August 1, 2010
““With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you deal purely, and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.” (2 Samuel 22:26–27 ESV)
The way that God deals with us is often mysterious. It has to do with Law and Gospel. If God gives you mercy when you are so full of yourself that you can’t recognize it as the gift it is, then God would be doing you no favors. So God must work with us first of all where we are, so that we might be changed into where He would have us be.
One of the great illustrations of this is in our parable this morning, the parable of the unrighteous steward or of the merciful master. In this parable we have a steward, a manager of a household, that has been caught. He is wasting his master’s possessions. The master, rather than simply having him thrown in jail, asks him to give an account of himself.
This leaves the steward in a quandary. What is he to do? He can’t dig ditches, and he is too proud to beg. But then he comes up with a plan. His plan is that he is going to bank everything, his life, his reputation, everything on the mercy of his lord and master. He then goes and does the outrageous. He has a fire sale with the debts his people owe the master. A hundred becomes fifty, or eighty. These are great deals for these debtors, who also have nothing to lose but what they already owe the master.
Why does he do it? What would possess this steward to act in such a crazy way? His thinking goes like this. If he cuts these people’s bills, perhaps they will take him into their home, or hire him themselves. In other words, he is looking out for number one. He is doing everything in his power to make sure that he does not end up on the street as a beggar. And he banks the whole scheme on the mercy of the master.
Why is that? Well, the steward has now put the master in a quandary as well. The master is kind, generous and merciful. He has a reputation to uphold in the eyes of the world. If he throws the steward in jail, two things are going to come of it. First, he won’t been seen as kind, generous and merciful. And second, he will look the fool for trusting the lying steward in the first place. And so he must commend this steward for knowing where to place his bets, for knowing where the most reliable piece was in the puzzle of his life. The steward recognizes that all of his management, all of the possessions that had been given to him, all of them were insignificant compared to the mercy of the master.
So that’s the story, now let’s get to the point. The point is simply this. God is merciful, kind and generous. That is His identity, His character above all others. But the sad fact is that you and I don’t behave as if this is so. We behave as if we can negotiate with God, or as if we can please Him and somehow make everything right. But it just isn’t so. Sometimes God allows temptations to come our way, so that we might remember to rely on His mercy more than anything else. God is faithful, and He won’t let you be tempted beyond what you are able, but will with the temptation make a way of escape. That way of escape is the cross of Christ.
God’s mercy doesn’t make sense. It isn’t respectable, or even predictable as the world would have it. Sometimes in order to really see God’s crazy mercy for what it is, you have to put yourself in the place of the lying manager. Sometimes you have to see yourself at the end of your rope, with no place else to turn but the love of God. That is where our possessions really mess things up, though, don’t they? We cling to the things of this world as if they would save us, but eventually, those things which you and I consider so important now may well become the millstone that hangs us. When you recognize the place of your possessions, and understand that all of the stuff of this life is here for the sake of the master, then things change for the better.
When you get to that point, dearly beloved, things start to fall into place. At that point you no longer are looking for a God of respectability, who wants to make sure your clothes match and that you have everything together. When you are at the end, when you are stuck without any hope of salvation in yourself, then and only then does the crazy love of God begin to come into focus. Only then does the Jesus that gets down into the muck and dirt begin to become your Jesus.
Flee, dearly beloved, from a false God that charms and woos and wants to impress you with how high and mighty He is. Jesus Christ is the friend of sinners, and to become the friend of sinners He became the chief of sinners. He gets down on his hands and knees with you, right where you are. If your pride and self-righteousness gets in the way of seeing this Jesus, the messy one who saves you, then He allows these temptations to fall your way, so that you get over yourself and your respectability at being so perfect.
It’s a crazy parable for a crazy God with crazy followers, sinners like you and I. So kneel, beg for God’s mercy, because He will hear your pleas. Sit at His Table, the table for sinners, and leave the false respectability of the world behind. At His Table you will find the finest of meals, and Jesus will sup with you, for He Himself is both host and meal. Amen.