Spending Spiritual Resources

In the middle of the book of Luke, there are some teachings from Jesus that foster very widely divergent concepts. Among these is a parable that has been given many names: “unjust steward”, “shrewd manager”, “dishonest manager”, etc. Many acknowledge the difficulty of understanding this parable. And the reason for the divergent views is plain: Jesus tells a story of a business manager, who misuses his authority for his own benefit. But Jesus praises the manager and presents the manager’s techniques as a model. Difficult.

Unless you follow the teaching session through with “ears to hear”.

The parable is found at the beginning of Luke 16. But Jesus presented this teaching in the same context with a series of statements, according to Luke and his sources. In other words, the teaching session starts at the beginning of Luke 14. Understanding the concepts Jesus presents in the whole teaching provides the required context to build the concepts in proper order.

Allow me to clarify that in this essay I use the word “Pharisees” to generally include the members of that Jewish group and all the other Jewish religious leaders of the 1st century: the Sadducees, the scribes, the lawyers, the priests, etc. While there are certainly distinctions within the matrix of the various groups, those distinctions do not materially affect the focus of this essay.

First we should understand the book of Luke. Luke was a Greek doctor, both in the sense of being a physician trained in the Hippocratic disciplines and in the sense that he was, almost beyond doubt, of Greek heritage. It appears he was from Antioch, a city that was of Greek heritage even though it is not in the geographic region of modern Greece.

While there are several things we are told by ancient sources about Luke, there is not a lot that we can know in certainty, but we do know some things that are important.

We know that he was often a companion of the Apostle Paul. We know that he wrote 2 books of the New Testament: Luke and Acts.

The most important thing to know about Luke for this essay is that he was not an eyewitness of the events he recorded in the Gospel of Luke, but his Greek doctor background would give him the human interviewing, observation, and logic skills to write an excellent account of the vital story of Jesus the Christ.

At the beginning of his book, often called the Gospel of Luke, he is careful to explain his reason for writing it. He states: “so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed.”

Put that concept together with the fact that he traveled with the Apostle Paul on several missionary journeys, and Luke was with Paul in Rome. Paul wrote most of the New Testament, instructing people in understanding the glorious new thing that Jesus introduced. Paul expounds on the concepts from Jesus, helping the tremendously growing body of Christ to build concepts. Luke wrote his narrative of the story of Jesus so that we can KNOW THE CERTAINTY of those concepts that Jesus taught and Paul confirmed.

But we must face a puzzle that either slightly weakens or greatly strengthens The Certainty. The teachings of Jesus in Luke are different from Matthew and Mark: a small difference in content and significant difference in order.

This could create a small weakening of The Certainty. And many critics of the Gospel proclaim that it does, proposing that the differences show that the stories are inaccurate and therefore not trustworthy. Such an argument can be mitigated (made less powerful) by various plausible theories, such as that Jesus gave the same teachings at different times, or similar. Many people then choose to interpret the teachings as a collection of isolated proverbs, eliminating the context of sequence and the resultant concept building. Such a concept, that Luke is a collection of proverbs, maintains the concept of divine inspiration, but requires some logical concessions, such as admitting disharmony in the statements.

Another possible understanding of the differences results in very cohesive view.

We can take Luke’s writings as an accurate account as given to him by the eyewitnesses.

Matthew recorded his account of the life changing events, with great conceptual cohesion standing as evidence of accuracy. The Kingdom of Heaven teachings, as presented by Matthew’s account of the teachings of Jesus, are astonishingly consistent, but only to those with ears to hear.

Luke carefully recorded the accounts from the eyewitnesses he interviewed. Who were they? We don’t know because it is not important. What is important, is that these eyewitnesses presented the same indirect style of teaching from Jesus with the same underlying consistency as Matthew. At the direct teaching level the teachings are difficult to reconcile. But, just as in Matthew, those with ears to hear can perceive the same concepts with the same astonishing consistency.

The eyewitnesses recounted the veiled message of Jesus with godlike cleverness. The account(s) from the eyewitnesses demonstrate that their concepts had been formed by their exposure to Jesus, resulting in the ability to recount not only the general words Jesus spoke, but the overarching clever indirect teaching. The variations in the accounts from Luke serve as reinforcement to the teachings from Matthew, especially because they are different.

Such evidence as to enable those with ears to hear “to know THE CERTAINTY”. The Certainty of the things about which we have been instructed: the Gospel, the Good News. The Kingdom of Heaven.

Since we have determined that we can look at context in Luke for concepts, we will do so.

In this narrative from Luke, the physical context is set around a meal with a leading Pharisee. It is very important for us to get our background concepts right as we read this, so we should see what that fact tells us, that the meal was in the company of Pharisees.

The culture was the result of a few hundred years of dominance by competing Jewish religious groups, so it was a culture of people that greatly valued religious lifestyles. The Pharisees were the dominant religious group in Judea at the time of the narrative.

Since Luke is careful to note that the dinner is taking place at the house of a leading Pharisee, we should include that in our concepts. This man, the host, would be highly respected. And he would be wealthy, because his position as a leading Pharisee would result in wealth: as is normal in this world, status generates preference, which generates wealth, which generates status.

Another factor that is critical to all the Gospel narratives is the nature of the beliefs of the Pharisees, shared, to a great extent, with the other competing Jewish religious groups. The Pharisees believed that strict obedience to the Law of Moses was essential to everything important in life, including their existence as a nation, their ability to satiate the demands of God, and their individual right to be one of the chosen people, who are destined to be with God in eternity (life after mortal death). Failure to obey each and every commandment in the Law would have several results, including: putting at jeopardy the existence of the nation (community result), inciting retribution from God (community and individual results), and expulsion from the nation, meaning eternal damnation (individual result).

They came by these beliefs directly from their nation’s early history, the dramatic history of the direct involvement of God with Abraham’s family. In that story spanning 500 years, God finally brings them to a place where he (God) gives them his commandments through Moses – the Law of Moses. In that Law God says many things that make it clear that they must obey. One of the penalties of failure is the destruction of the nation. Over the next many centuries, the nation did not obey. And they were destroyed – the northern tribes almost completely, Judea also. Then God restores a smaller group back from exile to the land of Judea. And the Pharisees arose as a powerful, forceful, group ensuring that everyone obeyed the Law of Moses so they would not get destroyed again.

But as is always true in every society, precision in definition of the rules is needed to enforce the rules. For example, if someone is hungry and picks up a grape at a store and eats it, is that stealing? Some societies say yes, some say no. But if the rule is not defined, it will be, as angry people seek vengeance using the power of community.

So it was with the Pharisees. One of the rules that God gave Moses, and then made very clear that it is a very important rule, is the Sabbath. This concept, the Sabbath, includes various factors, but for the purpose of our Luke story, we should get the part of the Sabbath concept that includes that no work was to be done on the Sabbath (on penalty of death). Here is where the precision problem becomes paramount and we can understand the Pharisees. If God can only be satiated through perfect obedience, and the well being of the community depends on the individual obedience, then the definition of work is of tremendous importance.

Greater insight into the Pharisee hosting Jesus at a dinner comes as we understand their beliefs about Sabbath. They held the words of God in the ultimate esteem, especially words defining sin and God’s hatred of sin. As we should as well.

In the Sabbath commandment, God says to do no work. Shortly after giving this commandment, the narrative of Moses tells us a story of a man who picks up sticks to build a fire on the Sabbath. Moses consults God what to do with the man, apparently indicating some uncertainty as to how to interpret the Sabbath commandment. God reaffirms the penalty for breaking the Sabbath rule – death. And God applies it to the man who picked up sticks. This confirms that the “no work” rule goes beyond paid activities into the realm of normal daily activities. So we and the Pharisees can see two very important things: obedience to the Sabbath extends into some unknown level of daily activities, and God appears to have no mercy on failure, even for something as apparently innocent as picking up sticks.

For those of you whom this stick story causes great fear – trust Jesus. Perspective can reconcile the stick story, but that is not the subject of this essay. This essay is about the teachings of Jesus that get us to form concepts from which we can view such events with a different perspective.

But the stick story makes us able to understand the Pharisees and their extensive precision they developed to avoid the anger of God.

Being highly intelligent men, they developed carefully thought out logic by which to decide what was “work” on the Sabbath and what was not. As all men do, such logic is conducted in a vacuum, pure logic as it is commonly called. Lady Justice is blind. Not able to be tainted by compassion. Logic in the shade of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

So… the Pharisees had defined “work” with great precision, avoiding the possibility of crossing the unknown boundaries by ensuring the logic boundaries are far from violation.

