22 September 2013

The Rich Man Had a Manager

Jesus has been teaching you what it means to be His disciple: that you must relinquish your own possessions, let go of earthly ties, and lay down even your own life.  You are given His Cross to take it up and follow Him, in order that you live and die like Him, and become like Him.

So He has been teaching you what He is like, what sort of Man He is, what sort of God He is, what sort of Lord and Master He is.  He is the Man who receives sinners and eats with them.  He is the Shepherd who risks ninety-nine sheep to rescue one.  He is the One who prizes repentance over righteousness, who came into the world to save sinners, and does, and rejoices over them in love.

He is the Rich Man who, for your sake, made Himself poor, and who gave Himself as the Ransom for you and for all; so that you, by His poverty, might become rich.

This is a different sort of wealth than silver and gold, which perish, and a different sort of elegance than pearls and expensive clothing, which wear out and decay, or may get lost or stolen.  The wealth and riches of Christ Jesus are imperishable and inexhaustible, and they are also traded, given and received by a very different economy than worldly wealth.

But do not suppose that gets you off the hook where your money and possessions are concerned.  If you would be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ and live in His Kingdom, then His economics pertain to all your goods and services, to all your words and actions, to all that you are and have.  And if you are not trustworthy in what is the least, then how shall you be trusted with the true riches of righteousness, life and salvation?

The way in which you handle your stuff and deal with your neighbor in the world is indicative of where your heart is fixed and where your treasure is found.  There can finally be only one treasure in your heart and life, one master, one Lord and God.

So whom do you worship and obey?  Whom do you love?

Of course, you know that you should fear, love and trust in the Holy Triune God above all things, and have no other gods before Him or besides Him; that you are to worship Him, the Lord your God, and serve Him only.

But if you would know where your heart and mind really are, before whom they bow, and what they serve, consider how you spend your time, and how you spend your money.

What do you do with your body and life on earth, and what would you eagerly do if you were given the chance and could get away with it?

Think about the way you do your job, the way you go about your chores, tend your home, or apply yourself to learning, and why it is that you do what you do in the way that you do it.

What is it that drives you?  What prompts you to do your best, and what causes you to slack off?  Do you work for yourself, or for others?  Do you live before God in righteousness and purity, or do you strive to justify yourself in the eyes of men?

Consider and discern the measure or criteria by which you evaluate yourself and your neighbor, and by which you compare yourself with your neighbor and compete with him or her — or by which you care for your neighbor with compassion and charity.

The Lord knows your heart, irrespective of your outward actions.  And He would have you know your heart, as well, and repent of whatever in it is not faith and love, according to His Word.

The Lord knows when you trample the needy instead of providing for their needs.  He knows when you overlook the poor or take advantage of them, instead of feeding them and clothing them, sheltering the homeless and visiting the sick or imprisoned.  He knows when the alms in your hand are given as a token, for the sake of appearances, or in order to assuage your guilt and stroke your ego, rather than a real sacrifice of mercy.

He knows when the hands you lift or fold in prayer are otherwise being used to hurt instead of help or heal, and whether they are engaged in holiness and righteousness or robbery and scandal.

He knows when the lips with which you call upon His Name in prayer, praise and thanksgiving are otherwise used to argue and dispute, to curse, swear, lie and deceive, or to confess your sins and apologize for them, and to forgive those who trespass against you.

The Lord knows your sins of thought, word and deed, your wasting of His gifts, the squandering of your stewardship, and the accusations of the Law against you.

So, because He loves you and desires to save you, to bring you to the knowledge of the truth, He calls you to repentance.  He calls you to examine your heart and mind, your words and actions, and to give an account of your stewardship.  He calls you by the Cross to be crucified with Him, and raised with Him to newness of life and welcomed into His Father’s House.

What, then, does such repentance look like?  What does it entail?  Where you have wasted your Lord’s good gifts, which are really His things entrusted to your stewardship or management, how should you be using them?  What does Jesus say and commend?

The economics of Christ Jesus are utterly foreign to the wisdom of the world and detestable to those who love money and worship wealth.  In the same way, what is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.  This is the way of the Cross, the truth of Christ the Crucified.

Remember that He is the Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, and that He grants life to His fallen creatures at His own expense, at the cost of His own blood, by His innocent suffering and death.  His management is mercy, the administration of His Gospel.  The real coin of His realm is neither silver nor gold, but the forgiveness of sins.

