Trinity 9 Luke 16:1-9 August 21, 2011
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Is the word steward really so medieval, so confounding to our ears? Perhaps, it is. The ESV translates the word as “manager.” That sounds to me like someone who works at McDonald's or the Gap.
You remember, of course, that the parable from today's Gospel is traditionally called the unjust steward. A steward in the ancient world had a great deal more authority than a manager of local bank. He was like the regent, ruling in the place of the king. Ambassador is not strong enough either. I suppose he was like a modern day personal assistant or vice-president. But to my thinking the best modern analogy is XO, that is, executive officer. He was the guy that ran things for his lord, in his lord's stead. He spoke with the lord's own authority.
The XO is the second in command in a military organization, and in command when the commander isn't around. He also has the particular duties, day to day, of seeing to food, supplies, transportation, and planning. He is kind of an officer version of the first sergeant.
That the military maintains such a command structure, even when the world no longer has stewards, is probably tied to the fact that the military still operates within a rigid hierarchy and is not structured for equality but efficiency.
This is important because the lord in the parable will and must honor the deals that the steward makes. The steward's injustice in forgiving debt, in giving away his lord's kingdom, will not be taken back. If the steward says, “Take your bill and write fifty,” then it is fifty even if it is cheating. The lord has been cheated, to be sure, but he has to honor the contract because the steward has authority, the power of attorney.
So far, so good. The master might do that simply out of honor or to uphold the law, out of fear of punishment. But the master here commends the steward for what he has done. That is the surprise. God is not like us. No earthly masters desires their stewards give away their kingdoms. But this master wants to forgive debts. He wants to give away the kingdom. He was displeased before because the steward was wasting his possessions. How so? In our day-to-day lives, possessions are wasted by spending them frivolously, throwing good money after bad, not paying attention. But if giving away the master's possession for free pleases the master, then how were they wasted before? By keeping them, by earning interest and expanding them, by holding the debtors to their debts, by trying to make a profit.
This is good news for us. We have debts we can never repay. If we had to deal with a just steward, we would be damned. Another word for injustice here is mercy. Justice demands punishment. Mercy withholds punishment that is deserved.
The parable should be shocking. Jesus means it to be. Because our vanity is forever thinking God is like us, that He gets us, that we get Him, that we have some special understanding or relationship. But we are small and petty and incapable of separating temptation from sin, of ever putting ourselves all the way off, we can't and don't love our neighbors as ourselves but we most surely love ourselves. The part of us that is shocked at God's mercy, at His injustice, is the part that is awake, that notices this isn't right, we don't deserve this.
But the Lord is mercy. He is goodness. He is love. He is faith. He is hope. He is justice. He is wisdom. So He can and is tempted in the wilderness without any desire for that which God has not given. We can't even imagine that. We are too tainted, too weak. We sin with every breath, every thought is obsessed with self. He is punished, unjustly, for sins He did not commit, and yet He never grows in the least bit bitter or holds any grudge or craves any of the credit He is due. He is modest, humble, hard-working, serving. He gives His life as a ransom, to buy back those who don't love Him, who don't appreciate it, who didn't even want it, like a steward forgiving debts.
He is like a cattle farmer who refuses to slaughter cattle for meat or profit, who just loves cattle. He lets them grow fat and old in his fields and gives Himself to be their food. He is like a business owner who pays people for not working, for not even coming to work, and who gives them credit for His success. He is like a policeman who gives his inheritance to the criminals that killed his family. He is like a rock star who gives away all his money and asks you for your autograph.
He is like a steward who gives away the kingdom, who forgives debts and sins, who washes clean the filthy to make them His own; like a vine that produces good fruit and sticks it onto dead branches that they wouldn't be torn out; like a grain of wheat that has fallen dead to the earth and risen again to bear a harvest a hundredfold that you would eat and be satisfied by eating Him. He said, “You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the blood of every creature is its life.” and then He gives you His life, the life of God, in His Blood to drink, that you would obtain His life. And by this injustice He declares you just.
This unjust steward is just what we need, the only type we would take, the only hope we have, and His injustice is grace, mercy, the love of God in Christ Jesus, and it is most certainly good.
In + Jesus' Name. Amen.