All that Your Father Gives You in Christ
Ninth Sunday after Trinity
August 13, 2017
When you consider why Jesus came to earth you see that His focus was directed ultimately to the cross. That is where He intended to go and for the express purpose of salvation for sinners. But it took time to get there and so another reason comes out, that He intended to make Himself known as Lord and Savior. Everything Jesus did, everything He said, was all to turn our focus onto Him. But really they are of the same cloth. Jesus making Himself known is for the purpose directing us to the cross and pointing us to the cross is so that we may know who He is.
So if you come to a passage in the Bible that seems strange or is hard to understand or may even seem a little off, the first order of business is not to work the words of the passage into something they’re not, but to see how they show us Christ. We need to see what is being shown us about who He is, what He came to do, what it has to do with His ultimate goal He had for Himself, which was to suffer and die on the cross.
If it seems a little strange that Jesus is telling a parable as we hear in the Gospel reading for today about a man who isn’t on the up-and-up and then is commended for his action and then is the subject of Jesus’ exhortation to us to exercise a little shrewdness as the world does, well, yeah. It is strange. And not just that, the whole thing is strange. God becoming a man. And not descending in glorious array as a powerful man but born as a baby who burped and cried and needed a diaper change and made cooing sounds. And the strangest thing of all and the most incomprehensible of all, taking the beating, the denunciation, the nails driven into His flesh, and taking the sin and guilt of the world upon Himself. God not only chose to be born, He chose to die.
The parable before us today is strange, and difficult by any measure. But God sees what we don’t. He understands what we are unable. But He shows us that His way is always the best way. So we’re met with a guy who we normally would view as an example of what not to be and Jesus is making him the subject of His parable. Let’s work through it in a way where we understand it not from our human understanding and sinful reason. Let’s see instead how it, as all of the Bible does, shows us who Jesus is and what He does for us.
The guy in the parable is a steward. Often these people who managed the wealth and property of a wealthy person were slaves. But these slaves often would have a certain status and reputation and even good pay and living conditions. After all, wouldn’t the rich person want to have someone capable to manage his possessions? And so there was even a certain amount of leeway the steward might have in managing his master’s possessions. Something like, if you manage my possessions well, I won’t micromanage you.
The understanding was always there, though, that the steward was still a steward. He was in a sense among the possessions of the master. All that he managed was not his own. All that he did was for his master. To us it seems a like a bad deal. Wouldn’t it be better to be master of your own life? Wouldn’t it be better to make decisions about what you’re managing based on what’s best for yourself and not someone else, who by the way, owns you? In our setting in twenty-first century America, that’s the way we see it.
But could Jesus be inviting us here to see beyond our twenty-first century American cultural setting and see ourselves for who we truly are? Could it be that Jesus is intentionally trying to jar us out of our safe haven of I am the master of my life and I ultimately answer to myself and toward our true identity that He has given us in Baptism? You after all have been bought with a price. You after all are not your own. You truly are a child of the Heavenly Father. You are not your own person. You belong to God.
But He doesn’t own you as a slave owner does. He is your Father, He protects you and gives you all good things. In Baptism you are given new life and life that has no end. With the words of the Old Testament reading we see that “this God—His way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him.” He doesn’t own you as a slave, He is your master whose way is perfect and who brings you into His perfect way.
King David had vast wealth. When he would soon die and his son Solomon would replace him as king Solomon was to carry out the work of building the temple. David had built a great palace for himself and now it was time to build a palace for God and the worship life of the people of God. So before he died David offered up an offering of great wealth to help toward the building of the temple. This was his prayer along with the offering:
Blessed are You, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all. In Your hand are power and might, and in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank You, our God, and praise Your glorious name.
Not even the glory of the temple that was to be built would exceed the riches of the glory of God. He is the creator of all things, in His hand are all things. David didn’t see himself as giving God anything that didn’t already belong to God Himself. This is what being a steward of God is. It is what being a child of God is. It is recognizing that we are not our own and all that we have is not our own.
Our problem is not that we don’t have enough but that we don’t recognize, as we are taught in the Catechism, that we have all things only out of our Heavenly Father’s divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness on our own. We use our things as if they were our things. How did we sing it in the Hymn of the Day? Jesus alone is my treasure. Our problem is not that we don’t have enough, it’s that we see what we have through the eyes of our sinful flesh. Our flesh is infested with sin. Sin sees everything in terms of possession instead of gift. Sin sees everything as how I can use it for myself instead of how I can use it for others.
Paul warns in the Epistle reading that we should learn from those who have gone before us. He says the reason their sinful examples have been written down in the Scriptures is to serve as a warning to us, that we don’t fall into the same sin they did. As a steward of God’s possessions, you actually have freedom. You are free from the tyranny of things. You are free from the tyranny of always needing more and better. You are free from the tyranny of always needing what you think is best for yourself. You are free because you belong to your Heavenly Father who gives you all things in His Son.
And so, wonder of wonders, this strange action of a man who wasted his master’s possessions, and who got himself out of hot water by reducing the debts of those who owed his master, was praised by his very master. His master saw that he shrewdly had gotten himself out of a jam and worked things so that he would not be out on the street after he was fired.
And so, amazingly, this strange action of the man is given to us by Jesus as an example. We ought to use the things of this world to make friends for ourselves that they may welcome us into eternal dwellings. This is the kind of crazy, strange, amazing God we have, who uses the things of this world for His greater purposes. After all, aren’t they His in the first place? And doesn’t God make use of what is His? Hasn’t God done the most amazing, incomprehensible thing there is in becoming Himself a human being, a baby born of Mary, a man who grew up to suffer the indignity and punishment for our sin? Hasn’t God Himself made use of the things of this world to give us the very benefits of this salvation, using water to Baptize us, bread and wine to feed us?
We say along with the Old Testament reading, “the word of the Lord proves true.” His word connected with the water of Baptism saves you, it forgives you all your sins, it gives you a place in the eternal dwelling of heaven. His word connected with the bread and wine of the Sacrament of the Altar delivers to you Jesus Himself in the flesh, His body and His blood for you for your strength, for your comfort, and for your forgiveness. His word proves true when He calls you as His child, as a steward of all His good gifts He has given you in your life to use them for your neighbor, to make friends with them by the use of ordinary things in your life, and to look forward to that day when all this will pass away and you will be greeted by old friends in the eternal dwellings of heaven. Amen.