It’s the unjust steward this week. Perhaps the strangest parable of them all. But while the details may be obscure, the overall message from Jesus is clear. Read on to see how…
Jesus is teaching the people. The Scribes and Pharisees are grumbling that Jesus receives sinners. Bad company reflects badly. But the sinners listen to Jesus. They hear his words and repent of their sin. The Pharisees hear his words to try to find fault with him. They want to trap him in his words, they want to show him up, to prove they are more righteous than he.
Just before today’s parable, Jesus points out in the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and prodigal son that the purpose of his coming into the world is to seek and find the lost. He is not here to judge, but to suffer judgement, to bring mercy, to heal and bind up, and preach the good news of great joy – a Savior has come into the world to save sinners.
Our Gospel picks up right after Jesus talks about the brother of the prodigal son, who will not come into the house to rejoice that his brother has been found, but who stands bitterly in the fields, angry at the grace and mercy of his father. The brother excludes himself. He doesn’t want to be a part of the joy of reconciliation, he doesn’t want to have any part of the celebration of his brothers return, and so he is the one who now suffers.
The Scribes and Pharisees object to Jesus showing mercy to sinners. They think they are righteous in themselves. They do such good works. They work hard at it. The focus is on themselves and what they do. They seek their own glory, and their own advancement.
Jesus tells this parable, and instructs us immediately afterwards, about true riches. What is it that you really seek after? Where is your treasure? The Shepherd goes after the lost sheep, the woman after the coin, the father after his son, and the brother after revenge. Now, we have the unjust steward – who seeks a soft landing after losing his job. The idea of true riches is a theme we’ve heard a lot of, because as the summer goes on, we hear from God’s Word about the various temptations in the world, and we are warned to resist them in order to receive the crown of glory which God gives to all who believe in him.
Today we have Jesus warning against love of money – what used to be called mammon. Mammon is more than just love of wealth. Mammon can be any sort of thing in this world: wealth, power, ambition, fame, social standing. Those are the things this world has to offer, and they are all useless – they never last, they are always passing away. Trying to hold onto them is like trying to hold onto sand. The harder you hold it, the faster it slips through your fingers.
Do we seek after true wisdom, do we seek after the things of God, a heavenly home with Jesus when all is finished – that’s an eternal treasure. Jesus says, “The world knows how to go after what it wants. Do you?” The unfaithful steward was unfaithful. When he was called on the carpet about it, he was even more unfaithful. But now, he was unfaithful in pursuit of his goal – an easy life. The master doesn’t praise his actions. He praises his shrewdness. His cunning. As if to say, “I know you cheated me, but even I’ll admit that’s a good one.” There is no legal reason the master has to honor his servants dishonesty. By right, he could send a letter saying, “You still owe me a hundred measures of oil, you still owe me a hundred measures of wheat.” And the people would almost certainly pay with little griping.
But the steward is counting on his master’s integrity being greater than his own. He knows that he only has a few more minutes of being able to speak for his master. So he does, knowing the master will say, “They thought it was me speaking through you, so I will honor this.” He knows the people will be grateful for what he has done and will help him. He also knows the master is gracious and merciful, and won’t have him thrown into prison. He knows who his master is: Integrity, honor, mercy. And he knows when the chips are down, he will be that. The steward is wasteful of his masters things. He loses his job over it. So, when the chips are down, he wastes more.
Jesus says, “One who is faithful in little will be faithful in much. Dishonest in the little things, dishonest in much.” The steward is who he was, wasteful of his masters possessions, and when pressed was even moreso. The master was who he was – the opposite of the steward, honest and merciful. And when pressed is even moreso.
Our Lord is merciful. When pressed, he is even more merciful. We are sinners. When pressed, we sin. And yet, the Holy Spirit makes a beginning in us – a beginning of repentance, a beginning of a new heart and a new spirit. Scripture says a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone. A right spirit, a spirit that loves the things of God, instead of a spirit that rebels against him and rejects his word. When the Spirit creates faith in our hearts, when he takes unwilling hearts and makes them willing through the preaching of the word, then a beginning of righteousness is made. Now we can love God, and trust in him, turn to him in every need. Jesus teaches us that we should approach our heavenly Father as dear children approach their dear father. As we heard last week, we cry out Abba, Father. And this is given to us where the word of salvation is preached, where the water is poured, where the Spirit gives us faith to believe the promise: That for Jesus sake, because of his sacrifice we are forgiven our sins. We are joined to his death which took away our sins, and so also joined to his resurrection where we are given the new life of righteousness. So, when pressed, do we run to Jesus and his sacrifice for us, do we rely on the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit, or do we turn back to our old way of living according to the flesh? Repentance is a turning away from the old way – the way of sin and death. And a turning to Christ and his work on our behalf.
Jesus calls it unrighteous mammon. Not that things themselves are wicked. An object is neither sinful nor righteous. It is an object. A hammer, a jar, a bit of food. It is the purpose we put it toward that makes it righteous or wicked.
Jesus says we should store up treasures in heaven. So the admonition today is to go after the things of God. No longer desire the rewards of this world, but seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. This the Pharisees thought they were doing. The people looked to them and said, “Who is more godly than they are?” But they were after the things of this world: Their own reputations, their own pleasure and comfort. They wanted everyone to know how righteous they were. They took great pains to appear righteous to others. So much so that they lost sight of the most important thing: Salvation is of the Lord, not of us. Their treasure was their own works, their own efforts. And so they cared more about the outward appearance than the condition of the heart. They cared more about the treasures of this world than the heavenly treasure which Jesus offers by his death and resurrection.
They looked to how they were doing in this world, rather than to the promises of God and to his word. That’s where we must set our hearts and our minds. On the things of God. Scripture tells us the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The wisdom of this world is not true wisdom at all. It is a chasing after the wind.
Through the preaching of the Gospel and the work of the Spirit, our hearts have been made new in Christ Jesus. We know that there is an eternal dwelling for us, an everlasting home prepared by our Lord Jesus himself. The things of this world are short-term. We are ever on guard so that we don’t lose sight of the goal amid all the daily concerns, cares, trials of this world, that we don’t get so distracted and caught up in the moment that we lose sight of eternal things.
This was the problem of the Pharisees. They had a worldly wisdom. They had a goal and they sought it out. But their goal was their own enrichment in the world. Jesus tells us to seek after him instead of worldly things. If that is our treasure, our goal, then we will leave behind the things of this world. We will leave behind the pattern of living for worldly things, and seek after the wisdom that comes down from above. We will seek the simple truths of God’s word – Law (as we learn in the ten commandments) And Gospel, as we confess in the creed and as we receive it through preaching, absolution, and also through the sacraments as God’s chosen means to bring us salvation.
Those are the true riches which we have been given in Christ. Let us seek after them each day, humbly coming before the throne of God, seeking his mercy, receiving from our Lord Jesus the promised salvation in his church. Let us fix our eyes on heavenly things. Let us seek an eternal dwelling. In Jesus Name, and for his sake.