The Ninth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf Preus| July 20, 2008| 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.”
In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther asks and answers this question, in his comments on the First Commandment:
What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the whole heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for these two belong together, faith and God. That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.
What do you think is the most popular god around? What do people trust? In what do they take refuge? What do they treasure in their hearts? What do they desire above all other things? Of the innumerable idols in which people put their confidence, which one is number one?
Money! Money is a powerful god. And he’s cruel. He never provides the satisfaction he promises. St. Paul writes to Timothy:
And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:8-10)
Nevertheless, this cruel and implacable god has the most devoted followers! He promises everything but nothing he gives will last. Jesus gives this god the name: “Mammon.”
Mammon is an Aramaic word. Aramaic was Jesus’ native language. Mammon is usually translated money, but when Jesus uses this word it means more than just money as a medium of exchange. It refers to money as something that is cherished and loved. The unfaithful steward in Jesus’ parable worshipped Mammon. It was his god. And he was quite devoted to his god. He feared losing Mammon. He loved Mammon. He trusted in Mammon above all things.
Mammon doesn’t care how you treat your neighbor. While the unjust steward loved money for himself he showed little concern for his boss’s money. What did he care about his boss? So he was about to be fired for wasting his boss’s money. What to do?
His boss was a merciful man and didn’t simply fire him outright. He gave him time to get his things in order. Well, he sure did that! Since he had a short time in which he still represented his boss he quickly went to his boss’s debtors and significantly reduced their debt. He took advantage of the boss’s good nature. He knew the boss wouldn’t want to renege on deals his own steward had made. After all, a steward represents the boss and acts on his authority. So this man, after wasting his boss’s goods, further cheats his boss by using his money to bribe his way into the homes of valuable clients.
He looks out for himself. He uses people. He uses people in service to his god. Mammon demands this. He demands that you look to others for what you can gain from them. You first determine what your own self-interest is. Then you figure out how others can promote it. All personal relationships are valued in proportion to how they advance your own financial wellbeing. As you look out for number one, Mammon approves. But he is never satisfied and neither are those who serve him.
One thing needful! This one treasure, teach me Savior, to esteem;
Other things may promise pleasure, but are never what they seem;
They prove to be burdens that vex us and chafe us,
And true lasting happiness never vouchsafe us;
This one precious treasure, that all else exceeds,
Gives joy above measure and fills all our needs.
Mammon is a liar. But his followers refuse to reckon with that fact. They can see it clearly enough but they choose to deny what they see because they love Mammon too much to stop serving him. They see what Mammon does. They see how he steals affections and promises a joy that inflicts emptiness and pain. They see, but they refuse to see.
And in the end, Mammon leaves you dead in the grave: utterly poor, with no possessions, no honor, no home, and no hope.
And how many people worship this false god! The steward who wasted and cheated and manipulated his way to financial security was a very clever fellow in his own way. The boss commended him on his shrewdness, if not his honesty. While his religion gave him nothing to hope for beyond the grave, he was certainly devoted to it while he was alive.
Our Lord Jesus encourages us to follow the example of those who worship Mammon. No, he’s not telling us to worship Mammon. Mammon is a false god whose wealth passes away into nothingness. Jesus is telling us to use our money in service to the true God, not in service to itself. But notice how Jesus says it. He says: “Make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.” The friends of the unfaithful steward in our Lord’s parable were not true friends. He used them for his own benefit. Jesus is not talking about giving to those who can give back. He’s talking about giving to those who can do nothing in return.
Some have falsely concluded that Jesus is saying here that we can purchase heaven by giving to the poor here on earth. Nothing could be further from his meaning. Those who worship money use people to gain more money. Those who worship the true God use money to help people. They give as they have received. They don’t give to others to gain for themselves. They give to others because God has given to them.
Jesus says, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom.” (Luke 6:38) The god of Mammon tells you to take for yourself and he leaves you broke. The God who sent us his Son tells you to give to others and he makes you rich. You don’t lose what you have by giving it away.
We have nothing to earn by doing good. That’s what makes us free to do good. Jesus talks about making friends for ourselves by unrighteous mammon. What is used in service to a false god in fact belongs to God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth. He is our Father. For the sake of his dear Son he has made us his own children. The eternal Son of the Father, by whom all things were made, joined his own creation. He was born of the Virgin Mary. He became our brother. He gave of himself throughout his holy life. He gave without expecting anything in return. And he never stopped giving. He gave himself up for all sinners on the cross. There was a gift given unparalleled in the history of world. He gave his own innocence as the offering to God of all humanity. In his innocence he bore the sin of the world. He suffered for every single greedy, self-centered, idolatrous, money loving narcissist in the whole world. He suffered for everyone.
He is the world’s Redeemer. He is your Redeemer. A redeemer not only pays what you owe. He sets you free. You don’t need to use others to get what you need. Christ gives us all we need. He gives us present peace with God. He gives us freedom from judgment. He gives us the forgiveness of all our sins. He gives us deliverance from every kind of evil. He gives us eternal life. The world values money and the things that money will buy. But this world and everything in it belongs to our Father in heaven. When he gave us his own Son he gave us the world as well.
So we use material things for eternal purposes. When we show generosity to our brothers and sisters in need we show it to God. He is the one who looks after our interest. Christians will welcome Christians into heaven. The mercy God shows us here on earth shines brighter than the mercy we show. But in his great condescension, our Father in heaven accepts our merciful deeds. He cherishes them just as he cherishes us. Every gift we give in Jesus’ name is more valuable than any amount of money can measure. God treasures our gifts for the sake of his gift of his dear Son. His holy, precious blood has purchased us. The mercy we show as Christians testifies to Christ. This is why God loves what we Christians do to help one another in need. He loves his only begotten Son. Amen