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The parable of the shrewd manager
Luke chapter 16, verses 1-18
Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
“‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.
“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.
“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Already in the previous chapter, Jesus had introduced the subject of money. There is the parable about the woman who searched diligently for a coin she had lost; the prodigal son is an example of one who is recklessly wasteful with money he had inherited. This 16th chapter of Luke’s gospel continues to deal with the subject of money management.
We will find two major parables here; in both of them a rich man is introduced. In one the rich man is forced to fire his dishonest manager for wasting his possessions. In the other the rich man is guilty of selfish indulgence, unmindful of the needs of poor Lazarus. Both of these parables are an encouragement for disciples to make good use of their money.
The manager about to be fired takes steps to insure a decent future for himself. He directs those who owed his master money to reduce their large bills. One is halved, and the other is discounted by 20 percent. The rich man compliments his manager for the shrewd and prudent way in which he uses money (even though it’s not his own) to guarantee a more secure future for himself. This manager is not too different from the prodigal son who was very free with money he had not earned.
The application of this parable by Jesus begins in the last sentence of verse 8. He picks up on the words of the rich man and comments that the people of this world are more shrewd in handling money than are his own followers, “the people of the light.” Jesus would like to see his disciples use their money more wisely. He directs them to “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that . . . you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
The exact meaning of verse 9 has been the subject of much discussion. The translation of the NIV is not as literal as that of the KJV, which reads, “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” The word mammon is found in the Greek text and goes back to the same Hebrew root as that found in amen. It means “that in which one puts trust.” It came to mean simply “money” or “possessions,” the earthly things in which so many trust. It is called unrighteous, or worldly, in contrast to the true heavenly treasure.
The KJV has the words “when ye fail”; the NIV says “when it is gone.” The Greek copies differ at this point. The KJV refers to the time of a person’s death; the NIV refers to when the money runs out. When either happens, the person who has gained friends with money will have a secure future in heaven. The point is this: use money wisely to insure your earthly future. One wise use for money is giving to the poor (see chapter 11, verse 41 and chapter 12, verses 33 and 34). The giving of alms is a testimony to the reality of discipleship and self-denial.
Jesus continues with some additional applications based on this parable. There are contrasts between “very little” and “much,” between “worldly wealth” and “true riches,” between “someone else’s property” and “property of your own.” The worldly wealth that God might put into the hands of a person is really nothing in comparison to the true riches of heaven. The person who mismanages this worldly wealth by making it an object of trust or by using it in a selfish way is unfit to be given the heavenly treasure.
Jesus concludes with the familiar statement that no one can serve two masters: “You cannot serve both God and Money.” The KJV again uses the term mammon. Worldly wealth is given by God to be used in his service. The master who gives the money must always be more important than the money he gives. When the money has priority over the master, then one has a classic case of mismanagement. That was true of the rich fool whose tragic end Jesus described in chapter 12, verses 16-21. It also will be true of the rich man described in the next section.
Though Jesus had been speaking to his disciples, the Pharisees were listening in and now sneer at what they hear. They looked at riches as being a sign of God’s special favor. Riches were regarded as the reward for the good life. For that reason the Pharisees loved riches.
Jesus reproves them for their wrong attitude toward riches. They think to use their riches as a sign to other people that their teachings and life are pleasing to God. Jesus sees in riches just so much outward glitter that says nothing at all about the heart. People might put a high value on riches, but riches carry no impact at all with God. God is concerned with the right management of riches in a way that brings glory to him and shows love to those in need.
With verses 16 to 18, the subject seems to change briefly. Perhaps Jesus is replying to some remark made by one of the Pharisees that he has no right to talk about what is “detestable in God’s sight” in view of the lax way in which he seems to regard some of the laws (chapter 6, verses 1-5). Jesus observes that from the Old Testament period up to the time of John, the Law and the Prophets were proclaimed. In the New Testament period, people are eagerly listening to the good news and seeking to enter into the kingdom. Some people might think that the law has no more validity in this New Testament period. Jesus declares that he has not come to relax the law one little bit. In chapter 16, verse 31 Moses (the Law) and the Prophets are declared to be sufficient for salvation.
As one example of the seriousness with which he regards the law, Jesus refers to the question of divorce. Many of the Pharisees made it very easy for a man to divorce his wife. One Jewish teacher of the law said that a wife could be divorced if she spoiled a dish of food, if she spun in the street, if she talked to a strange man, or if she raised her voice so as to be heard next door.
