Sermon for Pentecost 15
September 22, 2019
Last Sunday we considered the lost sheep and the lost coin that were sought, found, and celebrated. Jesus reminds us that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than many others who do not need to repent. The last part of Luke 15 is the account of the Prodigal Son. Jesus demonstrates the joy in finding the lost Son as well as the amazing generosity of the Father. The Gospel today picks up where the Prodigal son leaves off. Jesus had been talking to the Pharisees and scribes who were grumbling against Jesus because He welcomed sinners and tax collectors. Jesus tells this parable to the disciples.
The dishonest manager was being relieved of his duties. The rich man who had hired him knew that he was wasting his possessions. He had squandered what was entrusted to him. The manager was in trouble as he faced an uncertain future. He would be without a job and income. He couldn’t do physical labor and there was no government safety net to carry him through the crisis. Since he was still in a position of authority for the owner, he decided he would suck up to his master’s debtors by drastically reducing the amount they owed. By endearing himself to them, it was hoped that they would be kind to him in the coming days when he was without a job or a place to stay. Of course those who owed his master a debt would be delighted to pay only a portion of what was owed.
There is a moment of crisis in this parable when the manager needs to make a decision. Notice how, in the parable, the narrative pauses for a moment. We move from action to reflection. The manager finds out he is going to be fired and, before he engages in action, he debates with himself what he should do (v. 3-4).
While most people will be unfamiliar with the business practices of first-century Palestine, I do believe they will be able to identify with this moment. In times of personal crisis, people retreat from action into contemplation. They need to figure out what to do.
What is even more interesting to me is how this pattern is familiar. It mirrors the parable Jesus has just told. The younger son, standing out in the field with the pigs, is another figure in crisis mode. Before he takes any action, he debates with himself what he should do (15:17-19).
The younger son, like the manager, has squandered riches (see the parallel between 15:13 and 16:1). In his case, his squandering brought about his poverty and, during a famine, no one offered to take him in. Left out in the field with the pigs, he tries to figure out what he can do and he gambles on the graciousness of his father. He will come to him, confess his sin, and asked to be treated like a hired servant, no longer a son. He gambles on the graciousness of his father.
In the case of the manager, his squandering has led to his being fired. He has not come to the realization of his error on his own (like the younger son). Instead, it has been thrust upon him. His squandering has come to the ears of the rich man and he is out. He, too, however, gambles on grace. He reduces the debts the clients owe the rich man trusting that the clients, for such grace, will offer him support when he is out of work.
The father does not even listen to the younger son’s confession. He takes him back, not as a servant but as a son and throws him a feast. The manager finds the welcome he sought, but not from the people he expected. We are never told what the clients say of the manager, but we are told the rich man was impressed by the manager’s shrewdness and commends him for it.
What does this have to say to us, today?
First, it encourages us in daily repentance. When you think about it, “come to Jesus” moments are not that frequent in life. A divorce, a death, bottoming out because of alcohol or drug abuse, these could be “come to Jesus” moments. But they are not something that happens everyday. And because they do not happen everyday, many people just go with the flow and become accustomed to their sin.
Some, like the younger son, wait till their sin catches up with them. Others, like the manager, wait until they are found out. Many just hope it will never happen. But Christians are different. We live in daily repentance rather than apart from it. We “come to Jesus” every day, recognizing our lives would be lost if left to ourselves.
Second, it reveals that to gamble on grace is actually not the answer. Both of these men have schemes and both of them are useless. For the younger son, he does not even get to finish his sentence. His father is already running out to welcome him home. For the manager, his scheme succeeds but not in the way he imagined. He does not receive other people’s mercy, instead he receives commendation from the rich man.
Third, because these schemes are ultimately useless, the parables suggest grace is already there. Abundant. Overflowing. In Jesus.
As Jesus tells both of these parables, He is pointing to the unbridled grace and mercy of the Father and of the owner. And that really is the point. The Lord surprises us with His kindness. We do not get what we deserve for our sin… Eternal punishment and separation from God in hell. Rather, because of Jesus we look forward to the splendor and joy of heaven. Our heavenly Father poured out His love for you and for me when He sent His own Son to assure us that when it appears that all is lost, He is still in control. For both the prodigal son and for the manager, the solution was outside of them. They needed to rely on the generous spirit of another for survival.
We look to and rely on our dear Lord for forgiveness and life. Jesus rescued us from sin and death by His perfect life and sacrificial death upon the cross.
Both of these men squandered their earthly blessings and placed themselves in dire straights. Kindness beyond their wildest dreams rescued them. We are called to be faithful stewards of the gifts that God gives. The dishonest manager was commended for his shrewdness in his dealings with the renters. We have a higher calling when it comes to managing the rich treasure of the Gospel.
You have been given the riches of heaven through the forgiveness of sins won by the bloody sacrifice of Jesus. Rather than rejoicing that we have been rescued by Christ, we are rather bored with the truth that eternal life is ours and those who die apart from faith in Christ will suffer eternally in hell. For our apathy and selfishness we must repent. What will be your legacy of faith? She was a gossip, he was very self-centered, she would hold a grudge, he always had to be right and get the last word.
- OR – She honored God with a humble spirit, daily repented of her sins, sought to care for others with Christ’s love no matter how they looked or how much money they appeared to have. She lived with a peace and confidence knowing that she was forgiven and that this life isn’t about her.
Indeed, you have a merciful God who loves you. He proved His love for you by making you His child in your baptism. He continues to feed you physically and nurture you in His relationship with you through His Word. He feeds you on the Body and Blood of His Son. He has conquered sin and death by His death on the cross and third day rising to life.