Two powerful parables! In the first, Jesus deals with how we should handle our possessions and how to be prepared for the future. In the second parable Jesus gives insight into life after death – it’s a picture of heaven and hell. Pay close attention.
Jesus Tells the Parable of the Shrewd Manager / 16:1-18
This passage of Luke begins a section dealing with the wise use of one’s possessions. This parable is one of the most difficult to interpret, but it explains how Jesus’ followers ought to use worldly wealth. Jesus was pointing out that everyone, fully warned of the coming divine judgment, should follow this manager’s example. All people are in a worse predicament than this manager because their eternal destinies hang in the balance. Instead of frantically holding on to possessions which soon will disappear, possessions should be given away, especially to those in need (12:33). Money will not last, but people, God’s word, and his Kingdom will. Will your investments reap eternal dividends?
16:1-2 This manager handled financial matters for the rich man. He had extensive authority over the rich man’s financial affairs, even the ability to make contracts in the master’s name. A person in such a position should have complete integrity. Unfortunately, this manager did not. He was thoroughly dishonest. Having been informed of the problems, the rich man called him in and demanded a financial report. As a consequence, the rich man would strip the manager of his authority, but first he required that the steward prepare the documents. This would take some time, and the manager used this time to his advantage.
- LIFE APPLICATION – MONEY POWER
- Money provides a good test of the lordship of Christ. Use your resources wisely because they belong to God, and not to you. Money can be used for good or evil; use yours for good. Money has a lot of power, so you should use it carefully and thoughtfully. Use your material goods in a way that will foster faith and obedience (see 12:33-34).
16:3-4 The manager just lost his livelihood, but he had a window of time before being fired. So he thought about how best to handle his coming unemployment. Having been a manager, he did not want to dig ditches, he had too much pride to beg, and his mismanagement of his master’s funds would cause no one else to hire him for such a position. So he came up with a plan whereby others would take care of him. By plying upon the code of reciprocity, the manager could find food and housing and possibly a job from those whose debts were reduced.
16:5-7 Much discussion has arisen around exactly what this money manager was doing in this situation. Some commentators suggest that what the manager was doing was removing the interest and his own earnings from each of the debts. Most likely, this manager was acting very shrewdly in figuring out a way to put his master’s debtors in his own debt. The debts here involved are very high (The measure of olive oil -850 gallons represented the yield of nearly 150 trees. The measure of wheat, about 1,000 bushels represented the yield of about 100 acres) these probably would have been commercial transactions. The manager summoned all his master’s debtors and reduced their debts by a substantial amount. In this fraudulent way, the manager earned their good will. Once the debts had been dishonestly reduced, the master could do nothing, but social custom would require these debtors to reciprocate such kindness to the manager.
- LIFE APPLICATION- SEIZE THE DAY
- In this story, the manager used the time and opportunity he had. Don’t let time run out before you deal with the most important realities of life. Use the opportunities God gives you. Perhaps you worked late every night when your family was young, and now, with savings and security, your son isn’t a Little Leaguer anymore. You missed it. Perhaps you always wanted to tell your mom what she meant to you, how much you love her. But she died last year, before you ever said it. Perhaps you always intended to get right with God, to confess your sins, to worship, to serve the Lord. Do it now.
16:8-9 The commendation for the dishonest rascal raises questions. Why would dishonesty be commended? The manager had cut down the debts, legally made them binding with a third party, and indebted others to him. Thus, there was nothing left for the master to do than to commend the manager for his shrewdness. He had solved his problem—albeit at expense to his master. The commendation seems odd, unless the master was simply appreciating the farsightedness of the plan.
Actually, Jesus did not want his listeners to focus on the details as much as on the lesson to be learned, which he includes here. The citizens of this world are more shrewd than the godly are. Citizens of this world refers to unbelievers, who are neither committed to God nor his eternal standards. The godly refers to the disciples and followers of Jesus. The shrewd manager sized up his situation, made some decisions, came up with a strategy, and did what was needed. Jesus was not commending dishonesty, but rather the manager’s foresight and diligence to follow through and make friends. The manager did not profit directly in reducing the debts, but he used the principle of reciprocity to gain favor with the debtors. By doing a favor for them, the manager could require a favor from them.
