I was puzzling on a story in Luke. In chapter 16 of his gospel, Luke recounts something Jesus told him and the disciples. The story seemed a little strange to me and I was struggling to grasp its meaning. I scratched my head, and then I wondered if maybe Luke had just written it down wrong. Maybe he had just left out some important part of the story. That seemed like a much more reasonable explanation to me than that I simply was not able to grasp the meaning of something Jesus said.
But just in case it was me – and not Luke – that was falling short, I looked up online what some of the commentators had to say about it. They were like me, they got the meaning of the bits and pieces, but not the meaning of the whole – at least not to my thinking. To my thinking something seemed to still be missing – like if you fit all the puzzle pieces together and there’s still an empty space. It’s so frustrating. “Where’s the puzzle maker – I’d like to give him a piece of my mind!” In my annoyance I shook the box, and I was so surprised when another piece of the puzzle fell out. And then another.
Maybe I’m all wrong, but the picture that came together for me was of the incredible depth of the mercy of God, and His deep, deep love for all creation.
It goes like this:
He [Jesus] also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ Luke 16:1-2
The manager went away devastated – he’d lost his job and knows he can’t get another one. So he devises a plan of what to do. His boss gave him time to tidy up his affairs so he uses that time, while he still has authority to act on his bosses behalf, to go to each of his boss’s debtors and curry favor by reducing their debt.
It’s a bold and a crafty plan, but you’d think when he got caught he’d be punished for it – after all, he was basically stealing his master’s money. Instead, when he finds out Jesus says, “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” Luke 16:8.
My comment to that was, “That’s strange. I don’t get it. Why didn’t the conniving manager receive his just punishment? I’d assume the story would tell us something about how God sees into the heart and rewards people for their deeds accordingly.”
Jesus’s comment to it is, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Luke 16:9.
What? Is Jesus telling His disciples to buy their way into heaven? And with ill-gotten money to boot. How can this be?
This was the point at which I wondered if Luke had just botched the transcription. Maybe he had left out a vital piece of the puzzle. How could Jesus really be telling his disciples to, “…make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Really!?! So should I just go out and rob a bank and give the money to the poor? My life in this world would be ruined but it sounds like Jesus is saying that my eternal life would be secured.
But then I read on a bit in the chapter. For some reason there is a break to designate that the parable ends with the line, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Luke 16:13
But the very next line is, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed Him.” Seems to me that this line should go with the parable. I’m sure there is a good reason why it doesn’t, but when you add it in you get the hint that even though Jesus was addressing His disciples, maybe He was really talking to the Pharisees. Of course it’s still kind of confusing – but at least it makes more sense that Jesus is telling the Pharisees “who were lovers of money” to use their wealth to ease the financial burdens of others. But it’s not until I read to the end of the chapter that I really got the puzzle.
It ends with another parable. This one is about a rich man, and a poor man named Lazarus. The rich man is loving life and feasting, “sumptuously every day.” Meanwhile Lazarus is laid at the man’s door, desiring “to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.” When they both die Lazarus, “was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.” But the rich man woke up in torment in Hades. The rich man calls out to Abraham, “I beg you, father, to send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” Luke 16:19-31
Notice that the rich man addresses Abraham as “father Abraham” claiming decent from him? And notice how Abraham doesn’t correct him. In fact Abraham engages in a long conversation with him. It seems to me this would signify that Abraham still cares for the rich man. And we know if Abraham, a man, would care for him, then certainly Jesus would.
So then the puzzle came to me like this. This is Jesus talking to the Pharisees. He’s saying something like, “I know your hearts are fixed on money. And I know you have no room in them to love me. But I still love you. And I still long to keep you from a future of torment. So I will make a way for you, even in your hard heartedness, to find your way back to me.”
The puzzle came to me as a picture of Jesus, in His infinite mercy and love, accepting the stubborn broken state of these men’s hearts and making a Way for them. This is Jesus appealing to their selfishness, trying to prod them into doing something for others – even if their motivation is strictly self-interest. Jesus knows that “neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” So He doesn’t point to the Cross. He is planting seeds here and He knows these men, these Pharisees, will carefully pluck out any seeds He plants about that – so He plants seeds in their hearts – in the very core of their selfishness – that will speak about self-preservation.
At the point when these men are forced to consider their eternal future these seeds will have grown and hopefully the idea will come to them to use any means at their disposal – even those things they have unrighteous gained in their lifetime – to do good to others. And in this tiniest act of repentance Jesus will find the means to bring His beloved child back to Him.
“…He [Jesus] is not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
Doesn’t that give us so much hope? For ourselves of course – because we know how stubborn and hard hearted we can be. But also for those we love who refuse to accept Jesus into their hearts. Those friends and family members who claim unbelief or pagan ties. Doesn’t it give us courage to keep on shinning a light into their lives as best we can. Not obnoxiously, but lovingly sharing the wonderful light of God’s acceptance and grace. Forgiving their scoffing and not becoming discouraged by it – but always searching for a way to love them more deeply. Believing and hoping that somehow, in some way we can’t begin to understand, God is reaching into their lives – maybe even through us – and planting the seeds He knows they need to someday “reach repentance.”