All Saints, Cochrane

Almighty God, you have created the heavens and the earth, and ourselves in your image.
Teach us to discern your hand in all your works and to serve you with reverence and thanksgiving; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the [wealth] of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.

May the words of my lips, and the thoughts and meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Introduction

We’ve been hearing all kinds of parables from the Gospel of S. Luke the past few months. These parables give us fascinating insights into God and his very nature. Some parables, however, can be challenging or confusing to understand.

Our Gospel reading today, the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, has been called by Fr. Robert Capon the difficult of the parables of Jesus.[1] There are two reasons you can tell this to be true. First, scholars can’t decide what to call this parable. Sometimes it’s the unjust manager, the shrewd, clever, or unrighteous manager. They can’t decide what to call it because they aren’t in agreement on what it means. Second, either it’s a complete coincidence or, in any place where it’s possible, curates, deacons, and other preachers have been assigned by their priest to preach this Sunday so they don’t have to.

This passage is challenging, but from it we gain insights into what it means to be a disciple and follower of an unexpectedly generous God.

The Parable and its Context

What makes this parable challenging? The manager is fired by his wealthy master for improperly managing his master’s wealth.[2] The manager, fearing future destitution,[3] comes up with a plan so that when he is fired, he will be welcomed into a new position.[4] His plan is simple: he calls in debtors of his master, and has reduces their debts so they will like him.[5] The challenge in this parable comes when the manager is congratulated by his master at this point[6] rather than being condemned for cheating the master out of more money.

Exploring this passage’s place in the Gospel according to S. Luke will help to further understand it. Our parable comes in the context of Jesus setting his face on Jerusalem.[7] In other words, Jesus is preparing for his crucifixion and, on this journey to his death and resurrection, is giving final instructions to his disciples.

Many of these teachings begin to focus in more on salvation that is to come through his death and resurrection. The passages prior include the parable of the lost sheep,[8] the parable of the lost coin,[9] and the parable of the prodigal son.[10] These are parables of grace and forgiveness.

It is followed by the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.[11] Now next week, normally we would hear the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, however next week we will be celebrating the Feast of S. Michael and All Angels, and so we’ll have different readings. This parable is important for understanding today’s parable, so we’ll quickly review it.

There is a Rich Man who lives well, all the while ignoring the beggar Lazarus who sits near the front door of the Rich Man’s home. Both die, and the Rich Man is chastised for having hoarded his wealth while ignoring the beggar Lazarus and otherwise planning for his own eternal future.

Securing your Future

There are various connections between all of these parables. They ultimately concern God’s love for humanity, grace, and forgiveness. The strongest link comes between the Dishonest Manager and the Rich Man and Lazarus, which both relate to spending (or not) wealth to secure your future.

As one commentator puts it, these are parables about, “prudential avoidance of judgment by someone who really needs forgiveness.”[12] In today’s parable the manager uses his master’s wealth to secure his own future, whereas the Rich Man does not use wealth to secure his future.

Now, you can’t buy your way into heaven. That isn’t at all what this passage says. You can, in a sense, spend your way into heaven by using the grace of Christ. Not on your merits, but on his merits, you are adopted into Christ’s relationship with the Father.

The parable concludes with Jesus saying, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?”[13]

This can be taken literally, but “true riches” implies a more important meaning, the grace of God and our future with him. That dishonest wealth is the grace offered to us in Christ. Grace which we receive through no act of our own righteousness. It is an act of God’s generosity.

Grace for Today

We are the unrighteous stewards. In this parable, God is the master. God has given us creation, ourselves, our neighbours and entrusted it into our care.[14] Yet we have not been righteous, we have been unrighteous and dishonest. We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves. God is going to call us to account for the stewardship of our lives. In his generosity and mercy, he offers us more “unrighteous wealth,” the grace of Christ’s saving death and resurrection, which we can use to secure our eternal place, and eternal riches.

This is not about something we can do now to buy our way out of hell. The Rich Man could have spent all of his money and it wouldn’t have mattered: what matters is rightly ordered love and the grace of God which we are given an opportunity to spend.

Conclusion

The grace of God is what allows us to turn our hearts to him. He gives us the grace to set aside all our sins, all our mistakes, all of our greed, all of the pain we have caused ourselves, others, and our God.

When God is placed first in our lives, it’s easy to accept his offered grace. It’s easy to ask for forgiveness, to think of others before ourselves and be generous. It’s easy to maintain our love for God, and through his grace to love all he loves as well.

Give thanks to God. We are unrighteous stewards of creation, of this world and of ourselves. Jesus tells us, though, we aren’t alone. We need not stand condemned.

Christ himself became grace for us: grace for redemption from sins, and to live a life as God intends for us. Eternal life, with him. That grace is offered first in baptism, and then continually through God’s gift. Whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we’re praying for God’s grace to persevere in his ways. We’re praying to live through that unrighteous wealth of God which is offered freely to us through his generosity.

We are unrighteous stewards, but thanks be to God, he is not only righteous, but generous.

[1] Capon, 302.

[2] S. Luke xvi. 1

[3] S. Luke xvi. 3

[4] S. Luke xvi. 4

[5] S. Luke xvi. 5-7

[6] S. Luke xvi. 8

[7] S. Luke ix. 51

[8] S. Luke xv. 1-7

[9] S. Luke xv. 8-10

[10] S. Luke xv. 11-32

[11] Luke xvi. 19-31

[12] Brazos Commentary, 199.

[13] S. Luke xvi. 10, 11

[14] Genesis i. 28

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