The Ninth Sunday after Trinity
August 17, 2014
“You Can’t Take It With You”
St. Luke 16:1-9
"There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. So he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.' Then the steward said within himself, 'What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.' So he called every one of his master's debtors to him, and said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' And he said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' So 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?' So he said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.' So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home." St. Luke 16:1-9
In this parable our Lord Jesus talks to us about money and heaven. Many people ignore heaven and trust in their money instead. They rely on it. They serve it. It is their god. They use their god to secure for them the favor of important people. He can guarantee a comfortable life. If you serve him well you can become and remain financially secure. People trust in money. Then they die. They can’t take their money with them. Solomon’s wisdom is timeless. He writes:
There is a severe evil which I have seen under the sun:
Riches kept for their owner to his hurt.
But those riches perish through misfortune;
When he begets a son, there is nothing in his hand.
As he came from his mother’s womb, naked shall he return,
To go as he came;
And he shall take nothing from his labor
Which he may carry away in his hand. Ecclesiastes 5:13-15
We are all headed for the grave and we can’t take our money with us. This is the fatal flaw in the religion of the materialists – those who think that the only things that exist are things they can see, hear, taste, smell, and feel. They imagine that true wealth is measured in material abundance. They worship money – what Jesus in our text calls mammon. But money and all it can buy perishes with this world. To worship money is to worship what is dying and fading away.
When Jesus tells this story about the clever steward who feathered his own nest with his master’s money he is not commending the man’s dishonesty or endorsing his greed. But he does commend him for his shrewdness. He’s quite clever. He finds himself in trouble for wasting his master’s goods. Knowing he will soon lose his income he faces reality with cool rationality. He’s physically incapable of digging ditches and he’s too proud to beg. But he has authority over his master’s property for a short time. He uses that time to his own advantage by buying the favor of his master’s debtors. He undercharges them and leaves his master holding the bag. The master could not go back on the deals his steward made without embarrassing himself and his debtors. Better to let matters go and be rid of the steward who had cost him so much money.
Jesus says, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.” Those who worship money handle it better than those who don’t. But it shouldn’t be that way. Jesus goes on:
And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.
This is our Father’s world and his only begotten Son tells us to learn from the unbelievers how to use its bounty. Don’t misunderstand. Jesus isn’t saying that we should imitate the godless in their sins. He is saying that we can learn something about money from those who live in service to it. Those who are clever will use money to benefit other people. The fellow in our story illustrates this. He benefited others so that they could benefit him. Put simply, he bribed them. He paid them for their favor. He enriched them with money he stole from his master and so made them indebted to him instead of his master. Smart guy! Unscrupulous, immoral, self-serving – yes, he was all these things – but he was smart!
Be smart. But don’t make friends whose hospitality is fleeting and who can help you only for the things that will perish with this world. Make friends with whom you can enjoy the treasures of heaven. Use whatever material gifts you have received from God to promote the extension of his kingdom in this world. Jesus says, “Make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon.” Don’t buy anyone’s favor. Instead give God’s favor away freely, even as you have freely received it. Give the gospel and give your money – what for the unbelievers is unrighteous mammon – to promote the proclamation of the gospel. The gospel reveals the favor of God that is purchased, not with any amount of money, but with the blood of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is the best way to make friends. There is a cost to the gospel, but we don’t pay it. Christ paid it. Understand what is for sale and what is not. Men buy and sell favor for money. But their favor is short lived. Memories are short. Loyalties are fleeting. But the bond of Christian fellowship that God establishes in Holy Baptism is as solid as God’s faithfulness. It is grounded in our redemption by Christ himself. St. Peter writes:
. . . you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 1 Peter 1:18-19
The price of our redemption was the holy precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of Jesus. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Apart from him we have no hope in this world or the next. We might as well live for what money can buy. If not for the obedience of Jesus unto his death on the cross where he abolished death by bearing all our sin, we would all be facing eternal death. But Christ faced death for us. In his own body he fought the death that held the whole human race captive, and by means of his perfect obedience and suffering, he won the battle. The wages of sin is death, the Bible says, and Jesus paid its wages with his own death on the cross so that he could give us that eternal life in which we hope.
What is money to us? It’s not worthless. Since we are redeemed – purchased by Christ from that futile and meaningless life headed toward ruin – all that we are and have has been sanctified. It has been set apart by God for a holy purpose, a purpose chosen by God himself. We pray for this purpose whenever we pray, “Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” God’s name is hallowed when Christ is proclaimed as the Redeemer of the world. His kingdom of grace comes when he gives his Holy Spirit in the preaching of his word and the administration of his holy sacraments. His good and gracious will to save sinners from their sins is done whenever the gospel has free course. We pray the Lord’s Prayer and consider his words, “Make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.”
We will fail. Our bodies will give out. Our eyes won’t see, our ears won’t hear, our brain will stop functioning, and we will breathe our final breath from these dying bodies. As St. Paul says: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” When we put off these dying bodies the angels will come to take our souls to heaven. There we will be welcomed by Jesus and all the saints who have gone before. We will be reunited with Christian loved ones who have gone before us. We will join them and all the saints to wait for the resurrection at the last day when God will give us immortal and glorified bodies that will live forever. That will be a time of unparalleled joy. Within that pure and holy joy will be the knowledge that God used us to bring the gospel to others who by the same gospel we believed received the same joys in heaven. Daniel writes about that Day:
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,
Some to everlasting life,
Some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Those who are wise shall shine
Like the brightness of the firmament,
And those who turn many to righteousness
Like the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:2-3)
Money makes a poor god. In the end, he crushes you. Everything in which you trusted is gone. When you know God in Christ you have the treasures of heaven and your relationship to money has been reversed. Instead of money controlling you, you control it. Instead of it driving you into its service, you put it into your service. You cannot buy anything from God because isn’t in the business of selling. He’s in the business of giving. What we receive freely we give freely and what we give to support the preaching of the gospel is an investment in treasures that cannot be stolen, lost, or destroyed.
When God sets our affections on things above where Christ is seated at his right hand he lifts us up out of the power of mammon and makes us wealthy with riches that money cannot buy. It is true that covetousness and greed will vie for our loyalty. But it is also true that we belong to Jesus our priceless treasure.
What is all this life possesses?
But a hand full of sand
That the heart distresses.
Noble gifts that pall me never
Christ, our Lord, will accord
To His saints forever.
Lord, my Shepherd, take me to Thee.
Thou art mine; I was Thine
Even ere I knew Thee.
I am Thine, for Thou hast bought me;
Lost I stood, but Thy blood
Free salvation bought me.
Thou art mine; I love and own Thee.
Light of joy, ne’er shall I
From my heart dethrone Thee.
Savior, let me soon behold Thee
Face to face—may Thy grace
Evermore enfold me!