Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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LUKE - Chapter 16

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Luke 16

Supplemental Commentary:

Note.  Only those parts of the Third Gospel that are peculiar to it are commented on here.  For all other parts the reader should consult the Commentaries on the parallel passages in the other Gospels.

I.  THE PUBLIC MINISTRY OF JESUS  3-21 (continued)

5. Ministry on the Journey to Jerusalem  9, 51 -- 18, 34 (continued)

16, 1-13:  The Unjust Steward.  This parable, which is found only in Luke, is often misunderstood.  But Christ states its principal moral quite clearly in 9: a rich man may enter heaven if he uses his riches in charity to the poor.  Certain details of the story may be somewhat obscure, since we are not fully acquainted with the economic customs of that time and place, but these details are unimportant.  When the steward knew that he would soon lose his stewardship, he provided for his future by using his master's wealth, that had been entrusted to him, in such a way that he won the good-will and hospitality of his master's tenants.  Christ tells us that we should imitate this prudence of the steward.  God has entrusted certain earthly goods to us, but the time will soon come when we will be deprived of these by death.  Therefore we should provide for our eternal future by being similarly generous towards the poor with our wealth.

1.  This steward was the manager of a large estate.    5.  The debtors probably had not borrowed this oil and wheat but owed it as rent for their use of the master's lands.    8.  Not the dishonesty but the prudence of the steward is commended.  In relation to their own generation: i.e., in their dealings with other worldlings in the affairs of this world.  The children of light: i.e., the members of Christ's kingdom are not as far-sighted in providing for their eternal future.    9.  See note to text.  They may receive you: it is immaterial who the they are, whether the friends among the poor whom you have won by  means of your wealth, or the angels, or the good deeds themselves; the sense is simply, "That you may be received."  Heaven is here called the everlasting dwellings because in the parable the steward spoke of being received into their houses.

Vv.10-13 contain other sayings of our Lord concerning the proper use of earthly wealth, but we need not seek a close logical connection between these words and the preceding parable.    10 f.  Wealth is a very little thing in God's sight.  If we are not faithful in this regard, i.e., if we do not use the wealth, which God has entrusted to us, according to His wishes in generosity towards the poor, He will not entrust the things of true value, i.e., spiritual gifts, to us.    12.  What belongs to another is our earthly wealth, since this really belongs to God and has been merely confided to our care.  What is your own: i.e., the spiritual wealth of the kingdom of heaven which was "prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25, 34).    13.  Cf. the same words in Matt. 6, 24 (the Sermon on the Mount).

16, 14-18:  Pretenses of the Pharisees.  Vv.14 f are peculiar to Luke, but the words of our Lord in 16-18 are recorded in various other contexts in the First Gospel.  Here Christ refers to these things as examples of the Pharisees' hypocrisy.    16.  Cf. Matt. 11, 12 f.  Here the sense seems to be, "Before the time of John the Baptist you Pharisees could, in a sense, boast of your scrupulous observance of the Law, for the Old Law was then still in force.  But now the New Law is being promulgated, which good and sincere men are gladly embracing."    17.  Cf. Matt. 5, 18.  Christ adds these words to forestall a wrong idea of His attitude towards the Law.  The New Law does not nullify but perfects the Old Law.    18.  Cf. Matt. 5, 32; 19, 9.  Apparently this saying is out of its proper context here, unless this is given by Christ as an example of His manner of perfecting the Old Law.

16, 19-31:  The Rich Man and Lazarus.  In this parable, which Luke alone records, Christ returns to the theme of the right use of riches.  A few of the Fathers thought that our Lord referred to a strictly historical fact here, but the common opinion holds that this is a true parable, i.e., an imaginary but entirely plausible story to point a moral lesson.  The aim of this parable is clear: that there will be terrible punishment after death for those who live in riches and luxury and are callous towards the sufferings of the poor, whereas the latter, if they bear their poverty and sufferings patiently and with trust in God, may hope for happiness hereafter.  Christ does not intend to teach directly the nature of the punishments and rewards after death.  Much of the imagery in this regard is common in the rabbinical writings of that time.  Some of these expressions must certainly be taken as merely parts of the literary device and not understood too strictly.  Thus the rich man speaks as if he had a body after death but before the general resurrection, he converses with Abraham as if heaven and hell were but a stone's throw apart, he has feelings of charity towards his brothers on earth, which would be impossible in a damned soul, etc.  But the fact that there are rewards and punishments awaiting the just and the wicked immediately after death is such an integral part of the parable, that we can rightly conclude that this truth is at least implicitly taught by our Lord here.