Logical. And repeated throughout all humanity, including the history of the church.

And Jesus is at a Pharisee meal, in the presence of the Pharisees with their admirable concern for justice. Here is the first part of the text:

One Sabbath, when He went to eat at the house of one of the leading Pharisees, they were watching Him closely. There in front of Him was a man whose body was swollen with fluid. In response, Jesus asked the law experts and the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? ” But they kept silent. He took the man, healed him, and sent him away. And to them, He said, “Which of you whose son or ox falls into a well, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day? ” To this they could find no answer.

Jesus, as usual, is using indirect teaching. Hopefully that is clear, but in case it is not: Jesus illustrates for them that they interpret the Law without regard for compassion. They know that their interpretations are based on extended logic, they are willing to risk crossing their logic boundaries for themselves, but they won’t allow it for others.

The Luke narrative continues in the same context, with Jesus immediately using another form of indirect teaching:

He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they would choose the best places for themselves: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, don’t recline at the best place, because a more distinguished person than you may have been invited by your host. The one who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in humiliation, you will proceed to take the lowest place.

But when you are invited, go and recline in the lowest place, so that when the one who invited you comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ You will then be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus uses the status maneuvering that is always present in a group of people to begin building a Kingdom of Heaven concept. Many people consider that Jesus is simply giving a practical proverb. But Jesus uses pride as the motivation: if you want to be honored, pretend to debase yourself. What if it doesn’t work? What if you are left at the bottom position?

When we view this parable through the lens of the first statement about compassion, we see that the people maneuvering for status are only thinking of themselves. But the parable opens the way for more teaching about really gaining something far more important than peer status. Jesus sets the concept for the continuing teachings – humbling yourself. Not in the fake way used as the example in the parable, but in the deeper real way. We will see him expand this in the next several teachings.

Jesus continues without pause.

He also said to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid. On the contrary, when you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Jesus singles out the Pharisee who invited Jesus to a dinner. But Jesus also speaks to all there, and us too.

Jesus tells all of us to stop inviting the people that we all invite to every dinner given since the beginning of time. Perhaps there are a few exceptions driven by the guilt inspired by this proverb.

But it is not a proverb, it is indirect teaching. Jesus is continuing to build the concept, taking it to the next level.

Keep in mind that the poor, maimed, lame, and blind people were difficult to love up close and personal. Especially from a status perspective. The people listening to Jesus held the firm belief that bad living results in destruction of your life. Therefore the people Jesus says to invite are likely to be ceremonially unclean. Even today, many people consider that people get into such condition through failure, especially the poor. But in the Pharisee world, such people were considered to be “reaping what they sow”, inheriting in their selves the results of sin, either theirs or their parents. Unclean.

So when Jesus makes this statement, he is taking the concept of compassion to a very uncomfortable level, for the Pharisees and for us. Have compassion on those with whom you prefer to not be around. Establish relationship with people who may not behave acceptably. This requires a fundamental change of concept.

Continuing in the exact same context, someone at the Pharisee feast makes a free association statement. The speaker clearly does not understand in the least what Jesus is talking about (no ears to hear), and apparently rejects the surface level proverb about not inviting nice people to feasts. This person makes an association between Jesus’ words and eating bread in the Kingdom of God. In addition to showing a failure to take time to ponder Jesus words, this statement exhibits the widely held false misunderstanding of the Kingdom of God, widely believed to finally appear when God would show up and straighten out the mess, starting with the son of David kicking the Romans out.

Without directly addressing the statement, Jesus takes the opportunity for continuing the concept building with more indirect teaching, using the same level of association and the concept of the Kingdom of God as introduced by the man making the statement.

When one of those who reclined at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, “The one who will eat bread in the kingdom of God is blessed! ”

Then He told him: “A man was giving a large banquet and invited many. At the time of the banquet, he sent his slave to tell those who were invited, ‘Come, because everything is now ready.’

But without exception they all began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. I ask you to excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m going to try them out. I ask you to excuse me.’ And another said, ‘I just got married, and therefore I’m unable to come.’ So the slave came back and reported these things to his master. Then in anger, the master of the house told his slave, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the city, and bring in here the poor, maimed, blind, and lame! ’  ‘Master,’ the slave said, ‘what you ordered has been done, and there’s still room.’ Then the master told the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and lanes and make them come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will enjoy my banquet! ’ ”

Jesus expands the concept of compassion to show how a significant man ends up bringing the undesirable people into his great feast. We all catch the inference that this is indirectly referring to the Kingdom of Heaven. This makes Jesus’ words educational for the people whose thoughts have shifted to the Kingdom of Heaven by the comment about eating bread there. But Jesus brings them back to the concept of compassion, this time making us understand that the Kingdom of Heaven operates in this fashion, inviting all, including those that the first invitees despise.

Note that, just as in Matthew, the few original invitees, the Chosen, are choosing against attending.

Of primary conceptual form: the master of the feast wants it filled with people and is not concerned with quality.

Jesus has extended the concept of Compassion to be a foundation for the Kingdom of Heaven. The compassion or love of the master drives him to bring in the despised.

The next section is started with a Greek word that is usually translated as “And” or “But”. Some translations, such as the one copied in here, translate it as “Now”, but it will be the sense of “now” as in a joining with the nuance of making a distinction. All the versions that claim to be literal use the word “and”. From this we can assume that the physical context has not changed. How are crowds with him at a feast? One comment is that the Greek word for “crowd” at times simply means the common people, a class distinction, which then fits with the “many” word, as it could simple be “and many common people were with him”. There are several ways to imagine this, but the one I prefer is the house of the Pharisee is a large manor with outdoor dining facilities. Whatever, it is not important. What is important is that we see that the text calls for a distinction of the previous context, not a change in context.

Now great crowds were traveling with Him. So He turned and said to them: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, and even his own life — he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.

This passage presents a difficult logic challenge. Beautifully designed by God, like so many of his teachings. If we follow the instinctual path, like the Pharisees, we end up confused. Which is where we need to go, because the path to the Kingdom of Heaven goes through that place.

When talking of the Law of Moses, Jesus said the 2 most important commandments are Love God with all your heart, mind and strength, and Love your neighbor as yourself. And Jesus later says that he gives a New Commandment (the only time he said “New Commandment”): Love One Another. And Jesus talks a lot, both indirectly and directly, about models of living that are based on Love and Compassion. As he is right in the middle of doing here in Luke 14.

But the concept built by this “hate” statement lifts the compassion to the level of real.

First we must understand the word “hate”. In modern times, the word has come to include violent dislike, but it still carries more of the older sense of distaste or despise. People still say things like “I hate that food” or “I hate that music”. In those phrases we understand that the speaker to mean they carry no respect for that object, they judge the object to be unworthy of their attention. This is the sense of despise that brings clarity to this saying of Jesus.

Also remember that Jesus stated that people should not invite their families to dinners.

Jesus has just finished saying things that are easily seen as an attack on the pride of the Pharisees.

The crowd may be enjoying the assault on the pride of the leaders. So Jesus turns to the crowd and hits them with this statement, forcefully bringing all to the same level.

Allow me to restate it in different words, just as an exercise for illustration. Not as an alternate translation.

Jesus turns to the people who are rejoicing that the perfect appearing Pharisees are being scolded and says: You want to be my disciple, a person who learns from me? To understand the Kingdom of Heaven you must recognize that the people you love are actually as despicable as the people you already despise. And this includes you. You are the people who are invited to the feast. Accept it in a way that fosters compassion from empathy.

But Jesus says it in a way that makes the self-righteous people indignant. He says it in a way that challenges the very heart of tribalism, the feature of human nature that has fostered all wars. He says it in a way that challenges those who feel they know who they should hate – those who earn hatred according to the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

He says despise the people you respect.

You can do this while you love them. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us how: Love keeps no record of wrongs done. You can have an intense dislike of the fact your brother hit his wife. You hate that he is capable of such despicable behavior. But you love him so you do not treat him as a convicted criminal unworthy of your presence and affection.

Sound like someone else we know? If you don’t know who I am referring to, please seek to know God, the ONLY perfect being, the ONLY being that shows perfect love, forgiving all sin. The ONLY being that loved all of us despicable people enough to pay all our penalties. He despises our behavior to each other, but he loves us.

So in Luke, Jesus pulls the proud crowd into the proper place in the parable of the master’s feast: at the table.

