Monday, August 14, 2017

Alien work [Trinity 9; St. Luke 16:1-9]


Whom we hear today, speaking to us, saying,

If we do not see and fear that every single one of our works, righteous or not, is a mortal sin, then they become mortal sins.

We have been told by Jesus, these last couple of weeks, that we shall not be entering into heaven. Whether it is because our righteousness is less than the scribes and Pharisees or that we simply cry out “Lord, lord” and are turned away at the gate.

Jesus even says elsewhere that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of heaven before us (Mt 21:31) and today Jesus explains that unless we are a dishonest manager, we will get no praise from Him.

Jesus even finishes off this parable in saying, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (v.10).

More directly, we are dishonest with little things, therefore we are dishonest in much. We will not get into heaven because we are not, nor would we admit to being prostitutes, swindlers, or poor. At least, that’s what it sounds like Jesus is saying here. However, in the real world we demand justice for such crimes.

We make laws against prostitutes and throw them in prison or fine them, because it offends the sensibilities of decent, god-fearing folk. We crack down on the thieves, because how dare someone attempt to relieve me of my private property. And we can’t have the poor living wherever they want; doorsteps, parks, alleys. They need to be kept under control. All for their own good, which of course only we know.

This signals our own virtue. We order and command that life be brought under how we see things and then claim the moral high ground in doing so. Although the works of man always seem attractive and good, they are nevertheless mortal sins, if worked without the fear of God. What is necessary to have a pure heart and true fear of God is for God to testify and God to cleanse our hearts by faith. (Acts 15:9)

In contrast, the works of God are always unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits. How can we say that??
Samuel says, “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord takes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.” (1 Sam. 2:6-7)
Isaiah says, “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (Isa. 52:13-14)

God’s works are “evil” to us, because “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). In the sinner’s eyes, our works are good and God’s are bad. In this way, the dishonest steward gets himself in trouble. He does what is right in his own eyes. Yet, the mercy of God even exceeds our works and thoughts and, though, we muck it all up, Jesus can still work salvation through our misdeeds.

Isaiah calls God’s work strange and alien (Isa. 28:21) and commending a dishonest steward is strange and alien, much less the prostitute and the tax collector. But this is the beauty and wonder of the Gospel: that it is not dependent on how well we do things, but how well Jesus has done things for us. Salvation is a great work that is done outside of us and then brought inside us.

Jesus is not the alien or the stranger that rises from the dead, you are the alien who is dead in your sins. You are the strange thing on earth that has chosen death and the devil over Life and the Creator. Thus, when God comes to earth in the flesh, He is cast out because He is not like you.

That the prostitutes, tax collectors, and dishonest stewards get into heaven before you, is not because of who they are as sinners, but that they confess they are sinners to their Savior. Admitting your sin on earth, gets you 10-20 in the Federal prison. Confessing your sins to Jesus gets you a complete reprieve. Alien.

This is one of the key words in understanding what the Gospel is. It is an alien work. A work that needs to be done outside the sphere of sin, death, and the devil and imported. Your works are not alien to you. Christ’s works are.

Thus for the sake of the Gospel and to give glory to God’s holy Name, Jesus becomes the dishonest manager, taking the debts owed to His Father and paying them off, not just partially, but completely. He takes what is the Lord’s and “misuses” mercy by giving it to those who are “unworthy” and “unloved”. He wastes the Lord’s possessions by casting the pearls of forgiveness and salvation before swinely sinners.

Your debt, before the Father, is zero, for Christ’s sake.

Your works, good or bad, are now sanctified and made holy, for Christ’s sake.

Your heart is now the purest substance known to man solely because Jesus has said its so.

St. James says that if we fail in one part of the Law, we fail in all of it. St. John tells us that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. And this is the point. Just admit it. Just confess. If you do not, the Law of God will condemn you. If you do, it is Satan who will accuse you, but in the end he will be punished, not you.

In this way; in Confession and Absolution, you agree with the devil. But, only in the confession of your sins; that you are guilty of all and more that you don’t even know. He convinces you in two ways. The first is that you are a horrible sinner, dishonest in every way, undeserving of God’s favor. The second is that you are not a sinner.

This, then, is where Christ disagrees with both of you. Jesus disagrees with Satan that anyone on earth has sin, because He has taken all sin onto Himself. Jesus also disagrees and declares that sin is a part of every inch of this world. This is why salvation comes through the cross.

It is only through the death of the old man; the death of sin and death, that a new man can arise. It is only through the Crucifixion that the dishonest steward is made honest, the promiscuous is made chaste, and the thief is made honorable. Likewise, it is only through the confession of yours sins that the stink of all of them on you may be erased.

For the only unforgivable sin, is a sin that doesn’t exist. The alien work of Christ is Him taking all that sin as His own; being actually guilty of them, before the Father. For it is only Jesus Who is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

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