The law against adultery was strictly observed. But this law could be circumvented by a man who divorced his wife and married the woman he desired. Wives became nothing more than possessions to be disposed of at will. Jesus shows his concern for the sanctity of marriage and for the rights of women by declaring that it was adultery for a husband to divorce his wife and marry another; likewise, the Sixth Commandment was broken also when a man married a divorced woman. Jesus was certainly not guilty of relaxing the law. He set much higher standards for his disciples than did the Pharisees.
The rich man and Lazarus
Luke chapter 16, verses 19-31
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
The rich man whom Jesus introduces in this parable is not too different from the one portrayed in chapter 12, verses 16-21. That man planned to “take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” He never got the chance. The rich man in the present parable gets that chance, but the end result remains the same when his time comes to die.
The name Dives is sometimes given to this rich man. That word comes from the Latin translation of the opening verses, “Homo quidern erat dives,” and simply means “rich.” The rich man is a person without a name. But the poor man has a name: Lazarus (“God has helped”). This was also the name of the brother of Mary and Martha whom Jesus would raise from the dead (John chapter 11, verse 44).
The condition of Lazarus reminds us of the prodigal son when he found himself starving to death in a faraway country. The very same words are used by Jesus to describe their extreme hunger: “longing to eat” (see chapter 15, verse 16). We are not told that this poor man was even permitted to eat the scraps from the table of the rich man. In his weakness he is unable to drive away the dogs who lick his sores, adding to his misery.
But no act of kindness comes from the rich man to help this poor beggar. He is not “rich toward God” (chapter 12, verse 21). He does not make himself clean by giving to the poor (chapter 11, verse 41). Far from selling his possessions to give to the poor, he does not even give his leftovers. He has no thought of preparing a purse in heaven that will not wear out (chapter 12, verse 33). The rich man did not use worldly wealth to gain friends so that when he died, he would be welcomed into eternal dwellings (chapter 16, verse 9).
When death comes to Lazarus and the rich man, they experience a great reversal of fortune. Mary had sung of a God who “has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (chapter 1, verse 53). Jesus pronounced those blessed “who hunger now, for you will be satisfied”; on the other hand, he said “woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry” (chapter 6, verses 21 and 25). These statements are vividly illustrated by the situation in which Lazarus and the rich man find themselves in the afterlife. The poor man finds himself at the banquet table of salvation, reclining next to Abraham. His counterpart would welcome even a taste of cool water. The rich man soon learns from Abraham that there is no hope for a visit from blessed Lazarus to bring him relief.
The thoughts of the rich man turn to his five brothers who still live on the earth. He suggests to Abraham that a visit from the dead by Lazarus might knock some sense into their heads. Abraham replies that they have Moses and the Prophets and should listen to them. “Moses and the Prophets” refers to the Old Testament Scriptures. The rich man pleads his case by arguing that only a resurrection from the dead will bring his brothers to repentance. Abraham rejects this argument. If the Word of God does not convince, neither will a resurrection from the dead. Later in Jesus’ ministry, a Lazarus would rise from the dead, but the result would be a deepening of the animosity against Jesus (John chapter 11, verses 46-53). And the resurrection of Jesus himself did not bring about mass conversions.
The details of this parable dare not be pressed to discover exactly what heaven and hell will be like. This is a story told by Jesus to make a point. Perhaps we might better say that he is making two points. The first simply emphasizes something Jesus has repeatedly been stressing: wisely use the money that God puts into your hands. One wise use of income is to give to the poor.
The second point of this parable is to emphasize the sufficiency of the Word of God to bring about repentance and a changed life. Jesus was accused by the Pharisees of relaxing the law of God. Jesus rejects the charge (chapter 16, verse 17). With this parable he again affirms the importance of proclaiming the entire Word of God, both law and gospel, for the conversion of sinners.
Sin, faith, duty
Luke chapter 17, verses 1-10
Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves.
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
“Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
The specific subject of money management is left behind as we enter the 17th chapter of Luke’s gospel. Jesus will pick up the topic of riches several more times as he continues his journey to Jerusalem.
The NIV titles this section “Sin, faith, duty.” We have here four sayings of Jesus that set forth various aspects of discipleship. These sayings focus on two questions: (1) What are disciples of Jesus called to do? (2) Are disciples able to do these things?