Then Jesus added, “I tell you, use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. In this way, your generosity stores up a reward for you in heaven.” Believers are to make wise use of their financial opportunities, not to earn heaven, but to use their resources to make friends by helping the poor. If believers use their money to help those in need or to help others find Christ, their earthly investment will bring eternal benefit. Those who obey God will find that the unselfish use of their possessions will follow. Soon Jesus would spell out some of the applications for gaining friends (16:10-13).
- LIFE APPLICATION – STRATEGIC PLANNING
- Jesus applauded the steward who had assessed the situation clearly, planned bold and decisive action that would benefit others, and executed the plan effectively. This steward was nobody’s fool. Yet many Christians act without skill or finesse when it comes to financial matters compared to their secular counterparts. Many downplay budget, investing, and business principles as though they are unspiritual issues for the church. Should Christians take action strategically? Should they seize opportunities with discernment? Should they find ways to do more with their finances? Jesus commended those who did.
16:10-12 How people handle their worldly wealth shows their trustworthiness. If a person can be trusted with a little bit, if he or she maintains integrity even in small matters, then that person has proven trustworthiness for large matters. The reverse is also true—the one who would willingly steal a dollar may also be willing to steal thousands. Trustworthiness goes to a person’s very core.
- LIFE APPLICATION – MONEY MATTERS
- Integrity often meets its match in money matters. God calls his people to be honest even in small details that could easily be rationalized away. Heaven’s riches are far more valuable than earthly wealth. But those who are not trustworthy with money here (no matter how much or little) will be unfit to handle the vast riches of God’s kingdom. Don’t let your integrity slip in small matters, and it will not fail you in crucial decisions either.
16:13 Money often takes the place of God in people’s lives. How a person handles money indicates how much mastery money has attained in that person’s life. Jesus explained that no one can serve two masters. From a spiritual standpoint, all people will serve someone or something; here Jesus spoke of two choices, God and money. People can choose to serve money—in essence, this means serving themselves and all the pleasure and power money can buy—or they can choose to serve God. But no one can do both, for the two choices are diametrically opposed. No one can seek selfish pleasure and be able to give money away. When money is one’s master, there can be no room for God who requires single-hearted obedience and devotion.
Avoid mistaken judgments here. Many rich people are genuine, mature Christians. Wealth is not the issue. Many mature Christians work hard and expect to be paid. That’s not the issue either. Money for these people is only a means to an end. Yet some people tragically have made wealth an end in itself—the thing to serve, their god. For Christians, money is always a means of service, never an ultimate goal. Money is God’s loan to you for smart stewardship, never a measure of your real worth.
- LIFE APPLICATION – MASTER MONEY
- Money can easily take God’s place in your life. It can become your master. How can you tell if you are a slave to money? If you answer yes to most of these questions, you have a problem. Do you think and worry about it frequently? Do you give up doing what you should do or would like to do in order to make more money? Do you spend a great deal of your time caring for your possessions? Is it hard for you to give money away? Are you in debt? Money is a hard master and a deceptive one. Wealth promises power and control but often cannot deliver. Great fortunes can be made—and lost—overnight, and no amount of money can provide health, happiness, and eternal life. Instead, let God be your Master. His servants have peace of mind and security, both now and forever.
16:14-15 Because the Pharisees loved their money, they scoffed at Jesus’ teaching. They may not have thought that they were serving money (16:13), but their laughing at Jesus’ words shows that Jesus had touched a sensitive area. The Pharisees acted piously to get praise from others, but God knew their evil hearts. They considered their wealth to be a sign of God’s approval. God detested their wealth, however, because it caused them to abandon true spirituality. What this world honors is an abomination in the sight of God. People who focus their lives on outward appearance and impressing others serve the wrong master and therefore cannot serve God.
