Beloved. Today’s Gospel throws a lot of people because in it Jesus seems to be encouraging dishonesty. The manager found out he was going to be fired so he got people together who owed his boss money and, while he still could and had authority he “fudged the books”, that is he had them reduce the amount that they owed his boss. That way they would be obligated to him; they would “owe him one.” In his words in Jesus’ parable: I know what I will do, so that when I am removed from my position as manager, people will receive me into their houses. This manager would be taken care of by the people he helped/ people whose debt he reduced; one hand would wash the other. This was such an ingenious plan that even the boss marveled and commended him: The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.
It is precisely this shrewdness, this cheating that get so many hearers of this parable worked up and confused: Is Jesus saying that lying and cheating is ok? Is He saying do whatever you can for self-preservation? Is He supporting that Bible verse that doesn’t exist—God helps those who help themselves? To these questions the answer is a definite “no!” But what does Jesus say in today’s Gospel? For the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the children of the light are. What exactly does this mean? It means that we Christians can learn something from the unbelieving world/ the unbelievers around us. They can be our example. Obviously not for lying and cheating, looking out for number one, using people, etc.—but we can learn from the unbelieving world how to guard, watch over, protect what is vital. For this manager in the parable, the most important thing was to have a good, “cushy” job: What will I do, since my master is taking away the management position from me? I am not strong enough to dig. I am ashamed to beg. I know what I will do, so that when I am removed from my position as manager, people will receive me into their houses. So he carries out this great scheme of his to get people obligated to him.
As Christians, we have a great object lesson here in this unjust manager. Just as he did everything he could to further and promote and sustain his position and status—what for him was the main thing—so too should we as Christians do everything in our power and use all means at our disposal to further, promote and sustain what for us is—or at least should be—our main thing: our Christian faith and the things of God. In other words, we should treasure the treasure we have in the word of God and the holy Sacraments and use everything and every means at our disposal to avail ourselves to the gifts and blessings God gives us in the word and sacrament. This includes faithful attendance at church; receiving our Lord’s body and blood in the Blessed Sacrament as often as we can; daily remembering our baptism by examining heart and life and confessing our sin and by faith reclaiming that forgiveness, the holiness of Jesus and our heavenly inheritance; it means regular reading of God’s word, sound devotional books, and pondering that word; it means striving to fight against sin; it means daily prayer. The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. May we act shrewdly when it comes to the things of God, our greatest treasure, so that on the Last Day Jesus will commend us for acting shrewdly with our great treasure.
Our text from St. Paul teaches us and gives us an example of what happens when we don’t treasure our great divine treasure of faith and the word of God: Do not become idolaters like some of them—as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and got up to celebrate wildly.” And let us not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell. Let us not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and so were being destroyed by the serpents. And do not grumble, as some of them grumbled, and were destroyed by the destroyer.
In our text, St. Paul is warning these Christians in Corinth to treasure their treasures God has given them of their faith, of the holy word and sacrament. And as a warning, he is holding up before them the negative examples of what happens when God’s treasures, which He has so richly given us for our spiritual good, are forgotten and not regarded as the great spiritual treasures that they really are.
But that then raises the question: why do we have to be so diligent to treasure our treasures/ why do we have to act so shrewdly when it comes to the things of God? Answer: because like the Corinthians in St. Paul’s day and like the Israelites during the journey to the Promised Land, we, too, dear Christian, are surrounded by many and great temptations. Great spiritual dangers are all around us. Once we are Christians, it does not in any way mean that we are “safe” or that we don’t have to “worry about” these dangers. Instead, it means that we must be all the more vigilant. But with this warning and call to vigilant, we also have the promise at the end of our text: No testing has overtaken you except ordinary testing. But God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tested beyond your ability, but when he tests you, he will also bring about the outcome that you are able to bear it. The Holy Spirit also says through another Apostle, St. Peter [1 Peter 1.5]: we are kept by the power of God through faith. The very fact that we endure/ persevere in the faith is because of God’s work—He keeps us in the faith. Yes, we believe, we persevere in the faith, we hold firmly to Jesus and overcome trial and testing, but that we do this is because God works in us according to His almighty power and strength; God’s promise that He gives us here in our text—and elsewhere in Scripture—is full of God’s power and enters our heart and strengthens us as we are attacked, sinking, wavering and holds us/ our faith upright to salvation. This is precisely why we need to treasure our treasure of the word and sacrament: because through these God works assuring us that in Jesus He is favorable to us; in and through these He gives us the very forgiveness and all the fruits and blessings Jesus won for us.
