Tuesday, August 2, 2016

When your life has been called to account


YOU have all heard about wolves in sheep's clothing; wolves who dress like the sheep in order to gain entrance among them, so that they can use them, abuse them, and destroy them.  That's what Satan does.  He can appear as an angel of light.  He can make himself look so sweet, good, and reasonable that the unsuspecting happily grant him admission, so God's people must always be sober and vigilant!

Jesus, who is the Son of Light, did the opposite.  He is God in human flesh, God for us, with us and comprehensible to us; not God the Judge come to give us our due, but God the Savior who brings sweet relief, who wins us back from our sinful rebellion, our pact with the devil, and who restores us to green pastures where the sheep may safely graze.

In His parables, Jesus teaches us in ways we can understand.  His parables are sometimes stories about us, like the Pearl of Great Price.  You are that pearl and the Lord "sold all He possessed" to buy the field where you were buried, so that you might be His own.  Or in the words of our Creed, "Who for us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven ... and was made man!"  He purchased us with His own blood, washed us in the water from His pierced side in holy baptism, and now we are His priceless treasure, even as He is ours.

His parables are also sometimes stories about Him.  He is the Good Samaritan who finds us along the roadside, dead in trespasses and sins, shunned by everyone, even those who profess to be our helpers.  When they see us they cross to the other side, but not Jesus!  He crosses to us, pours the wine and oil of His saving blood and Holy Spirit into our wounds, brings us to the inn of the church, and when He returns He will take us to the"eternal dwellings" spoken of in today's unusual parable, a parable in which Jesus is the main actor!

It is a tale that has left many Biblical interpreters puzzled.  They feel compelled to apologize for Jesus because He commends the "unjust Steward."  They do the same when He calls the Syro-Phoenician woman a dog, but the Lord doesn't need our apologies.  He knows what He's doing and what He is talking about, and contrary to to all the pretty Puritan pictures that Christians have formed of Jesus, when you're dealing with the Jesus of the Scripture, you should be prepared to get your hands dirty.  You should be ready to grab hold of life as it really is, and not the way utopian dreamers think it ought to be.  Only then can you be free and understand life in its fullness.

First the Law, then the Gospel; that is the Lutheran rule of faith.  First death, then resurrection.  First sorrow, regret, and terror regarding our sins; then remission, salvation, balm and blessings the likes of which no eye has ever seen, no ear ever heard, neither has ever entered into the heart of man.

If there is a weakness in our churches it is that we do not practice personal confession.  We don't give voice to our sins into a consecrated ear, longing to hear the words, "I forgive you all your sins."  General confession is not enough, because our sins are not general.  When we move to our new sanctuary there will be instruction given, and time afforded for such confession, in the hopes that this missing piece of the Lutheran Reformation, specifically prescribed by our Lutheran Fathers, may be re-established, because if you are anything other than a pathetic, flesh and blood sinner, then the true flesh and blood Savior is not for you.

No, this parable is not for Puritans.  It gets down and dirty for you see, Jesus is the Unjust Steward in the story who is commended by His Father for all that He did.  So let's ponder exactly what it teaches.

First the Unjust Steward is called to judgment, figuratively dies by losing his position, then rises again.  In the same way Jesus was called to account for our debts by "God who justifies the ungodly."  He suffered, died, and rose again to pay for our sins:  what is more unjust than that?

Scripture uses many metaphors to speak about sin but one of the big ones is debt.  Our trespasses put us in debt to God, and it is a balance none can pay.  It is too big, too stifling, too overwhelming.  Many discovered the meaning of such debt with the advent of the Great Recession in 2008.  People who worked their whole lives lost their jobs, their homes, and watched their retirement savings dwindle to nothing.  That is our condition before God:  "poor, wretched, blind," as the hymn says, but scripture says that "...though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich."  What is more unjust that that?

Next the Unjust Steward extends forgiveness to others.   In the parable it is only partial forgiveness, but it is just a parable.  In fact our debts have been fully paid by Jesus on the cross and marked as "Paid in Full" when He rose from the dead "and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness."  Yes, sin pays its wages - death - to Jesus, but the gift of God to you is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now this mysterious transaction may thrill you as much as baffle you.  Don't be surprised.  Saints of the past, both humble and great, have spent their entire lives engaged in studying the mysteries of our redemption and we would do well to imitate them.  This is what the church does in her teaching ministry.  Do not despise it by your absence, your love of sleep, or the creature comforts of this world.

Instead let this gem of a parable whet our appetites, and let us praise God from Whom all blessings flow for Jesus, the Unjust Steward who stood up to the Justice of God for us, who makes us Sons of Light, and who has prepared eternal dwellings for sinners who are declared just by faith in Him.

~  Rev. Dean Kavouras

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