As we start chapter 16, we find Jesus speaking with his disciples. He tells a parable of a business manager who has been accused of squandering the rich man’s possessions. As a result, the rich man tells the manager. The manager makes a decision to have each of the rich man’s debtors come in so that he can cut their debts. His reasoning is that if he does this for them, they will be willing to welcome him when he no longer has his job. It turns out that the rich man is impressed by how shrewd the manager has proven to be. Jesus is using this as an example for his disciples. He says, “make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.) (v 9, NASB)
Now honestly, this seems a little too self-serving to be something Christ is recommending for our behavior. But if we look closely at this, we see that Jesus’ point is not to be self-serving, but to be generous. He is saying to be wise in the ways of the world because Christians often fail in this. This is what Jesus means when he says, “for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.” (v 8) We should use the wealth of the world to make friends. It is through these relationships that we can impact people for eternity.
Jesus tells them that if they can be faithful in small things, such as worldly wealth, then they can be faithful in big things, such as heavenly wealth. He makes it clear that money is a necessary part of this world, but it can not be our focus and purpose. Instead, it a tool to be used for God’s purpose. Jesus tells them, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (v 13)
Jesus then speaks directly to the Pharisees, who had been listening and scoffing at his views of money. He tells them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.” (v 15)
Jesus then seems to take an odd change in direction with a statement that the law does not pass away and a discussion on divorce. How does this fit in with what came before? I think Jesus is still addressing the Pharisees. They are the ones who are supposed to be teaching and supporting the law. But they have instead put their selfish desires ahead of the Law, because as Luke has stated, “were lovers of money.” (v 14) He even gives a clear example of his point in the positions taken on allowing divorce for any reason.
In the second half of this chapter, Jesus presents a parable to explain what worldly wealth is meant to be used for. He tells of a rich man who lived in great splendor and contrasts him with a poor and sick man, named Lazarus, who laid at the gate. Jesus actually gets quite graphic in the description of the Lazarus. He says that he longed, “to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.” (v 21)
He tells that the poor man died and was taken to “Abraham’s Bosom” (v 22), which is a term to describe paradise in the afterlife. Similar to heaven, but not in the presence of God as the redemption Christ had not yet taken place on the cross. The rich man also died and was buried, but found himself in Hades, what we more commonly refer to as hell. The rich man then cried out in agony look for something as little as a drop of water on his tongue. It is to Abraham that he cries out, as Abraham is the father of Israel. Abraham replies, “Child, remember that during your life, you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.” (v 25) Abraham then points out that on top of this, there is a great chasm that separates them.
As we read this, we can begin to see this in the context of his earlier parable about using worldly wealth. The rich man had all the world could give, yet he kept it to himself. He did not use his wealth to help others, and Lazarus stood as a clear example of his selfishness. He did not, “make friends for (himself) by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fail(ed), (he was not received) into the eternal dwellings.” (v 9)
The rich man makes a new attempt to help others, though this time it is his own brothers. “He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’” (Vv 27 – 28) Abraham explains to him that this will not make a difference. “he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (V 31)
This ending stands as a foreshadowing of what is to come. I believe that he seems to be pointing out that even though they have all the information in front of them (the law and the prophets), the religious leaders are still missing the point. What is more, even though Christ himself will rise from the dead, many of them will still not be persuaded.
My takeaways from chapter 16 are: 1) We need to use what we have been given in this world to build relationships with people and to reach for Christ. 2) The word of God stands for eternity. And 3) all the law and the prophets point the way to God (in Christ).