Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
(1 Cor. x. 12)
This may sound clichéd, but I am going to say it anyway. Life in Jesus Christ is dead if it is not always God’s way of making good out of a bad situation. And I say always making good because the Christian journey is all about our ongoing assimilation and identification into the new life that Jesus offers to us. And out of a bad situation because we are always in danger of forgetting that we are a spiritual work in progress, and sinners who must always be conscious that the sanctification and salvation that Jesus brings are wholly unmerited, undeserved, and unearned. That God desires and longs always to make us good means that He intends to work His Word back into our fallen and sinful state through the Grace of His Holy Spirit. And for this work to be appreciated as what God begins, continues, and finishes in us, we must always and honestly confess that we are in a bad situation whose condition is always capable of being made better by His Grace.
Of course some people would maintain that what I am recommending amounts to something far too high and unattainable for any mortal to achieve. And, of course, they are right. It involves, in a way, an industry and labor beyond the human imagination, intellect, and will. If we focus merely on human effort, energy, and enterprise, our bad situation is destined to only get worse. So what I am trying to say is that we are made to rely and depend wholly and completely on God’s vim, vigour, and vitality. What we are made to become is a people whose lives are ruled and governed by God’s Grace alone. And this takes diligence, determination, perseverance, and persistence. What we must claim and confess is that we cannot do any good thing without [God]…and that only by [Him can we] be enabled to live according to [His]will. (Collect)
But many Christians fall into trouble when they fail to join the consciousness and perception of their bad situation with God’s response to it. St. Paul reminds us of this danger in this morning’s Epistle. He gives us the example of the ancient Jewish people whom God had delivered from bondage and slavery to the Egyptians. He tells us that, all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. (1 Cor. x. 1-4) Oswald Chambers reminds us that through every cloud the Lord brings, He wants us to unlearn something. The clouds are given to remind us of our bad situation and to unlearn our false confidence that we can put trust in anything that we do. With the clouds, we are meant to turn inward and realize that it is by faith in the invisible Grace of God alone that good can be made out of our bad situation. The clouds reveal both our distance and alienation from God. Our clouded sight and our blindness manifest that our bad situation calls out for a supernatural solution. God does not wish to touch us first and foremost through natural and earthly manifestations of light and brilliance. Rather He desires to reach us inwardly and spiritually –to open our spiritual eyes to the need and desire for His Divine presence.
And so St. Paul tells us that our Jewish fathers were hidden, all of them, under a cloud, and found a path, all of them through the sea; all alike in the cloud and in the sea [the ancient Jews] were baptized into Moses’ fellowship. (Ibid, Knox, 2) And yet what do we read next? But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. (Ibid, 5) And why? They did not discern the spiritual meaning and purpose of the cloud, nor did they understand that they live by the God alone, whom they were made to see by the inward vision of the soul. They did not unlearn their old natural and earthly ways. They thought that God was merely freeing them from mundane and temporal slavery and servitude to an earthly enemy. So they fell down and into the old bad situation of their natural condition. They began to murmur, moan, groan, and complain, wondering all the while why God had delivered them in the first place since they were wandering in the desert, hungering and thirsting for earthly meat and drink. Then their preoccupation with their next earthly meal turned to lust, idolatry, and fornication. God responded to their earthly hunger, and the best that they could do was to sit down to eat and drink, and rise up to play. (Ibid, 7) So thanklessly they had forgotten that their former bad situation was a bad spiritual condition, and that God had intended to open their eyes to the work of His Word of Promise in their lives. God was beginning to make good out of a bad spiritual situation, by anointing them to be the fathers and progenitors of a spiritual people whose ultimate end and destiny could be salvation. For, as St. Paul reminds us, the ancient Jews did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. (Ibid, 4) And so he says that the example of the ancient Jews should warn us about the bad situation we are in and the dangers of forgetting of our need for God’s rule alone in our lives. For they were overthrown in the wilderness…and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. (Ibid, 5,8)
The point is nicely described in today’s Gospel lesson where Jesus tells the Parable of the Unjust Steward. Herein He describes the tale of a worldly businessman who had misused money lent to him by a wealthy creditor. The creditor summons him to his office not only for a dressing down but an impending termination. He says, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. (St. Luke xvi. 2) And without missing a beat, or showing any concern for his wrongdoing, the financial underling jumps to this thought: How can I make good out of this very bad situation? He thinks, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. (Ibid, 3,4) The unjust steward is proud and shrewd. He knows that he can never repay the loan to his boss. But he is determined not only to survive but to thrive. If the big boss won’t have him, he’ll at least respect him for having the wisdom and prudence to become a little boss. And more than that, he will not only make good out of bad situation for himself but for the big boss’ other creditors. He is going into the debt-management business! So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore. (Ibid, 5-7) And the long and short of it is that the big boss is impressed. It is not clear that the big boss had much hope in ever recalling any of the loans from his other creditors, and so he praises the economic prudence and skill that has secured this financial settlement. And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely…(Ibid, 8)
Jesus concludes the parable by saying that the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. (Ibid, 8,9) Of course, Jesus is not offering the parable as a commendation of unjust stewardship. What is most instructive in the parable is the prudence or wisdom that can be found in earthly business men’s pursuit of earthly ends. Earthly men are often more prudent with their earthly treasures than spiritual men are with spiritual treasures. So Jesus suggests we might learn something from them about making good out of our bad situation. Like the unjust steward, we are in a bad situation, in that we can never repay our Lord, our spiritual creditor, what we owe Him. Like the ancient Jews, living under the cloud of our impotence and spiritual poverty, we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves. (Collect, Lent II) And like the unjust steward and the ancient Jews, we are unjust by reason of our fallen nature.
But Jesus teaches us that we can nevertheless become prudent stewards of the Grace of God. Monsignor Knox tells us that the parable shows us how. We should do service to God by giving alms to the poor, while we still have time for it. The unjust steward was prudent in making himself friends before the audit of his accounts, while he still had money to do it. We must give alms while our life still lasts. (Knox Bible, idem) For when we are prudent stewards of what God has given to us, we reveal what wealth and riches truly move and define our lives. Earthly generosity and liberality will reveal that we see rightly even under a cloud. Responding to earthly poverty by giving alms to our poor neighbors, we can then invite them to consider the spiritual root of the bad situation which we share, and how God has made good out of it through the treasure of His superabundant Grace. What they can see then is that our earthly care for them is motivated and inspired by a far richer love that longs to overcome their spiritual poverty. In so doing, we manifest to them that we all are indebted to the Lord, and though we can never repay Him, together we can make the most of the Grace that He gives to us.
So today let us become just stewards of God’s Grace, a Grace that is meant to be shared prudently with the world. In so doing, when we leave the unrighteous mammon of this world behind, being caught up in the clouds, we shall be welcomed into everlasting habitations because we have allowed God to make the best out of our bad situation. (Idem) Amen.