Like the Corinthians and like the Israelites in the desert for 40 years, we will face many trials and attacks on our faith—all attempts of the devil to destroy that faith. But in the midst of these attacks and trials God wants to help us bear them. But the only way He has promised to help us is through His holy word and sacrament. That’s why we need to be shrewd and treasure them and use them!
Think of the Israelites. They were so richly blessed by God. They had crossed the Red Sea as the waters divided before them; they were miraculously fed by the manna; they were given water to drink in the desert; they experienced the holiness of God as He gave Moses the commandments on the mountain. Surely everywhere they looked there were reminders of the Lord’s grace, mercy, power and love; they certainly didn’t have to think too hard or deep to come up with examples from their own life. But what happened? They, who were so richly blessed, were not shrewd in using the gifts of God; did not treasure and use God’s gifts and blessings and so they sinned grievously, falling away from the faith.
Of this St. Paul writes: All these things that were happening to them had meaning as examples, and they were written down to warn us, to whom the end of the ages has come. Yes, they were tempted; yes, they endured testing; yes, God wanted to help them bear the testing. But what happened? They desired evil things; they became idolaters; they tempted God; they murmured. These very people who were so richly blessed by God and given every spiritual advantage, these very people whom God wanted to help in the time of testing, turned away from the Lord and so fell into great sin and punishment. The warning for us is clear: let us, who have been so richly blessed by the Lord in the word and sacrament; us, who are members of His holy Church; let us not become complacent/ let us not become prideful and think that we can, by our own strength, think that we can withstand these times of trial and testing, when Satan is trying to drag us into sin, despair and death. Instead, let us remember that spiritual dangers surround us on every side and so keep our eyes open for them, especially in ourselves—and here we can rightly say “Look to your heart!” But let us then all the more remember that our dear Lord God wants to help us endure the trial and temptation—and the way He does so is to work on us powerfully through His holy word and sacrament and so let us make faithful and diligent use of them.
Not only does our gracious Lord want to help us bear the trial/ temptation, but He will also see to it that He puts an end to it at the right time. No testing has overtaken you except ordinary testing. But God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tested beyond your ability, but when he tests you, he will also bring about the outcome that you are able to bear it. What glorious words—especially but God is faithful. He is faithful to the promise He made to you at Holy Baptism; He will never despise or forsake you; He won’t leave you hanging. Because God is faithful, that means He knows what cross/ trial/ temptation is beneficial for us. He will only allow us to endure that which serves for our spiritual good. What the Israelites endured in the wilderness, God intended to work to strengthen and purify their faith and to lead them to rely on Him all the more so that He could show them His power and they become even more grounded in faith; so that they could show Him their love and faith by good works and faithfulness in trial. But they turned away from Him.
Like with the Israelites, so also with the Corinthians of St. Paul’s day, so also with us today: it is not enough to begin and to receive and to have the treasures of God but to abide in faith and in the confession of that faith and in a godly life to the end. That’s the warning for us. But what? -- But God is faithful. He will not let us go; He will not allow a trial/ temptation too great to come upon us; and He will put an end to it at just the right time for us. He will not allow you to be tested beyond your ability, but when he tests you, he will also bring about the outcome that you are able to bear it. He does not and cannot do evil; but He does allow a cross/ trial to come upon us but only for our spiritual good. All these things that were happening to them had meaning as examples, and they were written down to warn us. We learn from the Israelites that outward Church membership without repentance and faith is not enough for salvation; we learn that if we serve sin then it doesn’t help us if we call ourselves God’s people and outwardly use the word and Sacrament. But what is God’s intent when He allows us cross/ trial/ temptation? He intends that we hold Him to His word and promise, but God is faithful; and He intends also to drive us to prayer that we go to Him asking for patience, help and assistance so that we do not grow weary and despondent. Again, at just the right time, He will give us the help we need, His help—and often that is when all human help is gone so that we can recognize it is His help. After we overcome the temptation/ trial/ time of the cross—all by His help and work—our faith is purified and He gives us special grace to strengthen us for tribulations that will come in the future.
Dear Christian, because we are kept by the power of God through faith to salvation, let us faithfully and diligently make use of God’s holy word and sacrament. Through these, as we face various trials and temptations, God is working to help us endure in the midst of them until He ends them for us at just the right time for us and our spiritual good, for the strengthening and purifying of our faith that we remain faithful to the end. INJ Amen.