You should know first off, in the spirit of community which is so important to us Lutherans, that the pastors of the greater Kansas city area are not in total agreement as to how to interpret today’s parable. If you have friends in other congregations, you might hear from them that the sermon they heard today had nothing to do with the point that I will make. But luckily for you all, you worship at First Lutheran where the pastor is always right. That being said, the work of many biblical scholars is available online, and I encourage you to browse through what they have said about the beginning of Luke chapter 16 for an enlightening distraction and for a corrective to the limitations of my viewpoint.
Just two weeks ago we had a text that invited us to consider what it means to be truly savvy and to recognize who is truly in charge and, in the end, what matters. Today our subject is shrewdness, and a dishonest manager who is commended for acting so. To be shrewd is to have or show sharp powers of judgment, to be astute, sharp witted, smart, acute, canny, perceptive.
I did something the opposite of those things yesterday; I went to the Kansas State Fair. I promised the kids that our moving here to Kansas City would not mean that we would forever miss out on the fair, which before we could walk to from our house in Hutchinson, and I meant to make good on my promise. Besides that, we had the further errand of cleaning out a storage unit full of our belongings from Hutchinson and bringing them to a storage unit up here.
In the spirit of trying to be shrewd, I had said to Cheryl, if we haven’t needed these things in a year now, maybe we should get rid of it. (By the way. it has been a year that we have been here. It’s hard to believe it was September 20th of last year that we had our meet and greet. Happy anniversary, church. I didn’t get you anything, but I wrote you this sermon.) If we haven’t needed it in a year, maybe we don’t need it all, I said, not remembering much about what exactly had been placed in the storage unit in the flurry of activity involved in the moving process. But when I pulled up the door of that unit in Hutchinson to see the contents, it was clear to me what method of distinction had been made when figuring out what stuff to put in storage and what to bring with us to Kansas City, because it was all my stuff. That I had forgotten about having. My wife is a shrewd mover.
We completed our errand and made it to the state fair. Which, if you have never been, involves pushing your way through crowds in the blazing sun in a 300-acre circle while constantly throwing your money at people. It is a sometimes-difficult situation for us fathers and mothers who with all of our hearts want our children to have the best time they can, but who also are called to be stewards of limited resources.
Being sort of a people person, it’s fun for me to look at people and try to guess what they are thinking. Looking at the other fathers of young children at the fair, I sensed that they might have been thinking some of the same things I was.
“This stuffed animal would cost a dollar and a half on Amazon.”
“I could get a case of better ice cream than this for a quarter of the price.”
“If that carny doesn’t get my kid on this ride and off of it next I’m going to completely lose it.”
You see that sort of thing on a lot of faces, and you also see a lot of happy children, including your own. And you know that though handing yourself over to this situation is not the shrewdest, wisest, or best use of resources in one sense, in the bigger picture, it sort of is.
The parable of the wicked steward, or dishonest manager, asks us to consider a big picture. When he is summoned, he immediately begins to make decisions about his future. He does not make any effort to fight the charges that he has squandered his master’s property, apparently because he has been squandering it and he knows it. But he realizes that his time is up; and so with the time and resources he has left, he makes the best decision that he can as to what to do. While he is still the steward, he uses his authority to make friends. He lowers the debts owed his master though he knows that is not in his master’s best interest but his own. And the surprise is, that for this behavior, the manager is commended by the rich man and not punished, precisely because he has demonstrated shrewdness. And perhaps because the rich man is rich because he recognizes shrewdness when he sees it, and what the manager did was what he would have done, were he in the same circumstance.
How do we locate ourselves in this situation? We, like the shrewd manager, have been put in charge of things that do not belong to us. That is, everything we have. We do not own the earth. We do not own our belongings. We have been blessed for a time to take care of things for the God who made all things.
The whole bible begins with this idea as we heard at Wednesday night sanctuary, as God placed Adam in the garden to tend it and to keep it. As a man, I can make things, but am always making them out of something that God has made: a chair built out of wood that God has provided, a Church built out of stone that God has provided. I can make things, but only God can make ex nihilo, as the ancients would say. Only God can make out of nothing. As people who believe in a creating God, we recognize that nothing truly belongs to us but it belongs to God who alone makes out of nothing.
Secondly, we are like the dishonest manager in that we have a limited amount of time. We will not always be the stewards we are today. The things we have will pass on to other people. And so there is a sense of urgency that we be faithful with what we have while we have the chance.
But thirdly, and perhaps most to the point that Jesus is making, if even a dishonest manager can have the forethought to look to the future when it comes to deciding on how he will exercise his stewardship, cannot we the children of the light, who see things by the light of God, do likewise? If even a dishonest manager can decide to bless others with what he is able to do, even if for a selfish reason, cannot we who labor not only for ourselves but for God and for the neighbor, do so with as least as much shrewdness?
You cannot serve God and wealth, Jesus says to conclude this parable, and that perhaps helps us to find his meaning better than anything. It helps us to connect this teaching with a teaching that is also found in the sermon on the mount when Jesus says, do not lay up for yourselves treasures on the earth where moth and rust corrupts and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, for where your treasure is there your heart will be also.
If even a dishonest manager can give away things instead of cling to them because he sees the big picture for his situation, how much more should we who have been blessed to see the biggest picture of them all, and glimpse God our maker and our role as God’s stewards, how much more should we not be motivated to give away things instead of cling to them? To see that relationship with God and our friends in God—in other words, everyone and especially those in need—is more important than anything else, and there is no sum that can compete with those things. No slave can serve two masters, and so we chose not to work for wealth as if it were our God, but to find ourselves as God’s stewards, and find in that role all the riches we will ever need.
May God give us the vision to see the precious value of blessing others in our lives, since our life is about giving away rather than storing up. May God make us as forgiving and generous as a crooked manager and may we find our highest joy therein. Amen.