Luke 16:1-18 Stewardship, The Word, And The Kingdom.
Jesus tells a parable about a steward who was afraid of losing his job because an accusation was made against him that he was wasting his master’s funds. We are not actually told whether the accusation was true, but the steward, seeing his job was in jeopardy, reasoned that he should make some friends with his master’s debtors, either that they might speak well for him, or have a job lead as he envisioned one foot out the door. It could have been that the accusation was made because the debts owed were not being paid. It was certainly the case that there were debtors who owed the master. He perhaps reasoned that it was better for the master to get the majority of what he was owed than nothing at all. We do know this-the master commended him for what he did (v. 8).
Money is but a tool, a means to an end, a medium of exchange. What matters are people, and in this case, making friends (v. 9). We all need friends. In this parable Jesus laid down three very important principles. Firstly, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches” (v. 11)? People are more important than money. So if a person cannot properly handle money and economic exchange, why would they be entrusted to serve and lead people? Secondly, if a person takes so little care in handling someone else’s money, why would they be given stewardship over what would be wholly their own? Finally, “No servant can have two masters” (v. 13).
The servant in this parable decided he would count his master’s losses. Like a prudent investor, he decided that it was better to at the very least recover some of his master’s capital rather than be left with nothing. Of course, the steward also did not want to be without a job. Blue collar manual labour was not something he envisioned in his future, nor sitting like one of the beggars he passed in the streets as he went to his office or out about his master’s business (v. 3). If one were left with the first two principles only, one might surmise that this would draw the parable to its conclusion. These are good principles indeed. However, there is a principle more important even than these. The steward could have followed the first two principles with his own money, and would be considered wise for doing so.
The steward had a master. He ultimately made a decision that was not only good for himself but also for his master. However, we all have a Master who is greater than everything and everyone. When we place money or people before the Lord then are loyalty is divided, and ultimately we will choose one or the other. “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him” (v. 14). One can imagine the Pharisees following and agreeing with Jesus on the first two principles, but balking at the third. It is not uncommon in every age to find religious leaders who love money. Such men are not divided in their loyalty, they have made a choice, and they have chosen love of money over love for God. It is important to remember that money is a tool, a medium of exchange.
It is not money which is evil, but rather it is the love of it (I Tim. 6:10). Money was for the Pharisees a symbol, it was a means for them to impress people. As Jesus said, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts” (v. 15a). This was indeed the crux of the matter-they were motivated by appearances and the esteem they received from others. However, there is a Master greater than self or others, who they should have been concerned about. “For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (v. 15b). The Lord is the Master who knows what is real and true. Furthermore, He has given us His word that we would know who He is and what He requires of us (vv. 16-17). It is in the word that we learn about the law of His kingdom.
“The law and the prophets” refer to the entirety of the Old Testament, hence the phrase that they “were until John” (v. 16). Furthermore, John the Baptist indicates a turning point in redemptive history. Since this turning point, “the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it” (v. 16). This expression likely echoes what Jesus had said earlier, that one should “strive to enter through the narrow gate” (13:24). There we are taught that it is the way of faith which is narrow in that it excludes all possibility of man having anything of his own to offer as merit. However, the message of the old and the new is the same in both gospel and law for, “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle* of the law to fail” (v. 17 Cf. Is. 40:8). As a case in point, Jesus affirmed that the position concerning divorce remains the same (v. 18).
On the surface, verse 18 seems to be out of place. However, we need to remember the context. Jesus has just finished speaking about the love of money, and He is about to speak about the rich man who died never having made it to paradise. Marriage is, after all, among other things, especially in the culture at the time, a huge financial responsibility. Due to the hardness of men’s hearts, Moses permitted divorce, and part of this hardness was in men refusing to care for their wives (Cf. Dt. 24:1-4). It is not hard to imagine the popularity of the Pharisees in them issuing certificates of divorce, for a fee, when such would free a man to marry another. Clearly this is not everything which the bible says or even that Jesus said about divorce. To treat this subject correctly one must consult the entire biblical testimony. However, it is included here for a reason.
* “A tiny projection on some Hebrew letters; it was the smallest part of a letter. The entire law comes from God, and it is as sure as its Author.” (NGSB, p. 1636)
Luke 16:19-31 No Second Chances-Heed The Word!
To be clothed in purple was a sign of wealth and prestige. Purple also came to be a sign of political authority and kingship. This rich man was not only rich, but he was also a man of some influence. Linen refers to a person’s undergarments, and this man’s linen was “fine”, silk perhaps, or something akin to it. We also learn that he “fared sumptuously every day” (v. 19). So this man was rich, a man of some influence, pampered, and full of the earth’s bounty. Then Luke writes, “but” (v. 20). “But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table.” Not only did the colour purple symbolize political influence and position, but so also are gates. Gates are the places where the elders of a city would gather to deliberate and make decisions. This is the context of this story. This beggar was just that-a beggar. He had to be carried to his position at the gate. No doubt someone thought this was the place where he should get some help and relief, not necessarily politically, but help from those who had the means. Instead of help, the beggar was visited by dogs who “came and licked his sores” (v. 21).
However, despite the circumstances of these two men, we are told that in the life that was to come, it was the beggar who was the truly rich one for “he was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” (v. 22). This Lazarus was a true son of the covenant of promise. One can well imagine that many would have thought that this man must have sinned horribly for the sores that infested his body. There are many today who think that to be well healed, as it were, is a sign of their superior faith. However, Jesus made clear that “many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 8:11-12). “The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (vv. 22-23). Lazarus went from being a beggar at the gate, amongst the most rich and influential of the land, to being placed alongside the patriarch Abraham.
The man who showed no mercy to Lazarus when he had the opportunity to do so, now pleads with Abraham as to a father, to send Lazarus with some water to relieve him of the heat of what was approaching on his horizon (v. 24 Cf. Lk. 6:24). This is an interesting point-why did he not ask Abraham himself to come? Did he just assume that Lazarus was Abraham’s servant? In any case, Abraham does address him as ‘Son’ (v. 25), and reminds him that when he had the means and opportunity to help Lazarus, he did not. Not only this, but Abraham also says that there is no passing from their place to that of the other. Hades is the place of the damned where there is no relief of grace and no second chances (v. 26). Hades is not a purgatory where everyone can somehow reverse what they did or did not do while they lived on this earth. The man thought only of himself and his family. So complete was his disdain for Lazarus that he first wanted him to share in the heat of hades, or if this were not possible, to go back to his old existence. Lazarus had finally found sweet relief!
There are some who have nothing to look forward to but the sweet deliverance of death. In this world they were despised and rejected, like the Son of God Himself. The best of life was the visitation of dogs licking his sores, while fine linen brushed against the rich man in purple’s skin. The man in purple wanted Lazarus to go back and testify to his five brothers, presumably because they didn’t see Lazarus’ testimony the first time (vv. 27-28). ‘Testify’ is an interesting word. It is a judicial word, and it is judgment which the rich man in purple was now experience. The man who stood with some prestige at the gate, making decisions for the city, was blind to the testimony of the beggar at his feet. What is Abraham’s response? The old testament was testimony enough for them to repent (vv. 29-30 Cf. Acts 15:21; 17:11)! Wow! If he and his family had of heeded Moses and the prophets, says Abraham himself, by the way, they would have eternal life (Cf. Jn. 5:46-47)! Not only this, but the Jewish leadership and all who followed them, did have One who rose from the dead, and they weren’t persuaded (v. 31).