mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ. Amen.
any of you have explored the many resources contained in our hymnal,
the Lutheran Service Book, you might’ve come across some pages
in the front that have long lists of Bible passages. For each
Sunday, and for the many feasts, festivals, and special occasions that
might be observed with a worship service, there are assigned Bible readings.
Usually one is from the Old Testament, one from an apostle’s letter
to the early Church, and one from a Gospel account. These lists are
called “lectionaries” and the set of readings for a given day is
called a “pericope”. There—I’ll bet you didn’t know
you were going to get a vocabulary lesson when you got up this morning,
have been around for a long time. You will recall that when Jesus
came home to Nazareth and taught in the synagogue, He was handed the
scroll of the prophet Isaiah. This wasn’t accidental; it was
the assigned reading for that day. Jesus knew what the text was
going to be. The lectionary dictated it.
every Christian denomination uses a lectionary. Of those which
follow the worship practices passed down to us from the prophets and
apostles, though, most have a lectionary of some sort. Still,
there are variances in which Bible readings they contain. Even
within our Lutheran Church body, we have two primary lectionaries which
may be used: The three-year and the one-year.
mostly hidden from public view, there is an ongoing debate among pastors
about this. One group says that the one-year lectionary is more
ancient and historical, and that the repetition of the same texts each
year helps to better teach the congregation some of the essential contents
of God’s Word.
the other hand, three-year proponents say having a longer cycle exposes
people to more of the Scriptures. It also lets people hear some
of the same events in the life of Jesus from the viewpoints of multiple
Gospel accounts. We happen to use the three-year lectionary at
St. Paul, but there isn’t anything wrong with the one-year.
More important are the specific benefits of having a lectionary, regardless
of its length.
example, a lectionary imposes an external discipline on preachers.
Without it, pastors might choose to preach only from their favorite
parts of the Bible, or choose readings and sermon texts to further their
own personal agendas. It’s no coincidence that most of the churches
that don’t use lectionaries are the same ones who believe that the
Holy Spirit works apart from Word and Sacrament. When people believe
the Spirit intervenes directly in people’s lives, apart from the governance
of the Scriptures, then it’s easy for a pastor to claim that the Spirit
led him to preach on a particular text or topic that day.
soon, you start getting sermon series that focus not on Christ
crucified for our redemption and salvation, but on
“Eight Ways to Be a Better Spouse
and Parent.” A wonderful, worldly objective—but not fulfilling
the primary mission of the Church or the main purpose of Christian worship
benefit is that all the congregations which use the same lectionary
are taught from the same readings that day. Just like using the
same hymnals and shared Christian liturgies creates a theological bond
among congregations, so does using a common lectionary. It’s
certainly not a bond on the same spiritual level as that which we share
in the Lord’s Supper, but a bond nevertheless. There’s comfort
in knowing that what you are hearing and doing is being heard and done
by hundreds of thousands or even millions of other Christians, much
like Christians who have believed, taught, and confessed what you now
believe and confess have done for centuries.
really ought to be able to go on vacation, or go away to college, and
know what to expect if you visit another LCMS congregation for worship.
“Why the long introduction on lectionaries?” you might be asking
yourself. Well, perhaps it’s part of me making my own confession
to you today. You see, for a long time, it’s been a tradition
that the Gospel lesson serves as the sermon text on most Sundays.
It’s not mandatory. After all, Law and Gospel can certainly
be preached from an Epistle lesson or Old Testament lesson, too.
All of God’s Word is still God’s Word. I suspect, however,
that on this Sunday, many pastors are going to use the Old Testament
or Epistle as their sermon texts. I have to admit that I was tempted,
because the Gospel lesson appointed in the pericope for today is a difficult
one. It seems contradictory to God’s plan of salvation and good
Christian behavior. It would be easy to step aside and let this
Gospel lesson is challenging because it appears that Jesus is suggesting
that a dishonest person is an example that we should follow. Jesus
opens the parable with: “There
was a rich man who had a manager, and
charges were brought to him that this
man was wasting his possessions.
And he called him and said to him,
‘What is this that I hear about you?
Turn in the account of your management,
for you can no longer be manager.’” (Luke 16:1-2)
fraud is nothing new. Corruption is as old as commerce itself.