And he adds the simple statement that you must carry your own cross to be his pupil. This is another phrase that gets used to place impossible burdens on people. But the meaning is easy and clear. The method of execution that we call crucifixion existed for several hundred years before the time of Jesus. It was an exceedingly cruel form of execution normally only used on the most despised persons. Often the person condemned to die by crucifixion was forced to carry the cross or stake on which he would then be slowly killed. These people listening to Jesus would not associate his words to his crucifixion – they did not know it was coming. The listener anywhere in the Roman Empire would interpret these words to mean “acknowledge that you are condemned of a despicable crime”. These words of Jesus simply reinforce the concept he is building, this statement again reinforcing that all have sinned and qualify to be the invitees to the master’s feast.

Jesus continues with 2 further examples to solidify the “hate” teaching.

For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, after he has laid the foundation and cannot finish it, all the onlookers will begin to make fun of him, saying, ‘This man started to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

Or what king, going to war against another king, will not first sit down and decide if he is able with 10,000 to oppose the one who comes against him with 20,000? If not, while the other is still far off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. In the same way, therefore, every one of you who does not say good-bye to all his possessions cannot be My disciple.”

The first word “for” ties this illustration to the “pick up your cross” and the “hate” teaching. The concept presented here in the “tower” illustration encourages us to assess ourselves and see if we will accomplish our goal with the resources we have. The person who evaluates himself against the requirements of the perfect God sees that he himself behaves and thinks in way that is despicable.

The second illustration starts with “or” indicating that it is an alternate parable of the continuing illustration. In this illustration we see that the person evaluates himself, and if he correctly assesses himself, seeks to make peace with the approaching destruction as soon as possible. As in Matthew, Jesus makes a statement about the need to trade all you own for your place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is, of course, talking about what you possess in the spiritual realm.

Still in the same context, Jesus continues without a pause, now using salt as the indirect teaching object. This next thing he says is once again, difficult to reconcile with direct understanding, although it is a passage commonly used to reinforce the Pharisee’s perspective, that once you are outside the boundaries of acceptability, you are doomed. Which is an incomplete concept when considered in the light of the context of Jesus’ words.

Here is the text:

Now, salt is good, but if salt should lose its taste, how will it be made salty? It isn’t fit for the soil or for the manure pile; they throw it out. Anyone who has ears to hear should listen! ”

Jesus chooses something for illustration that is a common household item but it is behaving in an unlikely fashion. Salt is a very stable compound. It stays salt in normal house environments. One can find much conjecture about various scenarios to make salt lose it usefulness or taste (the meaning of the saltiness word in the translation copied in). Unfortunately, such hypotheses tend to not hold much factual basis. The need to make sense out of Jesus’ words is important and can lead to less than pure solutions, not intending to use a pun (salt solutions).

However, we do not need to make salt become unsalty to make sense out of Jesus’ words.

Salt has been a common substance through all known history. Our modern understanding of salt in cooking would transfer to the time of Jesus.

But, of far more importance in the Pharisee dominated culture of 1st century Judea, the listeners would have some level of connection with the words from the perspective of the Law of Moses.

Here are 2 important references, note that the phrase your present, is the offering – your present to God:

Leviticus 2:13 And every offering—your present —you season with salt, and you do not let the salt of the covenant of your God cease from your present; you bring salt near with all your offerings.

Numbers 18: 19 All the raised-offerings of the holy things, which the sons of Israel lift up to YHWH, I have given to you, and to your sons, and to your daughters with you, by a continuous statute—a covenant of salt; it [is] continuous before YHWH to you and to your seed with you.

The Leviticus verse is referring to grain offerings, an offering given in conjunction with the fire or burnt offerings. The burnt offerings, primarily animals, are specified as the part of the sequence for atonement for sin. The next step in the sequence is the grain offering. The grain offering generally accompanied the burnt offering and is specified that it is to show gratitude for the nature of God. Please note that this combination of offerings resembles a meal, because it was. The Levites, the priests, were not given land (in general). These offerings for sin were one of the primary ways they were fed. What does that tell you about God’s plans?

So, in this meal keeping the Levites fed, salt is added to the meal, as we all do to bring out the flavor of the meal. And God ties it all back to the his overall system he has designed for the Israelites, the covenant. The seasoning of the covenant, the flavor, the salt, is part of the process of atonement for sin, but the salt is in the part of the sin sacrifice where we give thanks for the mercy of God.

Is sin bad? Yes, far worse that we can even imagine. The Love of God is expressed in the Mercy shown by Jesus fulfilling the righteous requirements of the Law. Is the Love of God greater than sin? Yes. Does that flavor change the meal?

This indirect teaching from the Law, this concept, would be available for the Jews listening to Jesus. But it was not easily grasped by those around Jesus because of the strong influence of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, compounded by the Law, extrapolated by the Pharisees. Then and now, these factors are combined to bring the focus of the message to avoiding feeding the Levites, by avoiding sin. But the message of the Salt of the Covenant is that we should be rejoicing that the eternal God loves us and has made a way for us to bring our sinful selves into his presence. The despicable are invited to the feast.

The crowd around Jesus would make the connection of Jesus words about salt. They would likely think of the salt on the sacrifice. They would understand the need to be precise in the use of salt as they seek to clean their sins before God. Especially as they have been prepared by John the Baptist, who came to prepare the way, Through the work of John the Baptist they have renewed their attempts to reduce the amount of times they have to go to the temple and offer a sacrifice – with salt.

They would have an instinctive sense of dilemma at the surprising problem of salt going bad and needing to be thrown out. Jesus statement about salt going bad, would incite some level of consternation. How can they perform the second part of the sin atonement with bad salt?

And they would face the predicament that all face with the words of Jesus. We can try to make sense of it, striving to make his words fit with the concepts we have held since birth, the concepts that have been reinforced by all we have been taught and by the systems of Law that are the subjects of almost all news and movies.

Or we can pull these words of Jesus into our place of honest, humble, lack. The place where we wander in a quest to know, really know. The place where our self is fully aware of our isolation and meaninglessness. The place from where we truly seek to know the eternal one. We listen with ears to hear.

Jesus says the salt, the seasoning for the meal that covers our badness and, at the same time, rejoices in the gift of covering, has lost its flavor. Which means it is useless, which means it cannot be used for the rejoicing part of the offering, which means the atonement part of the offering cannot be completed, which means you cannot depend on the process for the hope you need to combat the hopelessness, which brings you back to crying out for mercy, which makes you very salty indeed.

To bring this concept into the greater conceptual context of the whole passage we will summarize what Jesus says, starting a few minutes prior, when Jesus heals the man:

– Your Sabbath understanding is based on your rules, derived without compassion.

– Your selfishness will cause humiliation, especially in the real realm.

– To fight your selfishness and build a future to be proud of, invite people you despise to your parties, not admired people.

– Consider this concept of the master who invites all the lowest status people to a great party.

– To learn from Jesus you will need to understand that your family/tribe, and especially you, are lowest status people. You must admit your status.

– make this honest assessment of yourself and make peace with the master before it is too late.

– just as it would be surprising to find salt gone bad in your house, you will be surprised to find your self-assessment will show you how much you have to offer in the spiritual realm – nothing. Throw out that self-reliance and admit your need to make peace with the approaching force – the Kingdom of God. This concept will bring flavor into your feast with the King.

Indirect teaching forces the disciple to ponder Jesus’s words until clarification arrives. For the Pharisee who seeks understanding, he will arrive at understanding that the work of the Kingdom of Heaven supports the Sabbath, that compassion for failed humans is the domain of God.

As if anticipating that future readers would not be following with ears to hear the story, Luke inserts some explanation about the thinking of the crowd. And Jesus uses the Pharisees’ hatred of the despicable people to continue building his concept in those with ears to hear. (now in Luke chapter 15)

All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to Him. And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them! ”

As the physical context of this teaching unfolds, we see that the despised people in the crowd press towards Jesus where they can hear better. The indirect teachings he has brought generally make them feel more welcome. They are the ones that should be invited to feasts, that the banquet master sought out to invite, that already have assessed themselves and found themselves lacking in regards to the Law, have no worries about bad salt as they don’t offer sacrifices, have no respect for most people, and realize they are not carrying a cross to their own crucifixion at this moment but they know they deserve it.

The Pharisees (and scribes, experts in the Law), have taken all Jesus’ words at the surface level and do not get it. Not accepting the underlying concept, they speak out their view of the despicable, despising them and despising Jesus for associating with them. Don’t lose sight of who the despicable are, lest you, too, find yourself confused about the guest list.

