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One Thing’s Needful (Trinity 09 Sermon)

by ToddPeperkorn ~ July 31st, 2012

[This is a sermon I preached several years ago for Trinity 09.  It’s a rather tricky text.  I hope this is of benefit to you. -TAP]

TITLE: “One Thing’s Needful”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.  Our text for today is the Gospel lesson just read, the parable of the unrighteous servant.  We focus on the words of Jesus: And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.

This text seems like it is one which could be ripped out of our own newspapers.  Dishonest managers try to gain friends by cooking the books.  How could such a thing happen?  And perhaps even more importantly, why in the world does it seem like the master in the story commends this unjust steward, as he is usually called, for his dishonestly?  Jesus doesn’t even call it dishonesty.  He calls it shrewdness.

It certainly is a strange text, and one that is worth our consideration.  What is it about the children of this world which make them wiser than the children of light?  Why is it that they get farther, do well, and generally seem like they understand how things work better than the Christians?  That is really the question.  But in order for us to understand it, let’s look at the contemporary situation for a moment.

In both the Enron scandal and the WorldCom scandal, we have companies and their accountants cooking the books in order to appear to be better off than they really are: hiding losses as equity, moving numbers around so that things are not what they appear, trying to impress their stockholders while lying underneath.  Why did they do it?  Well I guess the answer to that, ultimately, is pretty easy.  They did all of this to make money.  Or at least to keep the money they had.  Money is a great motivator in our day and ago for a lot of things.

Now let’s look at our unjust steward.  He is the manager of the master’s house.  He is taking care of things that are not his.  He is simply watching over what the master has given him to watch over.  But the master discovers that this unjust steward was wasting his goods.  In other words, the unjust steward is not caring for things as he ought to be doing.  He’s spending too much here, and not enough there.  He’s sloppy, he’s lazy, he’s not doing his job, and as a result, all of the work that the master has put into his property is going down the tubes.

So what does the master do?  If you or I were the master, what would you do?  You’d fire him on the spot!  Don’t give him any opportunity to mess things up anymore than they already were.  Get rid of him while you still can.

But that’s not what the master does.  He gives this unjust steward one more chance to make the books right, to give a proper accounting of his stewardship.  From a business point of view, I don’t think this was a wise decision.  You don’t let someone run the shop that has another goal in mind.  What is this steward’s goal?  His goal is not to serve the master; his goal is to save his own skin, to make money and save his life.

And this is what he does.  He thinks through what is the one thing that he has to offer that will get him into the good graces of the people with money.  Well, the one thing he has is his master’s books, his accounting.  So he goes and starts forgiving debts left and right.  It’s a fire sale on loans!  He is lavish, generous to a fault; really he’s quite ridiculous with his master’s debts.  Slash.  Cut.  They’re gone.  A hundred measures of oil become fifty, a hundred measures of wheat become eighty.  All the sudden, the unjust steward has more friends than he knows what to do with.  He has turned a bad situation and, because he was dishonest, made it so that it works out for his benefit.

Now what does this master do?  The unjust steward has misused his position.  He has abused it for his own gain.  He has given away money like it is candy.  And what does the master do?  He commends him for acting shrewdly.  Oh, he acted shrewdly, alright.  He made sure that he got the one thing needful.  His future was taken care of, no matter what the cost.  This master, even if it seems he runs things kind of strangely, well, he just can’t help but take note of the fact that this steward understood what finally was important for him.  As Jesus said, For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.

The world understands this point.  Focus on what’s important.  Put your energies there.  Other things may go by the wayside, but keep your eye on the ball.  Do whatever you have to do to get to that great goal, whatever it may be.  That is what the master commends the unjust steward for doing.

Now let’s bring this home, and make sense of this for today.  What is your treasure?  What is the most important thing in your life?  What do you life for, and what are you willing to go through in order to get it?  For the Christian, the one thing needful is none other than Jesus Christ.  This is your treasure; this is your life and your lifeblood.  This is who you live for, and by being connected to him, you inherit the treasure of eternal life with Him.  In the fact of this, nothing else matters.  I think we can understand that.

God gives you this treasure to care for and take care of and to pass on, to give away, as it were, when and where God wills it.  For this treasure, the Gospel, you may only keep by giving away.  But you blow it.  You toss this treasure, this Jesus, aside.  A thousand things become more important to you: home, vacation, work, pet sins that you love so much.  Even your family may become more important than this one, this great treasure.  So what do you do?  You waste the treasure.  You hide it.  You throw it away.  But you don’t give it away to the ones God has entrusted to your care, namely, your family and your children.  You waste it.

What are you to do?  You have the gift; you have the treasure beyond all treasures.  You know you have blown it, and that you have squandered the master’s gift.  You don’t deserve to receive the gift.  You know begging will get you no where.  And you know that you can’t work your way out of this.   You’re stuck.

We’ve all been there, dear friends.  You can look back at your life and wonder why you wasted so much time, so much money, so much everything on things that don’t last.  We all can.  That is the Law speaking to you.  Your stewardship of what God has given you in Christ stinks.

But remember this master is not like other masters.  This master is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  This master will pick you up.  This master forgives you and draws you into His presence.  You may not be shrewd like the sons of this world.  But you aren’t a son of this world.  You are a son of light.  You are baptized.  You have the inheritance of eternal life in Jesus Christ.  You have the one thing needful.

That is the generosity of the master.  But it goes even farther than that.  Jesus love and forgiveness goes out just like this unjust steward.  It’s reckless.  It doesn’t make sense.  He forgives debts that have no business being forgiven!  But that is the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  He wipes away your debt.  To the eyes of the world, it is crazy.  His love and forgiveness should get Him in big trouble.  But it doesn’t.  In fact, our heavenly Father commends Jesus for forgiving our debts.  I guess this just goes to show that when it comes to forgiveness and God’s love for you, you can’t finally understand it.  But it is true.  His love for you knows no bounds.  Believe it, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting.  Amen.


Todd A. Peperkorn, STM

Messiah Lutheran Church

Kenosha, Wisconsin

Trinity 9 (July 28, 2002)

Luke 16:1-13

1 Response to One Thing’s Needful (Trinity 09 Sermon)

  1. thomaswhoyt

    Don’t ya just love it when God is NOT “fair” with us? I do NOT want to be treated ‘fairly’ in the matter of justification and salvation (or a bunch of other gifts that God gives).

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