The Ninth Sunday after Trinity – Historic Lectionary – Luke 16:1-9 – August 13, 2017
In the name of the Father of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
It’s always good for us to be challenged by the Word of God. This is not something we should try to avoid.
It isn’t a bad thing when we are confused, frustrated, or left in the pew scratching our heads in hearing the voice of Jesus.
It is in fact, always good, because what is really
poked at, prodded, pressured and driven to the point of frustration is your sense of reason, your logic, your thoughts on how things should make sense or how they should work out.
The underlying message in all of Holy Scripture, the point in all the parables of Jesus,
is to show you that God is not like you.
His thoughts are not your thoughts, His ways are not your ways. (Isaiah 55:8)
He doesn’t even care about all the same things that you obsess over and can’t stand to not think about.
The Lord is not like you. Even His foolishness is wiser than your wisdom. (1 Cor. 1:25)
So if you want to understand the parables, if you want to know who God is, then pay attention to the Words of Jesus which are the most confusing, don’t avoid them. Seek out the words which are the most frustrating and absurd, and there you will find the heart of God Himself.
Today in the parable of the unjust steward, that head-scratching-shock comes to us at the end.
With all bluntness, Jesus ends the parable by saying,
“[And] the master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” (Luke 16:8)
That makes no sense. And that’s exactly the point. Behold the heart of God Himself.
We’re always tempted here, to try and make the parables make sense, to see it in our own way, and here in Luke 16, we might be especially tempted to imagine the master’s praise like how we sometimes laugh at ourselves for being tricked, or how we congratulate someone for having the skills to ‘pull a fast one’ on us.
But that is not what master is doing.
His commendation is actually genuine. He isn’t saving face or laughing at his own mistakes,
He’s actually revealing that this is exactly how he wants his business to be run.
That He wants to be robbed of his wealth.
That He actually wants his kingdom to be managed by dishonesty, injustice, and unrighteousness.
In other words, the Lord wishes to be merciful.
That is the confusing shock that Jesus would give us today; that His mercy is beyond our imagination.
That mercy, true mercy, is found precisely in these things.
His mercy is dishonest, unjust, and unrighteous.
For true mercy does not actually tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
It does not deliver justice, it doesn’t give what is fair, it doesn’t do what is right, or what is fitting.
That is precisely what makes it true and divine mercy. And this is how the Lord wills for His kingdom to come.
Through the parable of the steward, Jesus is not just giving us a new and provocative definition of mercy, but He is ultimately showing us that the Lord’s mercy is not at all, our mercy.
We can’t even comprehend it, it is truly beyond our wildest imagination.
Our mercy, if anything, is like that of the steward, it’s not just imperfect, but it’s a disgruntled and frustrated kind of mercy, it’s a self-righteous and self-serving mercy.
Think about when you’ve bitten your tongue and stopped yourself from bringing up to your spouse or your neighbor something that’s annoyed or offended you.
At those moments, you are acting with mercy, so to speak. But it’s not the Lord’s kind of mercy. It’s a frustrated and tired sort. We bite our tongues and spare our children punishment more out of exhaustion than we do out of goodness.
And even at those times when you’re really convinced that you are being merciful, that you are the embodiment of grace and goodness, still your mercy is no better than that of the steward’s in the parable.
It is in these moments, a self-righteous mercy; something we do so that our neighbor would know the full extent of how good and gracious and kind we are.
The steward gives mercy so that he would be able to obtain friends with someone else’s wealth.
And even at our best, we are no different, we want our neighbor to see our goodness, and to thank us for it.
The Lord’s mercy is not our own, it’s His, and He is not like you.
He does not forgive out of frustration, or just because He has to.
He is not merciful so that we would make friends, or even make you believe.
He is the merciful master because that is His heart and passion. And it depends on nothing else.
His mercy is beyond your comprehension. His forgiveness is beyond your expectations.
And even though we don’t know what to expect, even though we can’t possibly imagine how God is this merciful, faith still, nonetheless, confesses it.
This is what steward believes. It is the knowledge, however little or incomplete it might be, that he has.
This is his shrewdness, it is what the master commends him for.
Namely, the steward knows something of the master’s heart, he knows that master wants to be merciful.
He doesn’t know how the master will be merciful, maybe he’ll fire him quietly, maybe he’ll be able to get another job, who knows, but what he places his trust in, what he is shrewd about, is that master will be merciful somehow.
And that shrewdness, or as we might say more clearly, that faith, dictates and determines everything that he does and everything that he expects to receive.
Knowing who the master is, changes everything.
Faith is shrewd. It is not just that we have faith in Christ, but faith in who Christ is.
Faith in what the heart of God has actually been revealed to be.
Who is Christ to His Church?
Is He just? Is He fair? Is He righteous? Is He moral?
How you answer that, matters. If you perceive that the Lord’s true heart is about morality, then you will expect and yearn for sermons that give you the 5 steps to your best life now, the 8 rules on how to become better people. It’ll change your expectations of the church, your expectations of yourself.
If the Lord’s heart is justice and fairness, then you will look at your possessions and say, this is what belongs to me, this is what is fair, this is what I have deserved.
Indeed the Lord is all of these things, He is justice, righteousness, and holiness.
But given to you, to His Church, to the ones He has come to save, He is explicitly mercy…and nothing else.
We would do well to think on this, and to hold it in front of our eyes at all times. The mercy of Christ is to be proclaimed, and proclaimed often, because by nature we don’t trust it, and we easily forget it.
How often do we ask for God’s forgiveness, thinking all the while that God’s mercy is simply how he puts up with us? How often do we confess our sins, feeling and thinking that the Lord is frustrated and tired, that sure, He’ll forgive us, but really next time, you better not do this again, next time, he’ll be even more tired. He’s disappointed, He’s exhausted.
The Lord’s mercy is not our mercy, He is not like us.
He wants to be robbed of his kingdom, for his grace to be taken by the unrighteous.
The Lord is merciful because of Christ.
He is robbed of his kingdom, for the kingdom has already been purchased in full.
He is dishonest in mercy because the Father has dealt honestly with the Son.
He is unrighteous in His gifts, because that righteousness has been nailed into hands and feet of Christ.
His forgiveness comes as the greatest injustice, because justice has been met perfectly in Jesus.
Psalm 85 is one of the most beautiful and profound pictures of the Crucifixion, though it’s not where we would normally go running to find the cross within the psalms.
Yet, in this parable today, with all that the Lord reveals about His mercy, that it is dishonest, unjust, and unrighteous; Psalm 85 becomes one of the most vivid and significant proclamations of what the cross has done.
Here the psalmist writes, “Truth and mercy meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.”
Truth, mercy, righteousness, and peace. These are all good things, and all things of God.
But they do not belong together by themselves.
If you want the truth, if you pray for that, outside of the crucified Christ, you will not be given mercy.
And if you cry out for righteousness, for receiving what is fitting, you will never be given peace.
Yet here, the very truth of God has been lifted up from the ground and planted upon the cross, and the righteousness of the Father wrath looks down from heaven and abandons the Son. It is justice, it is truth, it is fitting, it is right.
Yet here, in the mystery of mysteries, is the shrewdness of your faith, it is to see the cross through Christ.
And to see mercy and truth welded together in the body of Jesus. To see righteousness coming as peace in the blood which now covers you.
The Lord is mercy and that is the truth.
He is given to be taken, to be robbed of his Himself. In Christ, it is not dishonest, it is not unjust, it is His passion and love, and He does not grow tired of it, He is not exhausted, He is pleased and glad to give it.
So indeed, take and eat, the Peace of the Lord, in Christ, is with you always.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.