Luke 16

The Word Made Fresh

1Then Jesus told his disciples, “A rich man hired a manager, but was informed that the man was wasting what belonged to him, 2so he called for him and said ‘What is this I’m hearing about you? Prepare a final report for me because you cannot continue as my manager any longer.’

3“Then the manager thought, ‘What am I going to do now that my master is letting me go? I’m not strong enough to dig. I’m ashamed to beg. 4I know – this is what I’ve decided to do so that when I’m fired people will still welcome me into their homes.’

5“So, he sent for his master’s debtors, one at a time. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6‘A hundred jars of olive oil,’ he answered. He then told him, ‘Sit down and take your bill and change it to fifty jars.’

7“Then he asked another, ‘How much do you owe?’

“‘A hundred baskets of wheat,’ he replied.

“He said, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’

8“His employer commended him for acting so cleverly, because children nowadays are shrewder in dealing with their own peers than are the children of light. 9I advise you to use your ill-gotten wealth to make friends, so that when it is gone they might welcome you into eternal homes.

10“Whoever is faithful in very small things will also be faithful in large things. 11If you haven’t been faithful with earthly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12And if you haven’t been faithful with things that belong to others, who will return what belongs to you? 13A servant can’t serve two masters – he’ll either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and money.”

14The Pharisees who loved money, heard him say this and made fun of him. 15So, Jesus told them, “You love to justify yourselves to others, but God knows your hearts. The things people value are detestable in God’s sight. 16The law and the prophets were obeyed until John came. Since then, the good news of God’s kingdom has been proclaimed, and people try to force their way in. 17But it would be easier to wipe out heaven and earth than to erase one stroke of a letter in the law. 18Any man who divorces his wife and marries another is an adulterer, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

19“There was a wealthy man who always wore purple and fine linen and feasted on rich foods every day. 20At his gate lay a poor beggar named Lazarus who was covered with sores. 21He wanted only to eat whatever fell from the rich man’s table, and the dogs would come and lick his wounds. 22He died, and the angels carried him to be with Abraham. Then the rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades he was tormented, but he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side. 24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool my tongue – I am suffering in agony in these flames.’ 25But Abraham replied, ‘Child, remember that when you were alive, you were blessed with many good things. Lazarus, on the other hand, experienced only evil things. But now he is comforted here, while you are suffering. 26Besides, there is a great chasm between the two of you, and anyone here that might want to come to you cannot, nor can anyone with you cross over to us.’ 27The rich man begged, ‘Father Abraham, please, I beg you, send Lazarus to my family – 28I have five brothers – so that he can warn them and keep them from also winding up in this place of torment.’ 29Abraham said ‘They should listen to Moses and the prophets.’ 30The rich man argued, ‘They won’t, father Abraham, but if someone goes from the dead to them, they’ll change their ways.’ 31Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.’”


1-9: Jesus turns to his disciples at this point, but the Pharisees are still listening (see verse 14) and we have to wonder if he is not really aiming this story at them. It is the story of a crafty manager who is not very good at bookkeeping. I say that because Jesus does not imply that he is dishonest, only that he squanders his master’s property. The master fires him and tells him to turn in his books. The manager then shows his real talents – he arranges for his future needs by giving breaks to his master’s debtors. The master is impressed. Jesus does not say that he wins back his former position, but ends the story by advising the disciples to make friends by means of “dishonest wealth,” so that when it is all gone those friends “may welcome you into the eternal abodes.” That last statement reveals that the entire parable is drenched with sarcasm. It begins with the manager in the same position as the prodigal son, but the similarities disappear as the manager begins to implement his clever scheme. The Pharisees, lovers of money (verse 14), will see the advantage of the manager’s action, but as for being welcomed into “the eternal realms” through such behavior, they know good and well the kingdom of God doesn’t work that way. The true meaning of the parable, then, is the opposite of its apparent meaning. If you trust in riches to save you in this world, you are also trusting in riches to usher you into the world to come, and that idea is patently absurd and utterly foolish.

10-13: Jesus now makes that clear. Those who are unfaithful with dishonest wealth (which is exactly the case with the aforementioned manager) will never be entrusted with true riches.

14-15: Most English versions (KJV, RSV, NRSV, etc.) place a comma after the word “Pharisees” in verse 14, but I prefer to leave it out — ancient manuscripts contain no punctuation, after all, so it is entirely speculative as to whether Luke meant that all Pharisees were lovers of money (comma in), or only some of them were (comma out). My take on the situation is that the remainder of Chapter 16 is addressed to those Pharisees who were lovers of money. Some of the Pharisees were actually pretty decent folks. The ones who did love wealth, though, turned up their noses at Jesus’ admonition that you can’t serve God and money. Since wealth means nothing to God, they are trying to justify themselves before others, which elevates peer review above divine judgment. But God knows that the love of money is symptomatic of wrong thinking — the idea that material riches somehow represent your true value. If you believe that righteousness results in prosperity then for you, prosperity is evidence of righteousness. Jesus says the truth is just the opposite. It is not a sin to be wealthy, but it is a sin to think that material wealth is a sign of your own worth. Neither is it a sin to be poor, but it is a sin to equate poverty with God’s displeasure. The sin of loving wealth is that it ascribes divine powers to material things; it is the worship of idols.

16-17: John’s appearance is a watershed moment in salvation history. Before John, the Law and the prophets provided direction. Beginning with John, however, the good news of the kingdom of God is pointing us in a new direction. Jesus’ followers thought that this new kingdom of God would be the restoration of the kingdom of David in Jerusalem, and only a bloody and violent revolution can accomplish such a thing. But the Pharisees Jesus is addressing have elevated the Law to God-like authority. They use the Law to justify themselves, and heaven and earth would pass away before they would change one letter of it.

18: But the Law has been superseded by the Gospel. This verse appears to be entirely out of place, but in fact is a case in point. What Jesus says in this verse is a direct contradiction of the Law. The Law says that if a man marries a woman, but she does not please him, he can write her a certificate of divorce and send her out of his house. She may then become another man’s wife (Deuteronomy 24:1-2). Why, then, does Jesus say this? It has to be an illustration that the Law has been superseded by the Gospel. The Law laid down rules for marriage and divorce in Israel. Jesus is making a statement about how marriage and divorce is viewed in the kingdom of God. Although marriage may not be legally binding in Israel, in God’s kingdom it is spiritually binding.

19-31: Jesus wraps up his argument with a parable about a rich man and a poor man. Which one do you think represents the Pharisees? We are given little detail about them other than their socio-economic status. One detail about them does stand out: the rich man is anonymous while the poor man’s name is given — Lazarus. The rich man never invites Lazarus to his table and is content to let him die. In death the rich man still sees himself as being above Lazarus and has the nerve to ask Abraham to send Lazarus to him! There is, however, a chasm between them which cannot be crossed. My interpretation of the chasm is that it symbolizes in death the barrier which the rich man had placed between himself and Lazarus in life. It cannot be crossed in death because he would not cross it when they were alive. By far the most striking feature of the parable is the ending of it. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers to warn them. Abraham simply says there is no point in doing so since they are already warned by Moses and the prophets. They have the same information the rich man had before he died. The Pharisees are the very people in Israel who claim to be the true followers of Moses. Jesus is exposing their hypocrisy — you cannot be obedient to the Law if you turn away from the poor.


Giving to the poor and helping those who are in need are pathways to eternal life. How are you handling your wealth?