Q&A: The Unjust Steward

The Unjust Steward

Question

I am not really understanding Luke 16:1-31. Can you please help explain the meaning of that for me?

Answer

This is a pretty long passage, so I'll try just to give you a literary outline with some points of explanation.

Luke 16:1-13

In the parable of the unrighteous steward, Jesus taught that one should use the "mammon of unrighteousness" (Luke 16:9,11), which he also called "very little" (Luke 16:10) and "another's" (Luke 16:12), in order to do good. "Unrighteousness" in this case may refer to the manner in which the wealth was gathered -- his audience may have included tax-gatherers, who were not known for their honest dealings. Some Pharisees were most certainly listening, and they were lovers of money (Luke 16:14). It is possible that their love caused them to gather money by unrighteous means (charging interest of their countrymen, etc.), and it certainly caused them to horde it unrighteously (Mark 7:5-13). By doing good things with this money, they could lay up treasures for themselves in heaven (compare for example Matt. 6:19-21; 10:41-42; 19:21; Mark 9:41; 10:21; Luke 12:33-34; 18:22; 1 Cor. 9:14-17). If they did not, they would not be servants of God (Luke 16:13). Mammon (wordly wealth) was to serve them; they were not to serve mammon. The teaching also applied to Jesus' disciples (Luke 16:1), as it applies to everyone. If we use earthly goods to do good things, we thereby earn eternal riches. Of course, the application is also legitimate for riches earned by righteous means.

Luke 16:14-18

Here Jesus turned to speak against Pharisaical hypocrisy and greed. The Pharisees had heard the teaching in the preceding verses, and clearly disagreed with Jesus. It would seem that their particular problem with Jesus was his idea that they had to be charitable if they wanted to receive riches in heaven. They did not see their love of money as hypocrisy. So, Jesus pointed out other areas of hypocrisy which they also should have recognized, revealing what was in their hearts (Luke 16:15). One of the areas of hypocrisy he revealed was their disregard for the Law. Evidently, these Pharisees condoned divorces that were not in accordance with the Law, and this disregard for the Law exemplified their hypocrisy.

Luke 16:19-31

Jesus wrapped up this section by speaking of Lazarus and the rich man. In my estimation, this is a parable. Both Lazarus and the rich man are both introduced by the phrase typical in parables "a certain man." Lazarus is then named, perhaps to put a more human face on him, and perhaps so that when the rich man speaks to Abraham about him he does not awkwardly have to call him "that poor guy." It also demonstrates that the rich man was not unfamiliar with Lazarus, but failed to take care of one he knew. The naming of Lazarus is also significant because it demonstrates favor with God (compare Exod. 33:12,17; Isa. 45:3-4).

This parable demonstrates the opposite of the previous one, specifically, what happens when one fails to use wealth to do good. It hits the Pharisees hard because there is no indication that the rich man did anything bad to Lazarus in particular. He simply failed to be actively charitable toward him. As a result, the rich man goes to hell. His wealth only benefited him in this world (Luke 16:25; compare 16:9 "when it fails").

As a kicker, Jesus ended the parable by talking about Moses and the Law again (Luke 16:29-31). The Pharisees prized themselves on their keeping of the Law, but failed to see how their uncharitableness violated Scripture. Jesus did not explain how their greed violated the Law and the Prophets, but simply said that it did. He further implied that the rich and greedy don't deserve an explanation of the Scripture on this point. If they can't see what is written so plainly all over the pages of Scripture, then there is no hope for them -- apart from a miracle of God (compare Matt. 19:23-26). The problem was not with their understanding of the printed word, but with their hearts (Luke 16:15) -- that's why they wouldn't believe even if someone were to rise from the dead in order to deliver the proper interpretation (Luke 16:31).

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.