t seek it out.
He doesn’t seem to know ahead of time.
And the charge is that the manager is a waster of the rich man’s possessions.
It’s not that he has wasted his master’s possessions once or even perhaps occasionally.
This is—rather—a habit over time.
The manager is wasteful of the rich man’s possessions.
And the rich man doesn’t notice—which is strange.
You’re not a rich man for very long if you don’t know that your possessions are being wasted?
So how rich do you have to be not to notice?
This rich man is either aloof—cold, distant, and uncaring—or he has an abundance of riches such that he can’t run out.
But the charge is brought, and now—the rich man must act. So he takes away the management.
“And 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…” (Luke 16:3).
Jesus’ words here go right into what the manager decides to do—but think through this.
What does he have available to him?
He has no strength with which he could earn a living.
He has great pride, so he won’t eke it out begging.
He has, he realizes, a few moments of management left to him—and so, he has “decided what to do, so that when [he] is removed from management, people may receive [him] into their houses” (Luke 16:4).
“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, sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty’” (Luke 16:5-7).
He can’t labor.
He won’t beg.
But for the moments left to him, he’ll use his power and influence, wasting his master’s possessions all the more, so that when he’s removed from management, people may receive him into their houses.
And isn’t that how the world works?
To whom do you owe a life debt?
Who’s the one who could call with a no-questions-asked request for which you’d have to act?
Or—how many of you have someone to call when such a request is required?
This is how the world works.
And that’s the shrewdness that’s commended.
Now, it’s bad enough that the wicked seems to prosper, but that Jesus—through the rich man in the parable—commends the unrighteous manager for his shrewdness, that bites against every swell notion we have about who God is and what He does.
We don’t understand it.
We don’t like it.
Because it’s a godly rebuke against the sons of light—and we don’t like being wrong.
We certainly don’t like anyone telling us what to do with our stuff.
Here’s the rebuke:
“The master commended the [unrighteous] manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8).
If you’re not used to hearing an implied predicate, what He means is: the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light are shrewd in dealing with their own generation.
We’re wrong—we are rebuked—because we don’t take advantage of the rich man’s wealth.
Now, that’s saying it in the way of the sons of this world, so we need to phrase it in the terms of the sons of light:
We’re wrong because we don’t rely on the mercy of God. We’re rebuked because we fail to see past the temporal terms of this world for the true riches of the world to come.
That’s a little bit abstract.
So let’s narrow it down.
God has forgiven all sin in Christ.
That’s the Gospel.
If you believe that, you rejoice to forgive others as you have been forgiven, because you like to boast in the Lord, as St. Paul says (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:17).
You like to forgive others, because it naturally follows that if everyone’s sins are forgiven—yours are too.
Well, God has forgiven all sin in Christ.
And we believe that—but we still rejoice to remember every sin committed against us, every perceived slight.
We mock the faults and foibles of our elders.
We thank God we’re not as pernicious as today’s children.
We all have answers for everyone else’s problems while our own home is in the neat form of shambles.
“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
The wicked seem to prosper—
The unrighteous manager is commended for his shrewdness—
That is—we’ve forgotten the true riches.
As rich as the rich man could be in the parable—
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1).
As merciful as the rich man could be in the parable—
The Lord’s mercy endures forever (cf. Psalm 136).
With shrewdness—with profound judgment—are we to see the world around us.
With shrewdness—having in mind the profound judgment and verdict of Christ’s blood having purchased us from death and hell—with shrewdness are we to see the world around us.
Believe the Gospel. Rely on it fully.
God doesn’t run out of forgiveness.
Consider how He gives it.
In the Parable of the Sower we learn that God causes His Word to be preached—to our eyes—recklessly.
Without fear of running out—without discriminating between soil types—and without blinking when the Word of God is rejected—God sends His Word to plant, cultivate, and grow the faith.
In the Parable of the Sheep, Coins, and Sons we learn that it’s God who seeks, finds, rescues, and redeems.
We learn that we were what was lost, and we rejoice that God has saved us—by no merit or worthiness on our part.
In today’s parable, we’re rebuked in that the unrighteous manager is commended for shrewdness we lack.
The parables reveal to us the kingdom of God.
And this is the kingdom:
God gives according to His mercy—not according to our merit.
God seeks and finds; He rescues and redeems.
Out of an inexhaustible abundance, He forgives.
And we pray and promise to forgive as we have been forgiven.
This is the Kingdom of God.
This is the Gospel.
And live using your wealth and possessions—as one who does not put his trust in them.
Jesus said all these things to His disciples, but remember: “the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him” (Luke 16:14).
For His disciples—against the Pharisees—and for us, immediately after today’s Gospel lesson, 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? 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” (Luke 16:10-13).
The Pharisees are like the unrighteous manager.
They’re not strong enough to dig.
And they’re ashamed to beg.
But those who sit in Moses’ seat can abuse their power and make friends for themselves by means of unrighteous mammon—until their management is taken from them.
And that’s what they do.
Their shrewdness is commended, because they are faithfully serving their god—their false god.
Their shrewdness is commended, but they are sons of this world.
As a child and son of light, then, believe the Gospel.
Forgive as you have been forgiven—for the time is coming when even your management will be taken away from you—not because of unrighteousness, that’s how the sons of this world are treated—the scribes and Pharisees.
The time of your management will end, rather, because Jesus is coming soon to give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ.
The commended shrewdness recognizes true riches for what they are and holds fast unto them into the eternal dwellings and unto eternal life.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
The Ninth Sunday after Trinity, 2021
Luke 16:1-9 (10-13)
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt