A little wit from wise King Solomon:
Men prepare a meal for enjoyment, and wine makes life merry,
and money is the answer to everything.
…and a warning
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity.
(Ecclesiastes 10:19 and 5:10)
A big warning from wise Rabbi Paul:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
(1 Timothy 6:10)
This morning, I’ll be teaching through two of Yeshua’s parables, and I have to tell you that the first one may very well be the most cryptic of them all. It has given Bible scholars fits for many generations, and I’m not sure anyone has ever been satisfied with the explanations. But I take comfort in this: that we are getting to know the real Messiah; not the American Groovy Jesus but the One who at times could be intimidating, and who taught sometimes difficult or uncomfortable truths. So, if you find my interpretation unsatisfying, all I can say is, “welcome to the club.” I’m not sure I like my own interpretation, either.
Let’s briefly set the context. Luke tells us that Yeshua spoke this set of parables privately among His disciples. But verse 14 indicates that there were some Pharisees tagging along with them – probably for no other reason than to find fault with something He might say or do, in order to have grounds to discredit Him. All I can say is, “Good luck with that!” – Messiah’s life and teachings were flawless. So we come to the first of our two financially-themed parables.
Yeshua told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg – I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
There are a lot of details Yeshua might have included, but didn’t, in this parable. It appears that the manager was guilty of whatever was reported about him. But what was the exact nature of the offense? Was it malfeasance (misappropriation, theft) or was it ineptitude (financial loss due to foolish investments)? Who accused him? We don’t know these things, and Messiah didn’t consider it necessary to include all the particulars. It was the course of action taken by the soon-to-be unemployed manager that is in focus, and what we are to learn from it.
So the ‘mismanager’ is summoned and told he must produce the ledgers, and that he is going to be fired. What a bind! And this is where Yeshua uses a literary device we call soliloquy – He has the character speaking his thoughts aloud to himself. He admits that he is too weak to be a manual laborer, and he is too proud to be a schnorrer (Yiddish word for somebody who constantly lives off of others). But he devises a plan. He’s out of a job, there’s no way around that; but he comes up with a strategy that, while it will mean financial loss for his former employer, will nevertheless cause certain key people to be indebted to him, so that he can continue to have a semblance of livelihood. Let’s continue at verse 5.
So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
These are big debts! 800 hundred gallons of olive oil would represent the seasonal yield of as many as 150 olive trees, or in financial terms, about three years’ wages for an average laborer. 1,000 bushels of wheat represents the yield of at least 100 acres, or 7.5 years of wages. So, this is big business. This rich man was really rich!
Even the amount of the reduction the unscrupulous manager offered to each of the debtors was itself huge! And what chutzpah – those were not his debts to discount! By discounting the debts so drastically, he is obviously forfeiting any commission he might have made, but this will also cut considerably into his master’s capital.
Presumably, each of the debtors would be delighted to have such a reduction in the amount they owed, and would immediately pay up. So when the time would come for the manager to hand over everything to his master, there would at least be money to show, and in the process he will have ingratiated himself with these debtors (who were themselves men of considerable means). They will now be inclined to help him out – perhaps with a place to live, or just to dine regularly with them. Who knows, maybe another job. As I said, Yeshua chose not to include an epilogue. It was the shrewd actions of the fired manager that is the focus.
He was shrewd, and he was audacious, and – perhaps surprisingly, he is praised by his former employer. Obviously, he wasn’t praised for having good character, but rather for being astute – prudent enough in a worldly way to plan ahead for his life. Let’s read verses 8 and 9.
The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. And I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
This is an exceptionally difficult parable to interpret. It raises many questions. On first blush, the master in the parable seem to praise the fired manager’s dishonesty. Why would Messiah commend ‘shrewdness’ of this kind?
Let there be any question of the moral character of the manager, Yeshua calls him ‘dishonest’ (Greek: ἀδικίας). But he was also savvy about how this world works, and for that he is complimented.
And then Messiah chides us for our lack of astuteness. We may be called the people of the light but there is nothing meritorious or admirable about being naïve. When it comes to dealing with the world and its wealth, and using it to benefit the Kingdom of Heaven, we would do well, Yeshua says, to learn from the example of the dishonest manager to look ahead. In other words, he was a good-bad example.
Elsewhere, Messiah told us to be as innocent as doves and as shrewd as serpents. By that He means that in our moral conduct we should be godly, upright and innocent. But when it comes to negotiations and various kinds of contractual dealings we need to be shrewd as we navigate our way through a fallen, sinful world, or else we will be taken advantage of. It doesn’t help to be pollyannish in our thinking about human nature. Our inherited sinful nature has left human beings selfish to the core, and capable of all kinds of evil.
But the last sentence here has left many people in a tizzy, and it really does require a bit of unpacking.
“And I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
This has got to be one of the most misunderstood and, consequently, misapplied verses in all of the Bible! Maybe Pat Robertson was thinking of Luke 16:9 many years ago when he decided to invest money in a race horse.
The literal translation of worldly wealth is “wealth of unrighteousness”. It was a Jewish way of referencing money, since the acquisition of wealth often occurs by less-than-honest means. Money, in and of itself, is neither good nor evil. It is simply a means of exchange. But in ancient times it was looked upon as being worldly. Remember how tax-collectors were despised? It was not just because they extorted money from fellow Jews to give to Caesar, but more generally for making the acquiring of wealth their life’s ambition.
Who are the friends? This may be referring to the righteous poor whom we help with the ‘unrighteous mammon’ when we give charitably. The sense here is that our kindness shown to strangers, and to the poor, goes on ahead of us, preparing the way for a blessed eternity. And if the friends are the poor, it thematically ties this parable to the next one – the parable of the rich man and Eliezer.
Like the fired manager who was forward thinking, we should see the acquisition of money, not for selfish purposes, but as a way to improve our eternal outcome. I am not suggesting that we can purchase salvation (and remember, Yeshua is telling this parable before His death and resurrection; the dispensation of the New Covenant had not yet been inaugurated). But in every generation, the genuineness of a man’s faith was evidenced by his generosity – especially toward those unable to repay. And in every generation, those who claimed to be men of faith, but who had an evil eye (hard-hearted and tight-fisted with their money) were understood to be counterfeits – pretenders.
The expression when it is gone could mean when the money runs out, but I think it is more likely referring to the end of one’s life – when our time here has run out.
When we give the F.A.T. portions (stands for Finances, Abilities and Time) to help others and to advance the Good News, we will be welcomed to eternal dwellings. It reminds me of what Yeshua taught in Matthew chapter 25
Verse nine can be best understood to mean that your money, however you come by it, ought to be used for the welfare of others – especially those in need.
Once again, I am not saying that we are saved by giving money to charity. But it is part and parcel of the Jewish faith that one’s kindness and generosity in this world, or lack thereof, impacts on our place in Olam HaBa – the world-to-come. The Rabbis expressed it this way, “The rich help the poor in this world, but the poor help the rich in the world-to-come.” Remember that we are seeking to understand the Scriptures in the first-century Jewish context in which they were given.
All of Luke chapter 16 focuses on money. Interestingly, there are certain grammatical connections between this parable and the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
The first is the use of a Greek word that doesn’t appear often: διασκορπίζω meaning to waste or squander. Another parallel is that the manager in this parable and the prodigal each betrayed one who trusted them. Each squandered what was in their possession; each came to a crisis point; each used soliloquy (speaking their thoughts aloud to themselves, and most significantly, each received surprising and what some might deem undeserved forgiveness or praise. In fact, Messiah Yeshua employed several parables that involved debtors and forgiveness.
And that brings us to our second parable this morning: the rich man and Eliezer.
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
Messiah sets up a stark contrast: an extraordinarily wealthy man unnamed, indulging himself daily, and utterly indifferent to the suffering of a starving man who is named (Eliezer/Lazarus) sitting right outside his gate. This isn’t the needs of someone in a far-flung land, but a hungry, sick and dying man right there in front of him. His situation was so bad that wild dogs (which in that culture were despised animals, not pets) felt sorry for him. Think about it: Eliezer received more compassion from roaming dogs than from this wealthy man. Messiah means for us to see just how cold-hearted and tight-fisted this man was.
He is described as being clothed in fine linen and purple – signs of wealth. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with being wealthy. That same description, purple and fine linen appears in Proverbs 31 in the description of eshet chayil – the wife of excellence.
Again, the issue isn’t wealth. The rich man was living extravagantly, in spite of the evident need at his doorstep. Eliezer longed even for crumbs from the rich man’s table, which does not refer to leftovers. The wealthy did not wipe their hands or mouths with napkins, but with pieces of bread, and toss the bread to the floor.
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
Each of the two men died, but the description of their death lets us know how God felt about them. Lazarus is carried away by the angels. The rich man dies and all it says is that he was buried.
And they arrive to two very different locations. Both are part of the larger region known in Hebrew as Sheol – the place of the dead. But within Sheol there are two distinct destinations when people die. Those destined for Hell will go to the Hades section, and those destined for Heaven will go to Abraham’s side. We aren’t given any more detail than this in the parable. We can’t let fascination with eschatology distract us from the all-important truth Yeshua is teaching.
Eliezer was being comforted. The unnamed rich man was in torment. The two men are described as far away from each other, but obviously within sight of each other, and within earshot. From the midst of his agony, the rich man cries out to Abraham for relief.
Notice a few things here: he calls him ‘Father Abraham’. He knows who it is that is comforting Eliezer. He is beginning to understand the consequences of his life of callous indifference and self-indulgence. And yet here, even in death, he treats Eliezer with contempt, not even speaking to him directly, but asking Abraham to send him (as though he was a slave) to give him water.
But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
Some important facts come through here. The first is that our status with God, the disposition of our soul, at the time of our death is fixed. Whatever your spiritual condition when you die, that will determine your eternity. There is no opportunity after we die to repent or make amends for our unbelief or our misdeeds in life. God’s judgment is infinitely just and righteous, but it is also final. There is no ‘court of appeals’ in eternity. We must take to heart how important this is – now!
Yeshua describes an enormous chasm that has been ‘fixed’ (ordained by God) to prevent any change of outcome. Father Abraham speaks gently but firmly to the once-rich man, calling him ‘son’ but pointing out that he will get no relief from his agony. And now the enormity of his horrible, eternal situation dawns on him, and in that realization and lament he makes a further appeal, but not for himself.
He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Understanding that his own situation is hopeless, and resigned to be in eternal judgment, the once-rich man pleads with Abraham to send Eliezer back from the dead to warn his brothers to repent while they can, so that they don’t share his horrible fate.
Abraham’s reply (and let’s remember that it is Messiah Yeshua telling this story) is something every human being had better take to heart. Abraham says, “They have Moses and the Prophets…” In other words, the Scriptures themselves are more than sufficient guidance and warning on how we need to live our lives in this world, if we hope to have a good outcome in The World-To-Come. If you ignore the Word of God, you do so to your own eternal peril.
The once-rich man protests, insisting that if his brothers experience a supernatural occurrence – a miracle – a man coming back from the dead, they will repent. But Abraham refutes his claim, telling him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
I am so glad Yeshua included this verbal exchange in His parable. It puts to rest (excuse the pun) the notion that people who otherwise want nothing to do with God the Father or Messiah Yeshua, who can’t be bothered to read the Bible, will be convinced if they experience a supernatural phenomenon. Messiah said that isn’t true. We are either lovers of the truth or we aren’t. Those who love the truth will find it in abundance, all that we could ever need, in the Scriptures. If people do not respect the Scriptures, no miracle will convince them. Those who are inclined to dismiss the truth of God would likely attribute the miracle to an hallucination, or some other naturalistic explanation.
And that is how this parable ends – for that once-wealthy but cold-hearted man, it is a dismal ending. But for you and me, it is a blessed wake up call, if we will listen to what Yeshua is telling us. Search the Scriptures! Learn what God wants from us. For a third time, let me make it clear: we cannot earn our way into Heaven. Salvation is the gift of God, and it is by His kindness and grace, not by our deservedness. There is only one way of salvation, and that is to embrace the Son of God and ask that His full and final atonement for sin be credited to you.
But make no mistake about it: how we live our lives matters. To be generous towards those around us, looking for and meeting the needs of others, especially the poor or oppressed, those things are noticed and appreciated by the God of Israel. If we turn our eyes away and ignore the suffering of others; if we are tight-fisted with the money, the goods, the resources God has given us (also known as having an evil eye), God notices that, and it reflects disbelief in Him.
Let me conclude with a related passage; concerning our compassion and our generosity to others, or the lack of it. In Matthew chapter 25 Messiah Yeshua said:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you? He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”