To further his concepts in the continuing teaching opportunity brought by this contrasting behavior from the sinners and the Pharisees, Jesus delivers this indirect teaching.

So He told them this parable: “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep! ’ I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance.”

I take it that this indirect teaching needs little explanation. The last sentence about 99 righteous people can lead to concepts that do not align with the teachings of Jesus since the dawn of time, but I am hoping that such mistakes would be obvious. Especially given the teachings Jesus just gave moments ago. Anyway, the 99 are not the focus, the focus is on the nature of God with his determined focus on saving the one. Me. And the other people the Pharisees despise. You, too?

Jesus continues with another illustration.

Or what woman who has 10 silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she finds it, she calls her women friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found the silver coin I lost! ’ I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”

This illustration makes us build persistence and perseverance into the concept of the nature of God Almighty as he searches for me. And all the other people the Pharisees despise. And the people the Pharisees should despise but don’t. God Almighty has the same perseverance in his quest to know you too.

Without a pause, Jesus goes into the parable everybody loves, as we should. Even though it is indirect teaching, it resonates in each of us.

He also said: “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me.’ So he distributed the assets to them. 13Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living. After he had spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he had nothing. Then he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He longed to eat his fill from the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one would give him any. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired hands.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’

But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found! ’ So they began to celebrate.

Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he summoned one of the servants and asked what these things meant. ‘Your brother is here,’ he told him, ‘and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him. But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”

As so many have observed over the years, this is a stunning, beautiful story that illustrates the Love of God for us. There are so many rich things to learn, but I will focus on the continuing concept building.

Note that Jesus ties directly to the previous correct observation from the Pharisees that he associates with despicable people. And Jesus further illustrates the tremendous joy that he has in the salvation of the despicable. And Jesus begins strengthening the concept of spiritual resources, with the despicable son wasting them and the honorable son not using them. And Jesus continues building the concept of the apparently righteous person being far from understanding the Love of the Father, as evidenced by lack of compassion and mercy. The honorable son worries about the Father’s resources and justice, while the Father expresses no concern about justice and wants to throw great resources into the feast for the despicable. Remember the parable earlier in this context, with the master calling all the despicable into a feast?

Now we are in Luke chapter 16, and without any break in context, Jesus continues directly into the parable (indirect teaching) about the Shrewd Steward. I focused this essay on this parable because of the misunderstandings that abound. But in Jesus’ narrative, it is simply another expansion of the concept he is developing.

Here is the text:

He also said to the disciples: “There was a rich man who received an accusation that his manager was squandering his possessions. So he called the manager in and asked, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you can no longer be my manager.’

Then the manager said to himself, ‘What should I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I’m not strong enough to dig; I’m ashamed to beg. I know what I’ll do so that when I’m removed from management, people will welcome me into their homes.’

So he summoned each one of his master’s debtors.

How much do you owe my master? ’ he asked the first one. ‘A hundred measures of olive oil,’ he said. ‘Take your invoice,’ he told him, ‘sit down quickly, and write 50.’

Next he asked another, ‘How much do you owe? ’  ‘A hundred measures of wheat,’ he said.  ‘Take your invoice,’ he told him, ‘and write 80.’

The master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted astutely. For the sons of this age are more astute than the sons of light in dealing with their own people. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous money so that when it fails, they may welcome you into eternal dwellings. Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and whoever is unrighteous in very little is also unrighteous in much. So if you have not been faithful with the unrighteous money, who will trust you with what is genuine? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to someone else, who will give you what is your own? No household slave can be the slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t be slaves to both God and money.”

To gain understanding of the parables that are difficult, we are presented with the opportunity to go 2 very different directions. In fact, we face this choice on all teachings from Jesus, however on the difficult teachings we are aware of our lack of understanding. When considering the teachings that appear obvious, we are not aware that the things we perceive as obvious may not be so obvious in the real.

To seek understanding we can view the teaching in two very different approaches. We could look at every part of the parable for detailed clues as if it is a new commandment requiring extensive deduction such as the deduction the Pharisees had exercised.

Or we can use the details of the story to form a narrative that builds a meta-construct – a concept formed through indirect relationship to the story. We all know that parables work like this, used by teachers all over the world since the beginning.

But it is exceedingly difficult to know when one has crossed from indirect concept building into direct analysis. But the task must be done, we must press forward into seeking the master’s concepts, even if we lose some of our beloved concepts along the way. If our concept of the Comforter, the Spirit of God, is true, we can trust God to guide us. We just try to stay aligned with the description of the Spirit of God that Jesus gave us in John 16. [If that is unclear, please regard the reference to Jesus’ words about the Spirit as an invitation to understand. Please take action to understand. In other words, in the same manner that Jesus often refers to the Hebrew Bible as a reference, understanding of the concept conveyed by the context is what is referenced. For those that understand, a simple reference works. For those that do not understand, a lengthy study is required, too much to insert without losing the context here.]

Here in Luke 16, we have an indirect teaching, of the parable form. This is given to us by Jesus, in a series of indirect teachings that become more conceptually clear when we follow the chain, the logic that is hidden.

We already read the story above. But to form the concepts more accurately, we should eliminate language and context problems that obscure meaning. We have these problems because we are 2000 years later in a culture that is slightly different in some subtle but important ways.

One such problem is understanding what the manager was doing that caused the rich man to openly plan to remove the manager. The Bible version copied in above uses the word “squandering”. The Greek word, transliterated “diaskorpizó”, is used in ways where we understand it to mean winnow, scatter, or waste. As is common in study of words, a person can see how a word changes: scatttering seed involves throwing seed around; winnowing involves allowing the wind to throw the chaff away from the grain (seed). Squandering can be seen in the same way, using resources in a somewhat uncontrolled manner.

Although such a lexicon definition helps somewhat, the next step in understanding a word is to see how it is used in the same context. And we get immediate help with this. Here in this same context, the previous parable, Jesus presented the same underlying problem with a central figure. The prodigal son squandered the inheritance on life in pursuit of pleasure (foolish living). The old name for the parable I just used, prodigal son, is related. Prodigal means rashly or extravagantly wasteful.

Understanding this word, we see that the manager is not doing anything outside his authority to do, but is not using the master’s resources in the way the master wants them used. This is parallel to the parable of the Talents in Mathew, where the same word is used, but by the overly cautious servant when describing the master. [Not that we should automatically assume a relationship between the parables – too much deductive analysis may lead away from inductive understanding, which is the goal of indirect teaching. But the usage of the word helps us understand how the word would be perceived by Luke and the eyewitness(es).]

The Rich Man in the our Luke 16 prodigal son parable would be the master of his own affairs, whether those are business (enterprise) or the operation of an estate including civil and penal government. Such affairs would include business activities. The manager would be the person granted authority to conduct those affairs, making independent decisions that carry the full authority of the master.

So, by following a more thorough understanding of the word “squander”, we can perceive that the manager was not embezzling or similar, but rather was spending the master’s resources in a way that did not further the master’s goals. The job of a manager is to make decisions in line with the boss’s goals. So, in this Luke 16 story, the manager is informed that his employment is soon to be over. The master wants a summary of the books before the manager leaves.

It should be superfluous (excessive or unneeded) to present this level of explanation, but I know that many years of deductive analysis of parables can cause us to lose sight of the simple story.

Then the manager decides to use his brief period of remaining authority to foster favorable relationships, to cause people to like him. He uses the authority of the master to forgive debts. Somewhat timidly, we can see.

The master praises the manager, recognizing the man is astute, prudent, wise [a Greek word in use for many centuries before Jesus by the Greek philosophers who greatly valued such traits]. In this statement Jesus adds the noun “the unjust” or “the unrighteous” to the noun “the manager”. Introducing the key conflict in the story. How is the manager unrighteous or unjust? I think we have established that his actions were not evil by most systems of Law.

The word “unjust” gives us a thought to consider: justice is an attempt to exactly interpret actions or situations and determine the required results. The manager reviewed the situation of each account and ignored the mathematically correct results, instead he arbitrarily dictated results. Injustice, even if it is nice. I think this view is supported by the observation that Jesus did not call him unjust until after he used his authority to adjust the accounts.

After this statement about the master praising the unjust manager, Jesus starts drawing parallels from the parable into the context of his ongoing teaching that started with healing the man at the Pharisee’s event. But it is apparent he is continuing to use the language of the parable.

The next phrase from Jesus is “because the sons of this age are more prudent than the sons of the light in respect to their generation.” (Literal Standard Version). The word “prudent” is the same word used by the master in the story to describe the manager.

Note that Jesus uses the word “because” as a connecting word, tying the final line of the story to this phrase. This “because” indicates that the previous statement is built on a foundation statement that follows the word “because”. By grasping that concept we can see that Jesus says that the master’s assessment of the manager (the unjust) as wise, or prudent, is based on the assessment that the “sons of this age” are more prudent than the “sons of light” when dealing with their own.

So, as Jesus is building a parallel between the parable and his context, he identifies 2 groups: the prudent or wise “sons of this age” and the “sons of the light”. Who are they?

In Luke 20, shortly after this exchange, Jesus answers a question from the Saducees about resurrection. He uses the phrase sons of this age to refer to everyone on earth. The context appears that he expected the listeners to understand that he meant the people mortally alive on earth. It seems reasonable to assume he expected his listeners to use the same understanding here in Luke 16.

The phrase “sons of light” is less apparent to us 2000 years later. We could use later words of Jesus when he instructs people on how to become a son of light (John 12). But the people listening in this context would not have any concept of that. In fact, it seems very clear to me that in John 12 Jesus is actually transferring the existing meaning to his church, he is ensuring 1st century people understand that his church are the REAL “sons of light”.

What would “the sons of light” mean to 1st century Jewish people? The symbolism of the word “light” would have very definite meaning to a 1st century Jew. These people are the “Jews”, the descendants of Judah, the son of Israel. Studying the history books of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), we can follow the events, which eventually lead to David, who is the central figure in promises of restoration. God promised David many things that the 1st century Jew would hold some level of hope in – fervent hope in moments of faith, vague forlorn hope in moments of fatalism.

David’s son Solomon (the wisest man that ever lived according to Jesus) eventually introduced the worship of other gods to Israel, all twelve tribes. God sends a prophet (a man speaking the thoughts of God) to one of Solomon’s main men, a man named Jeroboam. God tells Jeroboam that he (God) will split the nation into pieces, but he (God) will leave a son of David on the throne in the tribe of Judah, using the specific words “so that David’s light will not go out”.

Then this exact message is repeated 3 more times in the continuing history of Judah, the sons of David, the Jews.

Tribal heritage is important to all peoples in this world. And it was extremely fierce in the Jews, especially as they poured their efforts into following the Law of Moses, where God affirms their separation from others, and affirms the separation between the tribes. Mention the words “sons of” to a 1st century Jew and they would be very attuned to what item of heritage is mentioned next.

Besides being a clear tie to the lineage of David, the word “light” is strongly tied to the very important items in the Holy Place and therefore the image of the priestly realm of being before God Most High.

These observations make me strongly believe that the people listening to Jesus would hear the “sons of light” to be the true Jews, who strongly hold to the traditions and heritage of their tribe – the Pharisees and the other groups like them.

Those 1st century listeners would not have to go through all this logic to arrive at that. So what appears excessively complex to us would be the concept they would hold without being aware of holding it.

So we can take a coarse attempt at restating the line from Jesus:

The master praises the manager, the unjust, for being wise, because all the people of this world are wise in this way, more than the people of the Law are at dealing with their own tribe, the Jews.

Now Jesus starts applying this parable to the people listening, the crowd, the Pharisees, and the disciples.

And I say to you, make to yourselves friends out of the wealth of unrighteousness, that when you may fail, they may receive you into the continuous dwelling places. (Literal Standard Version)

I chose to copy in from the LSV as it is a good representation of the various translations that attempt to be as literal as possible. The older translations use the phrase “mammon of unrighteousness”. Note that the literal translation presented by many versions has the mammon or wealth being unrighteousness. Some translations render it “unrighteous money”, making Jesus say money is unrighteous instead of the literal understanding that the wealth the manager was managing is unrighteousness.

I believe this is supportable as the Greek word “unrighteousness” is used in this verse and the previous is a noun, not an adjective. It also changes the message to be perfectly aligned with the conceptual flow of this context in Jesus ministry, and the overall concept of the Gospel and the nature of salvation.

To help with understanding, we must understand the concept of money. For many people, money is something of great value in itself. In fact, money is of little to no value in itself, instead, money represents value. In modern times, most governments control the money in their domain, printing paper slips that have a number. The slips are very fancy paper in modern times, to attempt to prevent copies, but the worth of the paper slip is not contained in the paper. The worth of the paper slip is in the confidence of people that it can be traded for goods or services at a future time. This principle is brutally illustrated when a nation’s economy collapses and inflation accelerates. The paper slip can be traded for a loaf of bread one week, but the next week you need a paper slip with a much bigger number on it to get the same loaf of bread. This is value equation is true even if the money takes any other form: paper, coins, electronic, and the newer concept of cryptocurrency.

And the concept of money extends into the ability to trade debt. A person’s debt is usually represented in terms of the name of the money in each nation – Pounds Sterling, or Rand, or Yuan, or Dollar, etc. There is no physical item sitting anywhere that is backing the debt. When you owe for buying a house, or when you owe for promising to pay the local bread shop tomorrow, you do not have slips of paper in your possession. You do not own slips of paper that have a sum of 100,000 Rand printed on them. But you are expecting to acquire or earn the value of those slips. In advanced nations, the slips of paper are used very little, it is the debt and virtual ownership that are traded. These virtual systems are exactly the same concept as the paper slips or the older coin systems, but with varying levels of value stability and safety from disallowed methods of generation, such as forgery.

To restate: money or wealth is a representation of value that can be traded. It is not the valuable item, it is a trade-able item that represents the valuable item.

This concept may appear new to you, but it is not new to the world. And was just as well known in the 1st century as it is now. Ask a 1st century Roman senator if you can pay him in sea shells (a very common primitive and effective form of money).

When Jesus speaks of the wealth of unrighteousness, he is using the language from the parable. The master is owed value from various people, who clearly could not pay at the time of the original transaction. By using the word “unrighteousness” we can inductively know that the parable is representing the debts that people owe God, which is easily seen as the need to “pay for your sins” – justice.

The wealth of unrighteousness is not the sin itself, but the justice that is due. The debt owed to the Just God.

In the same way, the manager is also called the Unjust because he is canceling the debt without collecting the value owed.

I hope that this short background of the concept of money has helped. It can be difficult when your life has been spent in the pursuit of accumulating a slip of paper or a virtual account with a big number. It feels like the money is the value, when in fact it is the trade-able representation of real value.

Back to the teachings of Jesus where he is pulling this concept into the conflict in people’s minds.

In the story, the manager saw his place of failure approaching and took wise action to secure a future.

In the previous indirect teachings in this context, Jesus wants us to learn from the example of the man building a tower, wisely assessing if his resources are enough to avoid failure.

And we were told the example of the king assessing his coming place of failure and quickly taking wise action to secure a future. And possibly losing all his wealth.

These examples are presented to cause us to understand the “pick up your cross and follow me” – assessing ourselves and being honest about our failure to fulfill the requirements of righteousness.

The “pick up the cross” teaching was an expansion of the need to recognize that our tribe or family, or those to whom we are most loyal, are worthy of being despised (including self).

The “despise your loved ones” teaching was presented to bring home to our awareness the applicability of the great feast story that ends with the feast populated with the despised people.

The “great feast” story was told to expand on the very difficult indirect teaching that one should not invite respectable people to your meals, but only the despised.

The “dine only with the despised” teaching focused the concept presented by the teaching to seek to appear to be the least (most despised of the group) if you want to be proud. The concept being that the master will be rearranging the seating as he chooses.

The “move down” example started building this chain of teachings from the initial exposure of the lack of compassion (love) shown by the Pharisees when they are more than willing to make exceptions for themselves while they seek to enforce strict obedience on others.

So what does all that have to do with the “wealth of unrighteousness”, the money of bad?

In the story, the manager had the ability to use the resources he managed to affect his future.

Like the “tower builder” he could see ahead and assess he was not able to complete his future using the resources he owned.

Like the king, the manager assessed his position as one of impending failure and took action to secure his future, but by changing the game (the king went to ask for mercy, instead of using his own strength to secure his future).

Like the prodigal son, who saw his progressing failure and took action based on confidence in the father’s mercy.

But in the case of the manager, he is using the wealth of unrighteousness.

Let us clarify, “unrighteous” and “unjust” are synonyms. After the manager uses the wealth, the unjust, to secure his future, Jesus calls him: “the manager, the unjust” (using 2 nouns, no adjective).

As we discussed, he did not manage those accounts using the correct accounting technique. His accounting had the debtors negative balance in one column, but the full balance owed was offset by an entry in the “write off” account. This account is introduced in human bookkeeping to make double entry accounting work. We have to have some way to make our ledger balance.

In the rules of Good and Evil, the ledger for life has billions of entries in the accounts for individual debts, accrued as each person violates the pristine requirements of God. These debts must be paid.

The imaginary manager in Jesus’ story is using his short term authority to reduce debts as much as he is brave enough to do. He is canceling the masters demands for payment.

And I say to you, make to yourselves friends out of the wealth of unrighteousness, that when you may fail, they may receive you into the continuous dwelling places.

Jesus is continuing his teaching, using the parable as the concept but applying it. But it is still indirect.

Which friends welcome you into eternal dwellings? When will I fail?

How does canceling debt make friends that welcome you into eternal dwellings?

I hope by asking those questions you know the answers. Not from this parable, but from all the other teachings that Jesus has given to you that have formed your concepts.

No parable is a stand-alone teaching from which we derive the whole story, they are concept adjusters.

I have no difficulty understanding the who. Who are my friends that welcome me into eternal dwellings? God(Father) designed the whole fantastic plan and built the eternal dwellings. God(Son) came and spent years trying to build my concepts so I can know God, then called me “friend”, then died to cover all my wealth of unrighteousness, then told me to tell others about the new accounting method. God(Spirit) keeps me focused on the big three Jesus said the Spirit is here to teach (John 16). All the people who have wronged someone else yet have felt the Love of the master when I, as his manager, assured them of forgiveness will welcome me. All the people who have wronged me that still know I love them will welcome me. All the people that I have wronged will be joyfully welcomed by me when this age of the riches of unrighteousness finally fails and me with it.

Yes, the people who have been wronged need to forgive, as Jesus added with great forcefulness in the Sermon on the Mount. But that leaves them vulnerable to a spiritually dangerous trap, the trap the Pharisees were in. This parable of the Unjust Manager moves out of that trap, we must see that the resources of the master are intended for forgiveness. We escape the trap when we push his forgiveness on other people who have not wronged us, but rather have wronged others and God himself. Living in that concept, we become confident that we are forgiven, even more so as we have confidence that the Kingdom of Heaven is working in people around us and will be the only kingdom one day. So I am confident that those with forgiven debts will be welcoming me into the eternal dwellings. All those doing the welcoming understand forgiveness: God(Father), God(Son), God(Spirit), and the forgiven sinners.

Remember that this whole context started with the Pharisees being exposed as selfishly managing the resources of God, counting on some small amount of mercy for themselves (pulling their own ox out of a well on the Sabbath), but representing God as not allowing someone to be healed on the Sabbath. As the representatives of God, the master has given them the responsibility to manage the resources of God in accordance with his preferences. But they had selfishly built an extensive system to exact justice on all to exactly precise rules. Selfishly, because they knew enough about God to allow mercy for themselves, but influenced by fear of another exile or for other reasons, they enforced the rules vigorously on those over whom they had power. They were squandering the resources of God, who is rich in love and mercy.

We could derive conclusions like “The manager was no longer squandering his master’s resources when he started forgiving debts”. Such applications might be true, but start moving into the realm of excessive interpretation. Follow as the Spirit leads you.

But the clear focus of the parable is on the manager building a future for himself by using his authority to cancel debt. And Jesus obscurely ties the wealth being managed to the unjust. He is obscure for very important reasons that are available for those with ears to hear. It is not my place to discuss those reasons here.

We can see the parable clearly applies to the Pharisees, those of the 1st Century, those of this century, and those inside my heart.

But Jesus goes on:

He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. (King James Version).

Jesus has not switched his definitions of words. Rather than being a confusing statement, this is an extraordinarily powerful statement. These are not opposites but a continuing application of the concept of the manager. Jesus wants the Pharisees to hear to the deeper message, to stop squandering the master’s resources by not using them or by using them on the wrong things. Jesus wants all of us to be faithful in the least things, to be faithful by being like the unjust manager, by NOT seeking exact accounting for the debts of others to the master. Unjust by showing mercy. Read it again with that understanding.

Jesus ties this back to each person with the next statement.

Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own? (New King James)

Continuing to hold the concepts from the parable of the manager, we can hear Jesus saying that if we are like the Pharisees, granting mercy to ourselves while demanding justice for others, we will not be trusted with the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven, the REAL world that encompasses our shadow world. And how can you begin to grasp the reality of your own forgiveness when you cannot even understand it’s triumph over the punishment due to those around you? We are not discussing the terms of your salvation, but the ability you have to understand the Kingdom of Heaven.

No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon

In case you didn’t follow the relationship between hate and despise back in the statement about despising your family, here Jesus equates “hate” and “despise”. And points out the obvious: Just as the non-prodigal son (the son who stayed home) served the just administration of the father’s estate but did not share the father’s love and mercy, one cannot serve both justice and mercy. Law related Justice is true, but in the Kingdom of Heaven it serves its role to bring clear focus on the stunning Mercy of God. The unjust manager switched to mercy and forgave the mammon of unrighteousness. He used the mammon of unrighteousness in a way that impressed the master.

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and scoffing at Him.

As is quite common for many listeners to Jesus’ words, the Pharisees thought he was talking about the money of worldly financial matters. Of course they scoffed, the words of Jesus are not sound financial advice for those seeking to manage their earthly estates. So Jesus again speaks words that tie them back to the REAL message.

He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.

Once again the statement is linked to the start of this context – the healing of the man on the Sabbath with the Pharisees justifying their own Sabbath behavior while condemning acts of compassion. The Pharisees highly valued a life focused on striving towards pleasing God through righteousness. God makes it clear in various places that he is not impressed … “the righteousness of man is filthy rags…”

Jesus is providing contrast to the mammon of unrighteousness, a life where Mercy is highly valued.

Jesus continues teaching the same subject:

The law and the prophets were until John: from that time the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and every man entereth violently into it.

Again we have a verse that can cause some confusion. Jesus knows that and will expound further in the next few verses. But first we need to understand this one. The context is Jesus expounding on the nature of God, his nature. He has just given the parable of the inaccurate manager, and tied that concept back to the Pharisees with their devotion to accurate use of the Law. And in the sentence just prior to this he has observed that what is highly valued by man is despised by God. Now he brings to our minds the fact that the Law and the Prophets [were] until John, at which point the Kingdom of Heaven began to be announced, and men violently enter it.

This statement is paralleled in Matthew, with greater detail, but in a different context. Whether it was a different event or a different flow of concept building in the eyewitness talking to Luke, it does not matter (as we discussed at the beginning of this essay). But what we can gain is an understanding of this statement. Our context in Luke helps us know why he is bringing up the change between the Law and the Gospel: the New Covenant changes the prospects of Hope that we can know God – the Gospel presents us with the REAL Hope through the Love and Mercy of God, fulfilling the clear judgment and punishment of accurate Law through the only Righteous one.

Understanding the “violent” word is important and a little more detail is provided in Matthew. But it is another longer study, which is in the Kingdom of Heaven essay. For the purpose of this essay, I will assert that it refers to exactly what Jesus has been talking about here in the greater context: that people worthy of being despised are entering the Kingdom of Heaven because of Mercy.

[side note: the Greek word translated “violently” in the Bible
version posted above is only used twice, here and in the similar
Matthew passage.]

Just in case someone goes too far and starts thinking that Jesus is saying the Law has been eliminated by the New Covenant, Jesus immediately says:

But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter in the law to drop out.

Clear enough. The Law of Moses still stands. This is a crucial concept in your journey to knowing God. You have been given many different custom sets of Law, from your religious groups to your governments. Jesus, here and in Matthew in a different context, makes it clear that the Law of Moses still stands. This is why Jesus had previously said that your righteousness must exceed the Pharisees: the only Hope that can be derived from the Law is through perfect obedience. You must pursue that course until you are completely in agreement with Jesus that you need Mercy.

Some people think they have mastered the exceedingly difficult requirement of perfect obedience to the commandments given through Moses. This is only possible through selfish misinterpretation of the Laws, such as practiced by the Pharisees. Because his listeners always move that direction, Jesus continues on with a very confusing statement. The statement is confusing until the context of the Kingdom of Heaven is involved.

Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery (King James Version)

Many people have not believed Jesus words about the Law not passing away, so they do not study the Law and do not understand that this statement of Jesus opposes the Law: The Law has several commandments about when divorce is allowed. And it is very permissible. In fact this very conversation came up another time with the Pharisees (and scribes etc) trying to test Jesus with a question of divorce (recorded in Matthew). Jesus goes into greater detail in that instance. The study of that brings light to this passage. I encourage you to study that passage, in context. I wrote my thoughts about it in the Kingdom of Heaven essay. Studying that passage in the Bible will confirm what is happening here in this context.