Whenever fallen sinners engage in any activity, it is part of our darker
nature to try to take advantage of others. It’s only fear of
getting caught and punished in this life, or fear of God’s punishment,
or the goodness of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts as believers,
that keeps us from lying, cheating, and stealing our way to fame and
fact is: We always want more of God’s blessings than what He
has chosen to give us through the value of our honest labor. Then
we want to hoard every last nickel we get for our own purposes, rather
than for His. Why else do you think our congregation’s offerings
are such a tiny percentage of all of our aggregate incomes? It’s
not because you can’t do the math to figure out what 10% of your gross
is, or that you’re so absent-minded that you forget your checkbook
52 weeks in a row.
because—apart from fear, guilt, or genuine faith—we let the temptations
of this world lead us to conclude we deserve all or any of what God
gives us. We convince ourselves that our comfort, or pleasure,
or our image in the eyes of others—or whatever else we choose to spend
our money on—are more important than the proclamation of the Gospel
to a fallen, dying world. So, we are dishonest stewards of the
richness of God’s blessings. We commit fraud and embezzlement
and graft with both spiritual things and earthly things.
years ago, I worked for an organization that was developing ways to
more effectively scramble electronic communications. One group
was in charge of developing and testing the equipment. The people
in this group were very smart, very creative, very well trained, and
very well paid compared to most. However, it turned out that in
order to complete all of the testing needed, much of the group’s work
was being subcontracted out to a private company whose fees were far
higher per hour than the cost of the internal people.
that’s not a particularly unusual practice. Organizations often
bring in others to handle additional work. What raised suspicion,
however, is that this company was getting more and more of the testing
work, while the internal group’s workload and staffing didn’t decrease
at all. The leadership of our organization asked me and a couple
of my colleagues to figure out why this was so.
we discovered was that the head of the testing group and a couple of
his lieutenants had set up a shell company to which they were subcontracting
the testing work, getting paid extra to do work they were already being
paid to do. Within a few weeks, there were FBI agents, search
warrants, and the sound of handcuffs and Miranda rights in our facility.
Just like the dishonest manager in Jesus’ parable, these people were
squandering their master’s possessions, using what was already at
their disposal to further their own selfish desires. The leader
of that little scam should just about be eligible for parole now.
people break the rules like that, when they violate the law and mismanage
what has been entrusted to them, we expect there to be consequences.
They should lose their jobs, go to prison, and pay hefty penalties.
But that’s not what we see happening in Jesus’ parable is it?
we see the dishonest manager develop a clever plot to take advantage
of his employer once more. He ingratiates himself with his boss’s
debtors by writing off part of what they owe him. Some have their
debts reduced 50%, others 20%. We might question the fairness
of why some were forgiven more than others, but that may be part of
the steward’s craftiness. Maybe he knew just how much he had
to do for each one to earn their gratitude and to make them indebted
to him more than to his soon-to-be-ex-employer.
do you think these other businessmen would have reacted to this generosity?
It seems they were unaware of his impending firing, so they might have
attributed this surprise to the rich man’s generosity. So, not
only did the steward earn some goodwill for himself, he did for his
employer as well. Surely, only a good and generous man would cancel
the debts of those who rightly owed him what the record clearly showed.
shrewd, dishonest manager had painted his employer into a corner, hadn’t
he? If the rich man later went back to the debtors and said the
steward had no right to reduce the amounts owed, it would look like
he had been played for a fool by his employee. They might be upset
at now having to come up with payments they thought had been reduced.
If he kept quiet and let the reductions stand, the whole town would
consider him a generous person. The shrewd manager played his
cards well, knowing that his employer was compassionate and also wanted
to be respected by others. This worked to his advantage.
the end, the dishonest steward used his position not only for his own
advantage, but for the benefit of his boss’s customers, too.
He even made his boss look good. So, rather than praising the
steward for his dishonesty, the rich man was actually praising him for
making a risky, difficult situation work out for the best. The
rich man gave the man credit for creativity and craftiness, not dishonesty.
steward had rolled the dice, and his daring plan had paid off. His
shrewdness was commendable in that sense. It doesn’t mean that
the rich man hired the steward back, though.
was making the point that worldly people are often more shrewd in their
conduct of worldly affairs than Christians are. It doesn’t mean
that we believers are less intelligent or less creative or less capable
than worldly people; after all, we know the more important truths than
unbelievers. But it does mean that the worldly are often going
to look like they’re coming out ahead of us, because their priorities
are different. The worldly seek to impress the worldly, and care
little of the eternal implications. They’re more willing to
bend the rules or to try to beat the system.