Wasting His possessions does not mean reckless spending or extravagant giving, but just the opposite.  You waste His possessions when you horde them and hide them, keep them and multiply them.  By the same token, you manage your stewardship shrewdly, rightly and wisely, when you give His gifts away and forgive His debtors freely.  It isn’t about savvy investments or profit-making, but a seemingly foolish trust in the Lord and extravagant love for your neighbor.

That is what He means by teaching you to make friends for yourself with worldly wealth.  That is to say, use what the Lord has entrusted to your care to love and care for your neighbor.  Not as a means of bribery, nor as though to buy your way into heaven (which won’t work), but in the way of repentance.  Worldly wealth will not last forever, no matter how you save it or spend it, keep it or give it away.  It cannot justify or save you.  But the Lord Jesus is your Savior and your God, whether you have money or not, or any other treasures or talents.

Therefore, in faith, use whatever you do have to befriend and love your neighbor, as the Lord Jesus has befriended you in His great love and mercy and compassion.

Greater love has no man than this Lord Jesus Christ, who lays down His life for His friends — who, indeed, by the sacrifice of Himself, by the shedding of His Blood, makes friends out of His enemies through forgiveness and reconciliation.  In Him, the Truth is revealed in the mercies of God, and righteousness and peace kiss each other.  He has emptied Himself and made Himself nothing, undertaking the absolute poverty of death upon the Cross, in order to bestow the true riches of His divine Life and His Kingdom upon poor miserable sinners, including you.

And in His Resurrection from the dead, His Father welcomes you — along with Him — into His eternal dwellings.

It was for this purpose that St. Paul was appointed a herald and Apostle, for the testimony of the Lord’s Redemption in due season.  What Christ accomplished and obtained for you by the sacrifice of His Body and Life, His flesh and blood, is administered to His Church on earth by the preaching of the Gospel, by the teaching of the true faith, by the stewardship of His Divine Mysteries.

It is for this same purpose, also now for you in this place, that the same Lord Jesus Christ has appointed His servants, the pastors of His Church, to be heralds of His Cross and ministers of His Gospel, stewards of His Mysteries and shepherds of His little lambs.  That is what a pastor is, and therefore what a pastor does in faith toward God and in love for Christ’s Church.  Your pastors do not simply tell you about the love of God, but they love you with the love of God, and God Himself loves you in and with your pastors.

Do not doubt that it is true. Do not look at the outward appearance of the mortal men who are your pastors, nor sneer at Jesus and His called and ordained servants, but hear and heed the Word of Christ concerning these men.  And hear and heed the Word He speaks to you by these men.

It is required of a steward that he be faithful in his stewardship, for he is a man under authority.  In the case of a pastor, the authority that he is granted by his Master, by virtue of his office, is the authority of Christ to forgive the sins of those who repent and thereby to save sinners.

When a pastor is tempted to waste his Master’s possessions by withholding the Gospel, hiding and hording the gifts, and neglecting the means of grace — when he is tempted to justify himself in the eyes of men, rather than conducting his office in the sight of God — then the Lord, in His mercy, calls His servant to repentance, befriending him again and again by His grace, teaching him mercy and forgiving his sins.  Much as we have heard this past Friday evening in the case of St. Matthew, the former tax collector, who became a dispenser of God’s grace through the Gospel.

It is with that same measure of the Gospel that your pastors care for you in the name and stead of Christ, your Savior and Good Shepherd.

When your pastors preach to you, it is the Voice of one and the same Good Shepherd that you hear; and you know and recognize His voice and follow Him, by grace through faith in His forgiveness.

When your pastors preach repentance, both the Law and the Gospel, they return you to the significance of your Holy Baptism. You die and rise with Christ Jesus, so that you are cleansed and sanctified and made brand new. For the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus are not simply true, but they are for you; not just once upon a time, but once for all, and here and now for you.

The Lord does not forget what He has done for you, but He remembers you in mercy, day by day, night by night, week after week, and year after year, even to the close of the age.

And, as He remembers you in mercy, so are you given to remember Him.  For when your pastors administer the Holy Communion and give you the Body of Christ to eat and pour out the Blood of Christ for you to drink, all the fruits and benefits of Christ and His Cross are yours.

These are the riches of the Rich Man, which He and His servants are accused of wasting because they are given and poured out so freely and generously.  So be it.  That is the sort of Man He is.  That is the sort of God He is.  That is the sort of Lord and Master He is, and it is enough for His servants to be like their Master.

I urge you, then, first of all, to pray, intercede and give thanks to Christ Jesus, also for your pastors, that you and they may live together in the peace and quietness of the Gospel, in the godliness and holiness of faith in the One who loves us.  This is good and pleases God our Savior.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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