Monday, August 3, 2015

The Sunday of the Unjust Steward (the Ninth Sunday after Trinity)

In this mornings parable the master of a large corporate farm fires his manager for bad dealings. The manager, now fired and afraid for his life goes to the master’s debtors one by one. He reduces their debts and frees them from what they rightfully owe.

The dishonest manager has stolen even more from the master. This is fraud and a felony and we should expect the master, the business owner, to be furious. He should press charges and seek some sort of restitution or wage garnishing on all those workers who slipped through his fingers. He should lawyer up and press chargers against this dishonest manager who squanders his money.

But strangely he doesn’t. The master when he finds out actually commends his dishonest manager for his shrewdness. And the master doesn’t go to the authorities to turn him or anyone in.

We make a big mistake with the parables when we try to make sense of them, as if somehow God is like us. Because actually the exact opposite is true. The parables, all of them, show us that God is not like us, he doesn’t think like us, he doesn’t act like us. And this parable is no different.

The pagan Romans in the first century, when they were trying to figure what this Christianity  was all about, used this parable as a way to disprove that the Gospels said anything correct about God. The Romans, since the time of Socrates and Aristotle and Alexander were obsessed with justice. They were obsessed with the law.

To them this parable showed that the Christian God commended dishonesty and even tolerated fraud. For the Romans who were obsessed with the law, and good order, this parable drove them crazy because it actually rewards trickery and stealing. This was intolerable and so this parable was used in their arsenal to ridicule and disprove the truthfulness of God’s message in the New Testament.

But this is what the parables do. They are not good evangelism stories, because they are quite repulsive to those outside of the faith and have a way of hiding Christ. This is why St. Paul would say in 1st Corinthians that Christ crucified is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the Greeks and Romans. And in a way, we can agree. If you’re the owner of your business and you’ve extended a line of credit to your customers and your recently hired employee sends word to all of them that they no longer owe you anything you too would be furious!

And so here comes the great scandal of the cross. God of course is the master. And a masterful trick has been played on him, and strangely he’s in on the deal. He sends forth his son. A very shrewd manager indeed. A manager who was put in charge of your enormous debt. He bore what you owe in his very body. He was whipped, spat upon, and cursed. He was nailed to a cross. Your doubts hung around his neck. He was penalized for your sins. He made payment that you couldn’t afford. He bled, he suffered, he died.

He said it is finished. Your debt, the devil, death itself is done for. He dealt shrewdly with your sins by lying in a grave, tricking the devil, and rising from the dead. He who owed nothing has paid everything…What a sham. What a glorious fraud. A divine trick.

The great boast of a Christian is that God is not fair. Repentant sinners don’t get what they deserve. And God actually commends you for taking advantage of situation.

As a Christian you are encouraged to take what doesn’t belong to you. Steal what’s not yours. Eat his body and drink his blood. It’s the will of God to give you a kingdom. Your debts are erased. You’re not in the red anymore, you’re not even in the black. You have a gigantic credit to your account – the very righteousness of God. An inheritance of heaven. You have the angels and saints as your friends. Friends who will receive you in eternal, heavenly dwellings.  

The grace of God is a radical thing. Marvelous and incomprehensible. By the blood of the cross we walk away scott free. A fascinating part of this parable is that the manager allows debtors to actually walk away with free oil and wheat. Can we have any doubt that this refers to the cleaning oil of holy baptism. And the wheat surely the Lord’s Supper. The bread from heaven.

The pagan Romans in the first century could not see the grace of God in this parable. Christ was hidden from them. But don’t you miss it. God is not an angry master coming to collect his debts. Jesus has made full payment. It was the son’s great joy to do this for you. It was always the plan since God promised Eve that the seed of her womb would crush the serpents head. There is nothing left to pay. Nothing left to do. Nothing to do but open your hands to receive eternal treasures and undeserved wealth.

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