not what the Lord wants for us. Where Jesus says, “Be
as innocent as doves and as shrewd as serpents,” He isn’t
advocating the use of deception and deceit while wearing a veil of naïveté.
are to be aware of such practices because we must be equipped and prepared
to deal with the evil of this world. It will confront us, but
Jesus doesn’t want us to engage in it ourselves.
thinking that this parable is actually misnamed by those who insert
section headings into the Bible. The main point of this story
isn’t so much the shrewdness of the dishonest manager, but rather
the mercy and patience of the rich man. It’s really the ‘Parable
of the Merciful Master.’ He could have rightly and legally demanded
that the unrighteous manager pay back his losses, or demanded them from
the debtors who were misled that the steward had his permission for
the adjustments. The master could have had the steward thrown
in jail or worse. Instead, he gave the man his freedom and allowed
him to enjoy his new relationships with those who liked him for his
seemingly generous but actually dishonest actions.
every aspect of every parable is going to relate directly to the nature
of God and man, of course, or to the actions of God toward man.
For example, the rich man in this parable had to be tricked into being
merciful. God isn’t like that at all; God is merciful because
it is His very nature.
steward and the rich man were both trying to maintain their honor in
the parable, too, but Jesus surrendered His honor and glory, and humbled
Himself to become a human being. He willingly suffered the shame
of the cross so that we might not have to bear the shame and the punishment
our sins deserve.
the steward saved himself through his own planning and action, but in
Christ there is nothing at all we can contribute toward our own salvation;
we are utterly dependent upon God—both for our justification in Jesus’
death, and in the granting of the faith that clings to that justification
for our forgiveness and the promise of eternal life.
like the shrewd manager and the merciful rich man, we usually aren’t
willing to suffer the humiliation or pay the consequences for our actions
or the actions of those around us. But Jesus was willing,
and for that willingness the Father has granted Him eternal glory and
honor. Jesus arose from the shame of death and ascended to the
Father’s right hand in heaven, where He rules all things, now and
forever. To those who believe in Him, we have His promise that
what is His is now also ours through out adoption in baptism, and all
this will be made complete and fully given in the age to come.
the manager in the parable, when we look at our lives, we see that we
owe a debt of sin that we can never repay. We can all join David
and confess, “Behold, I was
brought forth in iniquity, and in sin
did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5) We have been
enemies of God since before we were born. We had a large debt
of sin at birth, and we have just been adding to it day-by-day, sin-upon-sin,
we heard at our baptisms, though, and continue to learn through life-long
catechesis, “We would be lost
forever if we were not rescued from
sin, death, and the power of the devil.”
that you do not have a God who must be manipulated into being merciful.
Our God is love and generosity, and Our Father willingly gives us all
His treasures even without our asking, and especially without our scheming
and efforts. We can be glad that we have a God whose mercy is
complete. Jesus does not look at our debt of sin and say, ‘Take
your bill, and write eighty.’ He does not even say, ‘Take your bill,
and write fifty.’ His adjustment is infinitely more generous.
an ancient merchant was keeping the books for his business, when a debt
was fully satisfied, he wrote the Greek word, “τετέλεσται”
(te-TEL-es-tie) on a bill. This meant “Paid in Full.”
Done. Completed. Nothing owed; nothing left to do.
what you need when it comes to your salvation, too. When you are
called before the judgment seat of God to settle the account of your
sinful life, having your debt reduced from 800 to 400, or from 1000
to 800, or even from a billion to a handful isn’t going to do you
much good, is it? It’s not enough. Life’s not some sort
of “karma competition” that those who accumulate the most good works
or have the fewest sins or the least severe sins are going to win and
be rewarded for. You know that if even one sin is on your
account—no matter how minor you might consider it—you’re doomed.
All sin, any sin, separates you from your holy and infinitely
perfect God, and earns you death and eternal damnation. You want
and need someone to write “τετέλεσται” on your
be to God, the precious blood of Jesus is enough to eliminate your debt
of sin. Not only that: His innocent suffering and death is precious
enough in the sight of God to wipe out the debt of every sin and every
sinner from Adam and Eve to the Last Day. As Jesus suffered on
the cross, just before He commended His spirit to the Father, the Bible
records that Jesus uttered one final word: “τετέλεσται!”
It is finished. It is paid in full. Paid for you, by Jesus’
body and blood. Given for you, in Jesus’ holy name. Amen.