Upsetting the Fruit Basket

Text: Amos 8:4-7
Date: Pentecost XVIII + Proper 20 + 9/18/16

“Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).

There is nothing wrong with money. It is the love of money that’s the problem. There is nothing wrong with money. At the same time we ought to say that there is also nothing right about money, money itself, for it will eventually fail. The question is not about money but about how and for what you use it (or it uses you) and the true riches of the gracious God of our life and salvation.

Those were prosperous times when the prophets Isaiah, Hosea and Amos were sent by God to preach His Word. I suppose it was in many ways like these days of our prosperity. Prosperity, like money, is neither good nor bad in itself. When prosperity encourages invention, progress and growth, then it is good. Laissez les bons temps roulez! “Let the good times roll.” More often than not, however, prosperity tends to make people more self-centered, more careless about others, selfish. There’s nothing wrong with prosperity. It is rather your use of it that can be good or bad, right or wrong.

But what is right? And what is wrong? Who is to say? We don’t know! It depends on who you’re asking. It seems that these days there is great confusion about truth and falsehood, good and bad, right and wrong. It’s all relative you see. What’s true or good or right for you may not be for me. How easily in the business world are corners cut, quality shaved, or even false claims made all in order to increase profit? That’s what this little snippet from Amos 8 is all about. Good or bad, right or wrong is ultimately determined by God’s Word. You can either listen to it or ignore it.

Those who, as our text says, “trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end” were always and only concerned with business. Their business! According to the just decrees of God’s word, they weren’t supposed to be open for business at “the new moon” (the beginning of a new month when all were to bring an offering to God) or on the Sabbath when no work was to be done. Remember when businesses years ago in our own country, much less school sports schedules were not open or in business on Sunday mornings or on the “church night” of Wednesday evenings? It’s an increasingly amazing oddity today that a company like Chick-Fil-a is still closed on Sundays! The problem of those whom Amos was indicting was that their mind was not on God as it should have been but on their business as they complained, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale?” When will the sermon be over? How quickly can we get out of here?

But it’s even worse than that. For even when they were conducting otherwise valid business God revealed their sin of cheating people either by making the measurements small or overcharging, or even mixing worthless chaff into the grain for sale. The Word of God’s Law and judgment: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.”

This text was chosen as an illustration of that to which Jesus was speaking in today’s Gospel in the parable of the so-called Unjust Steward. For the key to understanding this otherwise unusual parable is in the attitude the steward had between his previous business dealings and the expectations and heart of his master. He knew and counted on the graciousness of the master and wanted everyone else to know it too.

There is nothing wrong with money. It is the love of money that’s the problem. Sin is the problem. It is the love of God that is the answer. That’s the key as when the steward called all of his master’s debtors in and had them reduce their debt. They figured he was just doing the master’s will and that it was this generous master who was letting them off the hook, at least a little bit. What a great guy is the master! Of course that was not exactly the case. Or maybe it was! Like Donald Trump in his former life on television on “The Apprentice” this master had no problem telling his unjust steward, “You’re fired!” Yet this master was truly the Master. And his steward knew it.

“The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” I mean, everyone came away thinking the master was a great guy! Only he and the steward knew it was the result of… well, of shrewdness. Dishonesty! But the issue here is not your dishonesty, your sin or intentions. Guess what? Your dishonesty and sinful intentions are also covered by the goodness, the graciousness of your Master who is intent on receiving you into the eternal dwellings.

So it is we walk a thin line in this world. Faithful in a little or in much? dishonest in a little or in much? Who is your master?

When the saving and loving God is your master you will serve His grace. Sometimes His grace will even seem “dishonest” or “unfair” in the eyes of the world, the world that demands everything be “even-steven,” “tit for tat,” “fair” from our point of view. But our point of view is tainted by sin. The grace of God at times may seem unfair, unjust. Yet the grace of God is the only answer. For according to His own justice we are guilty, shrewd, dishonest, sinful. But in His grace He sent His Son to become guilty for us, in righteousness to bear our guilt, to take away our sin. From our point of view Jesus became the Unjust Steward who told us to count our debt to God as nothing when He then bore it all in His body on the cross. Was that unfair? No, that was love. Because He became Sin, bearing all our unrighteousness, all those who believe in Him become the righteousness of God.

It may seem unreal, unbelievable. But Jesus said it. The Servant of the Lord, Jesus, loved the Lord, the Master and served Him whose will it was and is to save us. As the debtors of the master so we rejoice.

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness

My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head. (LSB 563)