The Pharisees and the crowd probably would not be able to remember the context where Jesus spoke of this before. But they would be very familiar with the divorce commandments. And would be highly confronted with dilemma at this statement by Jesus. They would have been strongly in agreement with the previous statement about the Law not passing away, but hit with conflict at the negation of the Law presented by Jesus.

If they accept that Jesus is teaching with authority they could see that he is expanding the requirements for justice beyond the strict requirements of the Law. As discussed in the Kingdom of Heaven essay, the failure to Love your spouse is a failure before God Most High. But when your mind scrambles to build a new path to righteousness including this expanded requirement, the stark contrast in Jesus’ statements is intended to pull you back to the only path. He has just been showing the only secure path to righteousness: inaccurate spiritual bookkeeping. Mercy. Jesus is not making new Law. Jesus said: “I did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world.” Jesus is simply illustrating what he has been saying in this whole context: If you trust mercy enough to pull your own ox out of the well, apply that principal to all those around you. Spend the spiritual resources of the master in the way he wants them spent. Use his resources to get in to the party in heaven. By forgiving other’s debts in the name of the Master. The debts are greater than you expect, even the Law did not indicate the full extent.

Then Jesus goes right into the story of Lazarus and the rich man.

19 “There was a rich man who would dress in purple and fine linen, feasting lavishly every day. 20 But a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, was left at his gate. 21 He longed to be filled with what fell from the rich man’s table, but instead the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 One day the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torment in Hades, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side. 24 ‘Father Abraham!’ he called out, ‘Have mercy 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 flame!’

25 “‘Son,’ Abraham said, ‘remember that during your life you received your good things, just as Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, while you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, a great chasm has been fixed between us and you, so that those who want to pass over from here to you cannot; neither can those from there cross over to us.’

27 “‘Father,’ he said, ‘then I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 because I have five brothers—to warn them, so they won’t also come to this place of torment.’

29 “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said. ‘But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”

There are many branches of concepts that could be gleaned from this. But the primary concept is what we seek. The context brings this concept into focus.

In this Lazarus account that Jesus transforms into another indirect teaching, the 1st century listeners would share an immediate conflict with many today. In the 1st century, and throughout time, societal success is at some level associated with reward. Conversely, societal failure is often seen as just reward. Such a concept is firmly established in concepts like karma, even if the concept of karma is not tied to the religion where the word originates.

A concept confuser that exists in many modern settings is the sense that rich people are portrayed as suspect and the poor are pious. This concept has been fed by the populism credos as much as by the various sayings of Jesus that do seem to support such a view (when taken at surface level). Certainly some of the statements in this account of Lazarus and the rich man appear to support such an idea. Jesus recounts that the rich man goes to suffering after death, but only recounts his life as one of enjoying fine meals every day and wearing nice clothes. Neither is listed as a direct violation (sin) in the Law.

When reading this account, for many people, their mind automatically swaps in the concept that rich=evil and poor=pious. I say the mind swaps this in, because most hold an almost opposite view most of the time. Many eat fine meals and wear fine clothes every day and think of themselves as striving to be good. And many carry an instinctive disdain of dirty, unemployed, diseased, middle aged men.

But the 1st century Jew would have a more stable concept, a concept less susceptible to changing to fit the situation encountered. Certain passages in the Torah, the Law, specifically identify physical blessings associated with good behavior and curses with misbehavior.

Remember that the physical context of this teaching is Jesus at a fine banquet, possibly in a lavish garden setting (where the crowds can observe). If you were part of the crowd, you would sense a parallel between the rich man in the account and the highly successful Jews, such as the leading Pharisees. But you would sense the parallel only for a moment, then conflict.

And Jesus has said many things about the despised people and feasts. Now, in this account, Jesus tells us of a successful man who enjoys his rewards, while another man is nearby and suffering the societal rewards for his status. Jesus ensures we feel the situation, describing the hideous nature of the despicable man’s status, with open sores. If you live in a place where such people can be encountered, then you know the revulsion that is endemic to humans, the fear to approach, the loathing to touch.

The 1st century Jew would know and justify these feelings. The Law is specific about skin diseases. Such a man as this man, Lazarus, would be deemed unclean in the extreme, untouchable, a permanent outcast, destitute of anything resembling practical love. In other words, despised.

Then the account takes a challenging turn – both men die, but the rich man goes to a bad place while the unclean man goes to a good place. Jesus uses terms for these that would be understood by his listeners and could give rise to many doctrines. And so these words and descriptions have given rise to various doctrines. But I see that Jesus intended this concept adjuster to reinforce and expand the concept he has been building. This makes these words about life after death secondary. The words are simply ensuring that the concept of the rich, clean, man is brought into focus: he did not end in his assumed destination.

In verse 25 Jesus quotes Abraham saying something that sounds like Karma. Again, many branches of concepts have spun off this comment. It seems to support the approach that human suffering leads to paradise in the next life, which means, obviously, that the suffering people should be left to suffer and maybe the party goers should join in the suffering. This view is clearly not in alignment with the message of the Gospel of the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven.

I perceive that Abraham is simply reminding the rich man how he, the rich man, perceived life before his death. He was enjoying his rewards as promised by the Law of Moses for good living. And Jesus is using Abraham’s words to call that belief into the awareness of the Pharisees, the crowd and the disciples. People tend to hold this view, that rewards are the result of behavior.

With this statement of Abraham, Jesus builds on the earlier indirect teachings in this context – choosing the least seat while seeking glory, instructions to invite only the Lazarus people to meals, the story of the master that does that, recognizing who is to be despised – your own clan.

Speaking of who is to be despised: in this Lazarus account, the rich man thinks of his clan, compares them to the Lazarus of mortal life, and realizes that he, the rich man, needs to adjust his concept. And he does, he realizes that whatever goodness and cleanness they have is to be thought of as inadequate. He choose to think of them as not measuring up – despicable, and implores Abraham to send someone back to them.

And here Jesus comes to the power point.

They have Moses and the Prophets.

How will that save them?

It is always tempting to revert to our inherited nature and look for salvation through obedience and right living. Good and Evil. Be good and live. Be evil and die.

But we are able to pull our minds back into the Kingdom of Heaven concepts that Jesus has been presenting with incredible consistency. It takes an effort to do so, but we can do it.

Jesus just stated the case:

– the unjust steward is our model, using the mammon of unrighteousness in a way that makes Abraham inclined to welcome us into heaven (where Lazarus ends up).

– the Pharisees, the best Law keepers of all time, are valuing things that God despises.

– the Law and the Prophets are until John, then came the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven, with clarification about the mammon of unrighteousness.

– the Law remains in force.

– the Law did not even go far enough. God’s righteousness is far more demanding

Now Abraham observes that the rich man’s clan has the Law and Prophets, directly implying that those will suffice to keep them from following the rich man, switching them to the path of the despised, unclean Lazarus.

The rich man, with classic self-authority, tells Abraham “No”. The rich man says that having the Law is not enough to make them perfect, they will still need to repent. I take it that he is speaking from personal experience. As we discussed earlier, we can think of the rich man as very decadent like Herod or we can think of him as very proper like the Chief Priest. The fact that he is past the doorway of death must surely mean his perspective has changed. If he was decadent, like Herod, it seems likely that he would agree that more Law is the solution for his brothers. But because he knows that Law is not enough indicates to me that he likely was pursuing the path of Law before death. While this perspective is definitely debatable, I find it harmonizes with the conversation Jesus is having with the Pharisees, whom he loves. Jesus wants them to turn to the Gospel. So he structured this account of Lazarus in a way that each Pharisee listening would feel an uncomfortable resemblance to the rich man, and rejoice in Abraham’s words about the Law and Prophets.

I have confidence that the 1st century audience would agree with Abraham that the Law is what is needed. But they would have the needed conflict with that fact in contrast with the previous statements of Jesus. “What could Jesus mean?” they would ask themselves. The ones ready to admit failure before the Law would follow Jesus into the Kingdom of Heaven in their minds, souls and spirits. Jesus is the answer, but to grasp that requires a struggle against the faith we all have in self – “if I have another chance I will do it right.”

The rich man asks that someone be sent back from the dead to his clan. How many of us have asked for some great sign from God to force our self into submission.