The subject of the first two sayings is sin: the seriousness of sin and the way in which a disciple should deal with those who sin. Things that cause people to sin are bound to occur, but this fact should not promote the idea that sin is not serious. The anger of Jesus blazes against the person who causes “little ones” to sin. The term “little ones” is used for any Christian, though we might think especially of a Christian new to the faith or not so far along in knowledge. Jesus pronounces a woe against the person who leads the innocent into sin and declares that a violent death would have been better for that person than to face God’s wrath. He means this warning for his disciples: “So watch yourselves.”
It inevitably happens that a disciple will become aware of a fellow Christian who is sinning. Rather than harboring bad feelings against the brother or speaking to someone else about the sin, Jesus tells his disciples to “rebuke” the sinner. The word “rebuke” carries the idea of a frank but gentle admonition: politely tell him what he has done wrong. If this rebuke leads to repentance on the part of the sinner, then he should be forgiven. This is not only true of sins in general but specifically of sins “against you.” Jesus calls on the disciple to practice such forgiveness seven times a day if necessary. The number seven is not meant to be taken literally but rather suggests any number of times. Though sin is serious and should not be taken lightly, this is not reason to withhold forgiveness from the repenting sinner.
The statements of Jesus about sin prompt the apostles to request of Jesus, “Increase our faith.” This is something they must have prayed for often. But here they realize how difficult it is to deal correctly with the sinning brother. They need Jesus’ help to fulfill what he has given them to do.
The answer Jesus gives his apostles suggests that they should not use lack of faith as an excuse for not dealing correctly with the sinning brother. He indicates that even with a little faith, great things can be done. If you are responding in faith to God’s forgiveness, then you will be able to forgive. Use the little faith you have.
Finally, Jesus tells a parable that begins in the same way as the one he told about the shepherd who lost one of his sheep: “Suppose one of you . . .” (chapter 15, verse 3). It’s Jesus’ way of saying, Just imagine this. The parable asks whether a master would excuse a servant who had worked all day in the fields from making his supper. Or would he thank his servant for doing what he was told to do? Jesus makes the application that the disciples should not look for any special praise or commendation for only doing their duty.
Jesus makes quite a different point in the parable he told in chapter 12, verses 35-37. In that story the returning master rewards his waiting servants by himself assuming the role of a servant. Each parable has its own meaning and purpose. One must take into account all of Scripture to correctly understand the individual parts.
This parable is meant to discourage disciples from thinking more highly of themselves in comparison to others who perhaps do less or are caught in serious sins. When all is said and done, every disciple is an unworthy servant in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. So the second phase of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem with his disciples ends with this note of their unworthiness for service in the kingdom.
Jesus wants people to be aware that the work of the kingdom is going on right now
Ten healed of leprosy
Luke chapter 17, verses 11-19
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
With this section the third phase of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem begins. There will be a quickening of the pace as Luke includes additional geographical notes. Jesus will again predict his death in Jerusalem (chapter 18, verses 31-33). Two stories happening in Jericho, just 18 miles from Jerusalem, will be recorded. Jesus will tell a parable when he was “near Jerusalem” (chapter 19, verse 11), and finally the city of destiny will be reached, and he will enter in triumph (chapter 19, verses 28-38).
The information that “Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee” poses a bit of a problem. As was mentioned in the commentary on chapter 13, verse 22, the border between Samaria and Galilee is a long way from Jerusalem. If Jesus set out already in chapter 9, verse 51 to go up to Jerusalem, he has made little progress. This suggests that the journey may not so much be thought of as a literal trip (though it was that) but as a spiritual pilgrimage. Possibly the reference to “Galilee” in this section includes the province of Perea, east of the Jordan River, over which Herod Antipas also ruled. In that case, Jesus would be much closer to Jerusalem when he healed the ten lepers.
Jesus had healed a single leper near the beginning of his Galilean ministry (chapter 5, verses 12-16). Now ten lepers come to him asking for mercy (the NIV translates it as “pity”). In the case of the single leper, Jesus first healed him and then sent him to the priests to verify the cure. Here Jesus sends them off to the priests, and they are cleansed enroute.
