The key to taking to heart what Jesus says in the parable of the dishonest manager is to hear what Jesus says before and after this parable. The familiar words of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son of Luke chapter fifteen precede it. Luke’s description of the Pharisees one verse after today’s Holy Gospel summarizes everything: The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.
The Pharisees loved money. Men who were stewards of God’s holy law, teachers of Israel, experts in the ways and means of our Lord, feared, loved, and trusted in another god who was not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Pharisees loved money. They loved prestige. They loved power. They wanted the best seat at the table and the people’s honor. The inconvenient truth is that Jesus is talking about them…and they know it.
Before you take a deep breath and think you are off the hook, apply the parable to yourself. Like the dishonest manager, you are wasting the possessions of the rich man. The Lord God has given you so much. He gives you more than you can handle, and then gives you even more without you asking. Not only does He give earthly possessions, He gives you the treasure of everlasting life in the completely sufficient sacrifice of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
What do you do with the treasure given you? How will you use it? Perhaps you think of the children’s song “This Little Light of Mine”. You were taught to let the Gospel light shine. You were taught neither to hide the light nor let Satan blow it out. You were taught to pass it on to someone who does not have this light. In a world that is increasingly hostile to the Gospel light given to you, you have done what this song taught you not to do.
You hide the light. If you let it shine, you will be shamed for being a disciple of Jesus. It’s better not to stand out in a world where sameness means anonymity. You let Satan blow it out. The Bible is impossible to read and understand. The hour you spend here in God’s house is your only exposure to Scripture because the pastor is trained and paid to tell you what’s in the book. Even though you don’t have to take his word for it, you’ll do so because God’s Word is hard and he makes it easy.
While you hide the little light, you let your street smarts shine. You are too good for your own good stewarding earthly treasure. You’ve saved your share and more. You’ve played the market with shrewd senses. You’ve made friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth by doing others a solid when you or they are in trouble like the dishonest manager in our Lord’s parable.
Knowing how to be shrewd with earthly wealth is a good gift given by a gracious God. Rare, though, are ones who are just as shrewd with the heavenly treasures. Whether you do well with your excess of abundance and share it with others, or whether you hoard it all for the rainy day that may never come, what do you do with the heavenly treasure of forgiveness and life in Jesus Christ? That’s what our Lord wants to teach the Pharisees today, but they don’t have ears to hear. Jesus tells them in verse 15: 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.
You and I plead guilty before God in the abomination department. The priceless treasure of the Good News of Jesus Christ is either wasted or squirreled away. We are afraid. We don’t want to be considered fools by the world. So we remain silent. We clutch the goodness of God with a tight fist and hang on to it for dear life.
Jesus did not cling to the Father’s goodness for dear life. He did not play a shell game with our salvation, asking us to find it while constantly hiding it under a different shell every time. Jesus Christ is the Father’s goodness in flesh and blood. He is the priceless treasure Who gives Himself up for your sake. Earthly possessions might buy you power and prestige this side of Paradise, but they will not buy your way out of sin, death, and hell. The blood of Jesus Christ alone is your payment for sin. His blood covers your sin. His blood cleanses you and declares you just, righteous, and holy before the Father’s eyes.
Our heavenly Father did not spare His most treasured possession. He put His Son to work for you. The treasure is yours for Christ’s sake. How do you use it? When you first receive something, you learn how it works. Take learning a new language. You learn the vocabulary. You learn how the vocabulary works. Pretty soon you are speaking a new language. Granted you won’t master the language overnight, but you have made a first step. The same can be said for learning a musical instrument, learning mathematics, or any new skill.
How are you shrewd with stewarding the gift of forgiveness of sins and everlasting life? Shrewd stewardship of heavenly treasure begins in staying connected to Jesus Christ and His gifts in Word and Sacrament. When you step away from learning a language, you begin to lose the ability to speak the language. You’ll have to start all over again with basic vocabulary and grammar. When you let go of the gift Jesus gives you in your baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, or in hearing the preached Word, you lose the language of faith. You lose the desire to learn more about the joy implanted in you in the Word.
Staying connected to Christ’s sacred gifts makes you more and more adept and unafraid to tell others about the hope given you by God in Jesus. The Chief Steward works in your life to be a shrewd steward of His forgiveness. Do not be afraid of the world’s reaction to heavenly treasure. The Lord will open hearts and minds when and where He wills. Even if you cannot preach like Saint Paul, you can put to use whatever you are able to further His heavenly kingdom on earth. When you fall short in stewardship, Jesus Christ never falls short in His love for you. Jesus Christ, friend of sinners, makes you His friend in His death and resurrection. He is faithful in much when you are faithful in little. Believe it for His sake.