16:16-17 Jesus emphasized that his Kingdom fulfilled the law; it did not cancel it (Matthew 5:17). The Good News of the Kingdom of God was not a new system but the culmination of the old. The same God who had worked through Moses was working through Jesus. John the Baptist’s ministry was the dividing line between the Old and New Testaments (John 1:15-18). Up until his time, the only revelation of God available to people came through the laws of Moses and the messages of the prophets. The Good News was the culmination of all that the Law demanded and the Prophets foresaw. Those who recognized his true identity realized that the Kingdom had come and were forcing their way in, so desiring to be part of it.
16:18 Jesus had just made the point that his coming fulfilled the law and the prophets. That did not mean, however, that the law was no longer valid. In fact, in many cases, Jesus took the law and required even higher standards for those who would follow him (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 33-35, 38-39, 43-44). Divorce was a hot topic of debate. Stricter than any of the then-current schools of thought, Jesus’ teachings shocked his hearers (see Matthew 19:10), just as they shake today’s readers. Jesus stated in no uncertain terms that marriage is a lifetime commitment, and he explained that divorce dissolves a divinely formed union. He also explained that marriage after divorce is adultery. (Matthew 19:9 gives one exception: marital unfaithfulness.) While the application of Jesus’ words requires interpretation to specific situations, one truth is inescapable: God created marriage to be a sacred, permanent union and partnership between husband and wife. Anyone who takes this lightly forgets God’s law and his plan for marriage from the very beginning.
Through this statement about divorce, Jesus was showing the unbelieving religious leaders that his words do not violate the law. He also wanted to point out to them their hypocrisy in attempting to keep the letter of the law while failing to fulfill its moral obligations.
Jesus Tells about the Rich Man and the Beggar / 16:19-31
In Jesus’ parable of a rich man and a poor man, their fortunes were exactly reversed at death: the poor man went to paradise, while the rich man suffered in hell. In agony, the rich man cried out for help, asking Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers of this tragic, irreversible fate.
16:19-21 Finally, regarding the Pharisees’ attitude toward money (they “dearly loved” it, 16:14), Jesus gave an illustration that vividly portrays the value of money in light of future judgment. This Lazarus should not be confused with the Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead in John 11. Incidentally, this is the only person in any of Jesus’ stories who is given a name. The rich man in this parable lived out the lifestyle afforded to the wealthy who lived in the Roman Empire. Splendid clothing, delicious food of all types, and days lived in luxury could be had by those with enough money.
In contrast, there is a poor diseased beggar. Ancient Rome had no middle class—there were the very rich and the very poor. Often the poor were reduced to begging in order to survive. This man, Lazarus, was sick, hungry, and abandoned, so he lay at the rich man’s door, longing for scraps from the rich man’s table. Leftovers were all he desired, and the rich man could easily have shared from his extravagance by sending a servant out with a plateful. But the rich man chose to spend his money on himself, refusing to share, probably not even taking notice of the poor man at his door. His wealth was not sinful, but his selfishness was. While he had everything he could possibly want, Lazarus lay hungry with even the dogs licking his open sores.
- LIFE APPLICATION – HARD-HEARTED HOARDING
- The Pharisees considered wealth to be a proof of a person’s righteousness. Jesus startled them with this story where a diseased beggar is rewarded and a rich man is punished. The rich man did not go to hell because of his wealth but because he lacked faith and compassion by refusing to feed Lazarus, take him in, or care for him. The rich man was hard-hearted despite his great blessings. The amount of money a person has is not as important as the way he or she uses it. What is your attitude toward your money and possessions? Do you hoard them selfishly, or do you use them to help others?
16:22-23 In time, both the rich man and Lazarus died, for death takes everyone regardless of social station or wealth. The rich man ended up in torment in the place of the dead, the destiny of those who have refused to believe. The “torment” is described in 16:24 as “flames.” Added to the torment was the rich man’s ability to see paradise, with Abraham and Lazarus in peace and luxury. The role reversal is obvious—as Lazarus once lay in pain outside the door of the rich man’s house watching him feast, so here the rich man was in torment watching the joy far away in heaven.
