Wash Away the Dirt

From “The Parable of the Dishonest Steward,” The Waiting Father (1957)

One day every one of us will be left destitute. The day will come when we stand naked before God, unable to “answer him once in a thousand times.” We shall be stripped of all the things in which we put our confidence here below. We shall stand before the throne of God without title, without money, without a home, without reputation — in utter poverty. And in that place where there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage, where money is neither received nor spent, and where all the values have been turned upside down, in that place God will ask: “Who can testify for you?” And then perhaps some one of the company of the redeemed will step forward, perhaps there may even be some who will cry out from the nethermost pit of hell and say: “He once gave me his last penny. He once shared his last cigarette with me in prison. He once put me on my feet again when I was a refugee, even though it was hard on his meager resources.”

And then perhaps the devil, in case he should still be there and be allowed to speak his piece, will angrily interrupt and say, “Hear! Hear! It looks as if you can do business with this accursed mammon even in heaven. Here I have been doing everything I can to soak your dirty cash in blood and tears, and now in heaven you summon this evil money, this hellish mammon, that smells of me and my brimstone, as a witness for these people. Do you think you will get by with this before the master of heaven?” So says the devil.

But then God will brush the accuser aside and say, “I have heard what these have said on your behalf. I have heard that they want you to be with them in their eternal habitations. Blessed are you, my faithful child. You have made the unrighteous mammon righteous because you used it to feed the poor and hungry and clothe the naked. Enter into the joy of your master!”

That’s the way it is with this unrighteous mammon. And we ask ourselves, is this really the same money — the money a racketeer takes out of his wallet to pay for a champagne binge and that other money that is dropped into the offering plate in church or into a hat passed around for an unfortunate colleague? I ask you, is it really the same money — the contributions which are dispensed impersonally from a checking account as Christmas bonuses and that other money which I take out of my own pocket, warm from my own body, money that is all budgeted, money which, if I give it to others, means depriving myself. Is this really the same money? Doesn’t the money in the offering plate and the hat serve an altogether different master? And doesn’t this hallow it and wash away all the dirt that may have clung to it as it passed from the mint through all kinds of shady and honest transactions to the offering plate and finally to the eternal habitations? Is there not something like an “alien righteousness” that applies to money just as it does to men?

Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986) was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian. An opponent of the Nazi regime, he played an important role in reestablishing religious and intellectual life in postwar Germany, founding the theological faculty at Hamburg while also pastoring the city’s main church, the St. Michaeliskirche. His book The Waiting Father is based on a series of sermons he preached first at the Markuskirche in Stuttgart.


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