Of the ten, only one returns to Jesus to say thanks and give praise to God. Now the reader learns that this one of the ten lepers was a Samaritan. The assumption is that the other nine were Jews. Though Jews and Samaritans usually had no fellowship, misery loves company. Jesus commends this “foreigner” for his act of worship and asks in disappointment about the other nine.
At the start of the journey to Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples came to a Samaritan village that refused to welcome him. James and John were rebuked by Jesus when they wanted to call down fire to destroy that village (chapter 9, verses 51-55). Jesus had told a parable starring a Samaritan (chapter 10, verses 30-35). Here this Samaritan leper manifests his faith. The disciples are learning that response to the message of the gospel breaks down racial barriers. People from the far corners of the earth will sit down at the banquet of salvation.
The coming of the kingdom of God
Luke chapter 17, verses 20-37
Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”
Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. Men will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark.
Then the flood came and destroyed them all.
“It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.
“It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.
On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”
“Where, Lord?” they asked.
He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”
This section begins with the Pharisees asking “when the kingdom of God would come” and closes with the disciples of Jesus asking “where” the Son of Man will be revealed when he comes again. Then as now, many people seek to calculate the when and where of Christ’s second coming. Some in the days of the early church taught that Jesus had returned in a way not recognized by the average person. That same teaching has been put forth in modern times. But the words of Jesus recorded here warn Christians against being timekeepers of God’s kingdom; rather, we should be prepared for whenever and wherever it comes.
The question asked by the Pharisees is similar to the one that the disciples of Jesus will ask him at the time of his ascension: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts chapter 1, verse 6) The journey to Jerusalem may have prompted the Pharisee’s question. With his answer Jesus wants to bring out the truth that one should not be looking into the future for the kingdom of God. The entire ministry of Jesus should have shown to all his contemporaries that the kingdom of God was already among them. “The kingdom of God has come to you” (chapter 11, verse 20). The NIV translation of “within you” here is not the best in view of the fact that Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees. We would prefer the translation given in the footnote: “The kingdom of God is among you.” The healing of the ten lepers demonstrated that truth.
In the instruction concerning the future coming of the Son of Man, Jesus makes six points: (1) that day won’t come as soon as they wish; (2) that day will be known to all and not happen in secret; (3) there must first come a time of suffering; (4) that day will catch many people unprepared; (5) the end will be in a moment; (6) family and friends will be separated by the final judgment. After arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus will speak further about the end of the world (chapter 21).
This mention of suffering presents another brief glimpse of what Jesus must undergo in Jerusalem (see chapter 9, verses 22 and 44 for earlier predictions; another will come in chapter 18, verses 31 and 33). The disciples, as well as the Jews in general, were totally unprepared for a suffering Messiah but rather expected a conquering hero.
In the midst of talking about the end, Jesus urges his disciples to be ready to give up their lives for his sake. He had said the same after hearing Peter’s confession of him as the Christ (Messiah) of God (chapter 9, verse 24). Not only would Jesus have to suffer before the final day, but so would the disciples.
Jesus compares the day of the Son of Man to the days of Noah and Lot. The people before the flood were not at all responsive to the preaching of Noah and went about their normal activities with no thought of the coming judgment. So also the wicked inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were totally unprepared for the fiery destruction of those cities in the days of Lot. The same will be true on the day when the Son of Man comes again.
The word “taken” used by Jesus in verses 34 and 35 has caused some Bible readers to think that there will be a “rapture” before the final day, that some people will literally be taken into heaven while others are left to continue to live on this earth. The use of the word “taken” is related to the examples of Noah and Lot, who were taken to safety from the place of destruction. But this happened at the same time when those who were left met destruction. There will be no rapture. The believer will be taken to the safety of heaven on the Last Day.
The disciples show that they really haven’t been listening very well when they ask the question “Where?” Jesus had warned against people who propose a where by saying “Here he is” or “There he is.” When and where are not important. Jesus’ reply to the disciples’ question is given in the form of a proverb. He is saying, “Birds of prey circling in the sky give clear evidence to everyone of the presence of a dead body; the where of the Son of Man will be just as obvious to everyone on the Last Day. You need not ask that question.”
The when and where of the coming of the Son of Man is not something we Christians today should concern ourselves with. What matters is that we are aware that this day will come and are prepared.
Between verses 35 and 37, some ancient manuscripts include another verse: “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.” This verse occurs in Matthew chapter 24, verse 40 and was also inserted in Luke’s gospel by some translations.