In contrast, Lazarus must have been a God-fearing man, despite the fact that God had not allowed him an easy or pleasant lifetime on earth. When Lazarus died, the angels carried him to be with Abraham, another way of describing the Kingdom.
A theology of heaven and hell should not be based on Jesus’ words here. Pressing the details too much will take us away from the main point of the illustration, which is to teach about the danger of pursuing wealth, as well as the finality of God’s judgment.
16:24-25 Not only could the rich man in this story see into heaven’s bliss from his torment, but he could call out to those in paradise as well. He spoke to Father Abraham, a title any Jew would use for Abraham, the father of their nation (John 8:39). The request for Abraham to send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water shows that the rich man’s basic attitude had not changed. For all his deference to Abraham, he still thought of Lazarus as no more than a messenger who could be sent by Abraham to do the rich man a favor.
Abraham sent an answer, but not the one that the rich man wanted or even expected. The rich man may have thought there was a mistake. He had been rich, and if wealth was a sign of God’s blessing, why would he be in agony? Abraham explained that, during their time on earth, the rich man had everything, but Lazarus had nothing. While the rich man could have helped the poor within his reach (such as Lazarus), he chose only personal pleasure. The roles for eternity would be reversed. Lazarus went from pain and hunger to comfort; the rich man went from pleasure and merriment to anguish. This would have unnerved the Pharisees who were listening to this parable. To them, wealth was a sign of God’s blessing, poverty a sign of God’s disfavor. So they enjoyed their wealth and did not attempt to bridge the chasm that separated them from the “disfavored ones.” But Jesus was explaining that another chasm would develop, and they would find themselves on the wrong side.
16:26 Abraham explained to the rich man that he couldn’t send Lazarus because between them and him was a great chasm and no one can cross over. The ultimate fates cannot be changed. God’s decision upon death is final. There is only one life on this earth, and that is the time of decision. People cannot wait until eternity to make their relationship right with God—it will be too late. The judgment will have been made on the basis of their choices, and it will be irreversible.
16:27-29 The rich man still thought Lazarus could be sent on messenger duty. If Lazarus could not come to help him, then he wanted Lazarus sent to warn his five brothers about the place of torment so they wouldn’t have to go there when they died. Abraham simply explained that they could read the words of Moses and the prophets (that is, the Old Testament) and there find the warnings about the place of torment. If those brothers hadn’t heeded the major message of God in his word, they would not heed a messenger.
- LIFE APPLICATION – HARD-CORE SKEPTIC
- In his life, the rich man refused to listen to God’s command to be generous to the poor. Honest and difficult questions about God will always tug at the minds and hearts of honest searchers who are open and curious and do not regard questions as threats or sins. Hard-core skeptics reject such questions as unsolvable and therefore unimportant. Their minds are resolved to avoid matters of faith, God, and eternity. If you have questions, that’s good. Keep looking for answers. If you have given up, take this story’s warning. The serious pursuit of good questions is our human responsibility; an uncaring disposition erects a high wall between you and truth. One day all must give an account for rejecting God.
16:30-31 Perhaps the rich man knew his brothers only too well. The suggestion that they read God’s word (or listen to it read in the synagogue) met with a no. It just wouldn’t happen—probably for the same reasons that the rich man himself never had heeded the warnings therein. So the rich man begged that someone from the dead go back to them. Surely, then, they would turn from their sins. Abraham answered that if these brothers did not listen to Moses and the prophets, then they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead and appears to them.
Notice the irony in Jesus’ statement; on his way to Jerusalem to die, he was fully aware that even when he had risen from the dead, most of the religious leaders would not accept him. They were set in their ways, and neither Scripture nor God’s Son himself would shake them loose.
Until tomorrow, Darrell
Sources: Bible Background Commentary, Bible Knowledge Commentary, Life Application Bible Commentary, Life Application Concise New Testament Commentary
For more about The Ridge Fellowship or Darrell Koop go to www.ridgefellowship.com