Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20,c) September 18, 2022
[Jesus] also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. 10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” 14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
Jesus hates debt. He wants no debtors.
So he releases debt—your debt, my debt, our neighbor’s debt, the debt of the world. He releases debt with no rhyme or reason, no logic, ridiculously to the eyes of our world.
If Jesus’ releasing of debt, his forgiveness of our sin, made sense, if it were rational, logical, then it would not be grace. Rationality, logic, rhyme and reason, fairness, is of the Law.
The man with the wealth is mad. You would be, too, if you had a manager wasting your possessions.
We’re not told how he’s been wasting. Jesus had just told the Parable of the Prodigal Son, so maybe we think of things such as drunkenness, laziness, parties, and prostitutes. This all comes under the language of the Law. It’s in the comfortable domain of the wisdom of our world.
The sinner will never have good news from the Law.
But the man with the wealth is mad. His possessions are being wasted. There will be an accounting. Jesus said,
“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’”
The Lord doesn’t put up with wasting.
That seems a simple enough lesson—so take the gifts and talents you have from the Lord, wake up each morning thankful for them and looking how you can enjoy using them for the benefit of your family and neighbor, don’t waste them, and go to bed each night thankful for another day.
Simple enough. Use your master’s possessions well. And your master will commend you for not wasting.
It a great motivational speech. But it’s all Law. It’s the Commandments. It’s loving God and loving your neighbor: Law.
Try to do it, and it will kill you. You can always intend to do it—but intention is not the same as doing, and that too will kill you. It’s horseshoes and hand grenades. Either you keep the Law fully, or you keep it not at all, for God is a holy God, and holy doesn’t stop.
So, we are wasters. Miserly managers who have not managed his wealth at all. What a waste.
But that’s not why Jesus is telling this parable.
If this were a parable about how we must be good managers and not waste any of the time God gives us, or the talents God gives us, or the opportunities God gives us, then the parable could’ve ended with the wasteful manager turning around his life, committing himself to his Lord, practicing good management and good life skills, and, when he started doing all that, the rich man would commend him for being a good servant.
The rich man does commend him. But not for any of that. When the servant had been caught out at being a waster, what did he then do that had the rich man commend him? Luke 16:5:
Summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.
The wasteful manager started releasing debts.
But the debts belonged to the rich man! If the rich man was going to hold the manager accountable when he was being a waster, how much more will he hold him accountable for releasing debts that belonged to the rich man?
It’s the Gospel.
Accountability is language of the Law.
Accountability and measurements, examinations and reminders of when you have fallen short, this is all language of the Law. And the Law will always find out the waster, and the accountability comes down like a hammer. The Law counts things up, measures, and you are found short.
But Jesus doesn’t tell parables in order to put people under the Law. He tells parables to people who are under the Law—for we all are in our sinful flesh—in order to reveal to us the mystery of his Gospel.
Jesus said his parables are a speaking of the mystery of the kingdom of God [Mark 4:11]. The Apostle Paul tells us that the mystery of God is the preaching of Jesus Christ crucified [Romans 16:25]. If we hear a parable in a way that it makes sense without Christ crucified for the justification of the sinner, then we are hearing the parable not as the mystery of the cross, but as a moral teaching, and that is nothing more than Law.
But if a parable has its way with us, we hear it first for Law, which is no mystery, then we hear it for the mystery of Christ crucified, for the release of debts, for the justification of the sinner, for the forgiveness of all sins—and that’s why Jesus, the teller of the parables, came: for the justification of the sinner.
And the mystery of the Gospel is this: Debts released; sins forgiven.
That’s when the rich man commends the wasteful manager: when he’s releasing debts—releasing debts ridiculously, no rhyme or reason—releasing the debt of 50 measures of oil here, of 20 measures of wheat there, releasing debts to each debtor, one-by-one, freely handing out the forgiveness of debt like he didn’t even care, as if it weren’t his wealth he was handing out anyway, but someone else’s.
And the rich man, whose wealth it was, commended him! He’s mad at the manager when he’s wasting his wealth, but he commends that same manager when he’s giving his wealth out freely.
With the Gospel, the parable makes sense. With Jesus, it’s not finally about accountability, measuring, figuring out who’s efficient—it’s not finally about the Law. We are all nothing but debtors on that account, anyway.
Jesus wants no debtors.
With Jesus, it’s always about the Gospel. About releasing debt, forgiving sins, freely handing out the wealth of forgiveness like we don’t even care, as if it’s not our wealth, our forgiveness, we’re handing out anyway, but someone else’s.
Because it is.
Jesus is the wise manager. He’s not the wise manager because he wisely keeps the Law perfectly. He does do that. He has fulfilled the whole Law. In his life of obedience and in his death for the penalty of the Law that belonged to us, Jesus has fully and perfectly kept the whole Law. But that’s not what makes him the wise manager.
He’s the wise manager because … he releases debts.
He looks at those who have sinned against his Father and says to us, Your debt: released. Go in peace. You are free.
He releases debts, ridiculously, with no rhyme or reason, releasing the debt of that sinner over there, of this one over here, of you, of me, releasing debts and holding no one in debt to the Law, because … he wants every sinner to be free, no sinner to be chasing obedience like a bankrupt man trying to figure out how to pay his mortgage; he wants every sinner cleansed in Baptism and reconciled to his Father, for there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all. [1 Timothy 2:6]
And when we’re releasing debts, when we’re forgiving the sins of those who have sinned against us, we’re doing nothing but handing out the wealth of Jesus.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.