Sam Houston and the Dishonest Steward

The dishonest steward in this evening’s parable is in the practice of gouging his master’s clients for his own gain.  If someone owes his master $100, he demands twice that and keep the excess for himself.  He’s like our modern-day payday lenders, preying on vulnerable people by charging crippling interest for his own gain.  He’s making himself his master, in other words, using and abusing the position in life his true master had granted him.  Only when the steward falls from grace—and only then, when he’s at the bottom—does he give up the pretension to be his own master and let go of those self-serving portions of his collections, asking instead from his master’s clients only what they genuinely owe.  He finally becomes an honest servant, and his life is redeemed.  Remember that, as I switch gears for a minute.

There is no character in the story of Texas more interesting than Sam Houston, the old “Raven” himself.  Houston was one of those nineteenth century Americans incredibly blessed with countless gifts.  He was enterprising and smart.  He was a gifted leader.  At age thirty he was elected to Congress from Tennessee, and at age thirty-four became that state’s governor.  But it is also true that Sam Houston was crassly self-serving—like the steward in Jesus’ parable—throughout the first half of his life, always calculating what any action would do for him, always seeking to control and mold every circumstance for his own gain. And as a result, in 1828 his life fell apart.  His fall from grace, also like the steward’s in Jesus’ parable, was swift and steep.  Houston abruptly resigned as governor, lapsed into a devastating dependence on alcohol, and taking scarcely more than a bottle with him, disappeared into darkest Arkansas, suffering banishment from all he’d known and loved.


The young and self-serving Sam Houston

It took years for Sam Houston’s repentance and redemption to occur, but occur it did.  Houston eventually became a star so bright that his later accomplishments— leading the Army of Texas, serving as President of the Texas Republic, and ushering Texas into the United States—eclipsed everything he’d done before.  These later things were the result of a wife who taught Sam Houston what it meant truly to know the God who both loved him and called him to account.  As Houston came to know this God, he became a self-giving rather than self-serving man.  He gave up his pretension to be his own master and became a servant.

There is more to the Sam Houston story, an added blessing that could only have happened because of the redeemed man Houston became.[1]   It is near-miraculous.  In 1854, during an emotional slavery debate in the United States Senate where Houston then served for Texas, a group of Northern abolitionist clergy petitioned the Senate to be allowed to speak.  They were ridiculed, humiliated, and laughed down by some Southern senators, but Sam Houston rose to support them.  By all accounts he spoke with passion, even though he took an unpopular and risky position by speaking, especially among his Southern colleagues.

Eight years later, the Civil War had broken out, and Sam Houston’s son was far from home, fighting in the Confederate Army at Shiloh.  During an advance, the boy took a mini ball to the thigh and lost much blood, and he was left for dead on the battlefield.  That evening a solitary Union chaplain walked across the field and came upon Houston’s groaning son.  When the chaplain leaned down to offer a dying prayer, he checked the boy’s knapsack and found a Bible with the inscription, “Sam Houston, Jr., from his mother, March 6, 1862.”


The Battle of Shiloh

The chaplain immediately was taken back to eight years before, when as a young minister he had been shouted down and humiliated in a crowded Senate chamber, until Sam Houston, Sr., had risen from his chair in the ministers’ defense, not for self-gain but as a servant of grace.

The chaplain remembered, and because of that speech he dropped all other duties and carried the wounded Texas boy in his arms from the battlefield.  The boy lived.  Sam Houston’s son was nursed back to health and returned safely to his father.

The old, self-serving Sam Houston never would have made the speech in 1854 that saved his son’s life in 1862.  That speech, like the steward’s action in giving up his commission, was self-giving, made without thought of personal stake or gain.  And yet, it resulted eight years later in nothing less than saving the most important thing in Houston’s world.  It was redemption to be sure.


An older, wiser, and self-giving Sam Houston

Whenever we fool ourselves into believing we are the masters of our lives, whenever we use the gifts we’ve been given as self-serving tools rather than self-giving blessings, the result is harm to others and, eventually, to ourselves.  We’ll find ourselves fallen from grace and all too often alone.  It is when, sometimes in a moment of reckoning when life seems to fall apart, that we give up our pretension and decide by grace to live differently—with the loving God as our Spirit and guide—that we find our lives given back to us anew, often in the most surprising and wondrous ways.  It is then that we truly find redemption.  It is then that we truly become the children of light.


[1] See Sam Houston by James L. Haley, pp. 403-404.

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