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In the Money: Luke 16

In Summary:

Luke 16 recalls two stories, and they both deal with material possessions. First is the unjust manager (Luke 16:1-12) and second is the story of Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). In both cases, Jesus is addressing people’s use of material wealth and the overall destruction that it wreaked on their lives.

The first story gives us a man charged with watching over someone else’s wealth. He is called to account for his use of that man’s wealth, because he had not been diligent with his stewardship. Knowing that his well-being was on the line, he rapidly rewrote a few of the debts that were owed his master. He used this leverage to improve his relationships with the debtors.

His master praises him for it. There are hard parables because obeying them is hard. Then there are hard parables because we just don’t quite get the point. That is what this is. Augustine suggests that the praise here is in planning ahead, being prudent. I think the praise here could be taken differently: Jesus is highlighting that the people of this age know how to make friends in this age. If you are not going to follow Him, you had better find ways to make friends.

Take a look, after all, at the audience. Luke 16:14 highlights the Pharisees in the audience. What do we see the Pharisees as doing? Mismanaging their master’s wealth: they poorly used the Word of God. In the preaching of Jesus, they are called to account—but rather than seek forgiveness or change their ways, did they perhaps start loosening their hard ideas to make more friends?

In Focus:

The second story will take our focus. We see the story of the rich man and Lazarus. I do find it odd that we typically refer to it as the story of “The Rich Man and Lazarus,” putting the unnamed antagonist first rather than the named, righteous man. That probably says more about us than about the text.

In this story, we see a key element missing. There is no mention of the religious leanings of either of the men. I would suggest that is safe to assume that both are Jews, likely in the same era as the life of Christ, perhaps from just a bit before. We can make that leap on decent ground because of the familiarity both men have with Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets. (This is a parable that I am inclined to think is a true story with some aspects, for lack of a better term, dumbed-down for audiences that can’t really see eternity.)

It is important, then, to realize that Lazarus is not in heaven simply because he was poor. He has gone to where his faith brought him. Likewise, the rich man is not in hell for being rich, but rather because he had Moses and the Prophets. He knew better than to behave like he did, and he has gone where his lack of faith sent him.


In Practice:

Practically speaking, there are three points I would highlight for us from these stories:

1. You cannot serve God and wealth. Jesus made that point Himself in 16:13. If your thoughts are consumed with improving your earthly abundance, then you are not serving the Kingdom of God. That is true if you are a person, a business, or a church. And woe, woe unto the church that falls into this trap.

1A. Just because you “talk holy” about your wealth does not mean you are not in violation of this idea. God sees your heart.

2. How we use the material we have reveals our faith. The rich man, the unjust steward both show a lack of faith in God because they lack integrity and compassion. The result? They have comfort and friends on this side, in this world.

3. Faithful stewards are found in those who are faithful in all things. Why? Because character shows through, wherever you are and whatever you are doing. This is part of our national problem: we keep putting people into situations that they have never grown the character for. The job does not make the person—the job reveals the character of the person. Skills can be taught, character must be grown. Grow character in children, encourage character in your workplace, develop character in your churches—and then train skills as needed.

In Nerdiness: 

Ah, my nerdy friends, what shall we do with 16:17? It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than an iota of the Law? Here is a suggestion:


The Law did not pass, but it was fulfilled in Christ Jesus. Therefore the Law serves to instruct in the holiness of God, demonstrating our need for grace and salvation. Rather than serve the Law, though, we serve the One who fulfilled it.

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