19.  A certain rich man: As usual in the parables, Christ does not give him a name.  But in English he is ordinarily known as "Dives," which is simply the Latin word for a rich man.  No other sin is mentioned against him except his wilful failure to share his wealth with the poor.    20.  Lazarus is the only name given to anyone in Christ's parables.  We should not conclude from this, that our Lord had a definite historical individual in mind, or that this poor man has anything to do with Lazarus the brother of Martha and Mary of Bethany.  Christ gave him this name in the parable because of its meaning: it is derived from the Hebrew "Eleazar" which means "God is (my) help."  He wished to show thereby that the poor man went to heaven not merely because he was poor but because he bore his poverty out of love of God and with faith and trust in Him.  From this passage we derive our English word lazar in the sense of "a leper."    21.  It is implied that these longings were not satisfied.  The dogs are mentioned, not to show that at least they had pity on Lazarus, but to show his extreme affliction, for dogs are considered as unclean animals in the East, and this only added to his affliction.    22.  See note to text.  The hell mentioned here is not directly the place of the damned but the abode of the dead.    23.  In his bosom:  this figure of speech is probably taken, not from the custom of reclining at table (cf. John 13, 23), for in the language of the Rabbis the banquet with Abraham (Matt. 8, 11) would not take place until the Messianic age, but from the image of a little son "on the lap" of his father (cf. John 1, 18).    26.  The great gulf separating the abode of the damned from the abode of the blessed cannot be crossed, so that it would be impossible for Abraham to help the rich man even if he wished.  We know from other sources that the states of the good and the wicked are eternally fixed and unchangeable after death, but because of the free use of figurative language in this passage it is doubtful whether this text can be used as a proof for this truth.    31.  If men do not believe God's inspired word in the Scriptures, they will find reasons for doubting the reality of someone's resurrection from the dead.

Confraternity Bible:

The Unjust Steward  1 And he said also to his disciples, "There was a certain rich man who had a steward, who was reported to him as squandering his possessions.  2 And he called him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear of thee?  Make an accounting of thy stewardship, for thou canst be steward no longer.'

3 "And the steward said within himself, 'What shall I do, seeing that my master is taking away the stewardship from me?  To dig I am not able; to beg I am ashamed.  4 I know what I shall do, that when I am removed from my stewardship they may receive me into their houses.'  5 And he summoned each of his master's debtors and said to the first, 'How much dost thou owe my master?'  6 And he said, 'A hundred jars of oil.'  He said to him, 'Take thy bond and sit down at once and write fifty.'  7 Then he said to another, 'How much dost thou owe?'  He said, 'A hundred kors of wheat.'  He said to him, 'Take thy bond and write eighty.'

8* "And the master commended the unjust steward, in that he had acted prudently; for the children of this world, in relation to their own generation, are more prudent than the children of the light.  9* And I say to you, make friends for yourselves with the mammon of wickedness, so that when you fail they may receive you into the everlasting dwellings.

10 "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in a very little thing is unjust also in much.  11 Therefore, if in the case of the wicked mammon you have not proved faithful, who will entrust to you what is true?  12 And if in the case of what belongs to another you have not proved faithful, who will give you what is your own?  13 No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will stand by the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon."

Pretenses of the Pharisees  14 Now the Pharisees, who were fond of money, were listening to all these things, and they began to sneer at him.  15 And he said to them, "You are they who declare yourselves just in the sight of men, but God knows your heart; for that which is exalted in the sight of men is an abomination before God.  16 Until John came, there were the Law and the Prophets; since then the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.  17 Yet it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the Law to fail.

18 "Everyone who puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery; and he who marries a woman who has been put away from her husband commits adultery.

The Rich Man and Lazarus  19 "There was a certain rich man who used to clothe himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted every day in splendid fashion.  20 And there was a certain poor man, named Lazarus, who lay at his gate, covered with sores, 21 and longing to be filled with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.  22 And it came to pass that the poor man died and was borne away by the angels into Abraham's bosom; but the rich man also died and was buried in hell.  23 And lifting up his eyes, being in torments, he saw Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom.  24 And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame.'

25 "But Abraham said to him, 'Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime hast received good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now here he is comforted whereas thou art tormented.  26 And besides all that, between us and you a great gulf is fixed, so that they who wish to pass over from this side to you cannot, and they cannot cross from your side to us.'

27 "And he said, 'Then, father, I beseech thee to send him to my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they too come into this place of torments.'  29 And Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hearken to them.'  30 But he answered, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'  31 But he said to him, 'If they do not hearken to Moses and the Prophets, they will not believe even if someone rises from the dead.'"


8: The unjust behavior of the steward is not commended, but the master admires his worldly wisdom in providing for his future.

9: Riches often lead men to sin.  The disciples of Jesus during their short span of life are to use their wealth to relieve the poor and needy.