Abraham knows the answer. We can see it, too, if we choose. Even when Jesus gives everyone the 3 day part of the sign of Jonah many will still not believe that the path to salvation leads through Good and Evil to the Cross where ALL SIN WAS FORGIVEN, and then to the Resurrection, where the despicable are welcoming each other into the eternal dwellings.

As we see Abraham welcoming the despicable Lazarus.

Remember that later, after this physical context, we are told by another writer in the New Testament, who understands the Gospel, that Abraham believed and it was counted as righteousness, a righteousness or justice outside the Law. He clearly broke many commandments that were in the Law, which was not given to Moses until close to 500 years later.

This fact, and others like it that God ensured we know, may lead us to discount the Law. But Jesus directly teaches us that the Law continues to be in force. And then Jesus immediately negates part of it by stating that it is too lenient.

Then Jesus gives us this account of Lazarus and the rich man. That illustrates several of the concept adjustments he gave in this context.

Before we go through the whole list of validations this Lazarus account provides, we will focus on one. In application of the parable of the unjust manager, Jesus tells us to make friends using the wealth of unrighteousness so they will welcome us into eternal dwellings.

Here in the Lazarus account, Abraham is welcoming Lazarus into eternal dwellings. But, you might ask, how does Lazarus match the unjust manager? Perhaps you discarded or doubted my previous statements about Abraham being unrighteous, except for the lone act of belief. Abraham is held in high regard. And certainly the Pharisees held Abraham in high regard. One would risk being stoned to suggest that Abraham was unrighteous, even though the damning evidence is carefully presented in the story of his life. But the Pharisees give Abraham the same unjust judgment that God does. They forgive Abraham’s debt, although it is because of their tribal pride. And certainly Lazarus, being a Jew, would think of Abraham without judging his sins.

Lazarus, in his own mental accounting, did not hold Abraham’s sins against him. Lazarus spent the mammon of unrighteousness in the write-off account. Abraham is welcoming Lazarus into eternal dwellings.

Reversing direction through the statements of Jesus.

First hold this Lazarus account in your mind.

– “every one who divorces his wife…” Abraham is guilty. Don’t be caught by the “concubine” trick – in the Law, God very clearly defines what makes a wife. And God very clearly defined the husband/wife relationship in the Garden of Eden. The requirements for perfection exceed the Law

– “the Law does not pass away”. The Law stands as clarification that even reduced perfection is beyond your abilities. But the Kingdom of Heaven is now proclaimed, not eliminating but fulfilling the requirements of righteousness. Lazarus is unclean according to the Law. The rich man’s actions are not condemned by the Law.

– “What is highly admired by people is revolting to God”. God’s concept of perfection is beyond our ability, we don’t even hold God’s perspective. We admire just society, by which we mean groups of people that destroy people who violate whatever the society deems just.

– The unjust manager. Jesus builds a strong contrary view, with the manager praised by the master after he spends the masters resources in acts of forgiveness. Making friends out of debtors. As the Pharisees should be doing because they have the Law and the Prophets as Abraham told the rich man. But since they cannot be trusted with managing the masters accounts in regards to other people, they cannot begin to conceptualize the great wealth that applies to their own accounts: they need forgiveness, but cannot grasp it as they are so busy applying justice to those around them. In the Lazarus account, Abraham welcomes the unclean Lazarus.

– The prodigal son. The unjust son squanders the father’s wealth, but the Father does not hold him accountable. The obedient son does not share in the Father’s delight because obedience is more important than Love to him (the non-prodigal son). The rich man in the Lazarus story does not believe that the Law and the Prophets will save his brothers, probably because they did not save him and he is staring across the void at the unclean Lazarus being welcomed by Abraham.

– The lost sheep and the lost coin. There is great joy in heaven at the recovery of the least lost person. And God does not stop pursuing until he recovers the least lost person. He gave the Law as the tool to show us our extreme lack of resources. We must believe we are lost before we can be found. Because it is all about belief, which is what saved the sinful Abraham.

– Salt. The part of the sin sacrifice that includes salt is intended as a savory meal, rejoicing in the forgiveness of God. The regular meal of the managers of Gods resources was to be based on sin, but not on the sin itself but on the incredible forgiveness of God. But if the flavor of the meal is gone, what joy is left? How is God able to recover people when they no longer believe in mercy? They do not have the resources to pay their debts directly.

– A king facing defeat. A man of great resources in his own estimation, must realize the inadequacy of those resources when facing a superior. He must make peace through a pleading for mercy. He must be willing to part with his resources.

– The tower builder. Pride itself pushes us to avoid failure by assessing our resources. How foolish we look when we are shown to have overlooked the obvious lack of resources we have. Especially when pride is itself a major failure or lack of resources.

– Bear your own cross. You must admit you are one of the most despised. You must admit that you are guilty. Regardless of your status. Would the rich man have gone to the wrong side of the abyss if he had admitted this, if he had believed?

– Hate family and self. Jesus ensures that the crowd knows he is not just talking to the Pharisees. You cannot learn from Jesus, whose message is forgiveness, unless you are able to see that all need it, even those whose pride you defend vigorously. The rich man only thinks of his family and wants special privileges for them. But Abraham wisely observes that the only way to be welcomed is through fully embracing the Law that he, Abraham, broke.

– The Master’s Feast. Jesus clarifies that the despised people will populate his feast. The people without resources, the people who have had accounts forgiven, the unclean like Lazarus.

– “Invite the Despised” advice. Jesus advises that we should not invite the rich man to our feasts, but instead the Lazaruses. The unclean who need a debt elimination.

– Maintaining Pride. Jesus warns the Pharisees that their pride at their great spiritual status will not produce the results they expect. Lazarus will replace them.

– Healing on the Sabbath. Jesus exposes the Pharisees. They expect God to forgive themselves, but are very proud of their strict enforcement of the Law of Moses on others. They are the non-prodigal sons, the opposite of their loving and merciful Father, defending their own against the Law, and not managing the resources of the Father as he desires. They will not be welcomed by those whose debts they have forgiven, because they haven’t forgiven any. They exalt the rules, not the nature of God whose mercy stands as a massive brilliant light over the rules. They have lost their saltiness. But they are not dead yet, Abraham beckons them back to properly using the Law as the lens through which mercy is brought to stunning, crisp focus.

And Jesus has more to say in this physical context, continuing to adjust concepts.

Now in chapter 17.

He said to His disciples, “Offenses will certainly come, but woe to the one they come through! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

As we have seen, the context provides us with greater ability to understand. In the context to this point, Jesus has built a strong concept that the Pharisees, with their strict adherence to interpretation of the Law, are not managing the spiritual resources as the master desires.

These statements could lead to a spiritual class warfare, with the populous oriented disciples now assuming the place of superiority over the Pharisees.

So Jesus says that stumbling blocks will come. The Greek word translated “Offenses” above is also translated “stumbling block” or “the trigger of a trap”.

The word “woe” deserves a brief examination: some people believe it means 2 different things: a pronouncement of judgment and an expression of grief. There are times where Jesus uses it where it is clearly an expression of concern and grief, such as when describing future cataclysmic events and Jesus expresses concern about pregnant women in those times. Certainly he is not pronouncing judgment on them. And there are other times when Jesus and other writers, such as Paul use it in a way that would be best understood as grief or concern. My feeling is that this understanding of the word is suitable for most, if not all, of the usages of it.

I can understand how it can be an expression of judgment, because the people of woe deserve judgment. That is, of course, one of the ways this teaching of Jesus is being used to adjust our concepts: we all deserve judgment. This is a far more powerful concept than we admit.

In this statement, “woe to [the one who is a stumbling block to others]”, Jesus could mean that he judges them, or he could mean that he recognizes and grieves the difficulty that will certainly come to them. I think it is the latter, the compassion, that lends understanding to this section. Consider what he says about forgiving sin.

If you are stumbling over the “millstone” statement and the “little ones” reference, I encourage to study this more – consider his audience – “these little ones” – are they not the Pharisees, the crowd, the despised? If you need a more in depth study, do so. Use the similar Matthew context. If you wish, the section in Matthew is discussed in the Kingdom of Heaven essay. Suffice it to say, Jesus does not change the criteria for salvation or create a special class of persons. All have sinned and Jesus is the only way.

Note that when expanding this Stumbling block idea to the disciples, to whom he is now addressing his comments, Jesus gives the forceful instruction: “Be on your guard”. Why would they need to be on their guard when someone else is a stumbling block? Because Jesus doesn’t want them to stumble. And he proceeds directly in how to avoid stumbling: forgiveness.

So after the Lazarus account, Jesus immediately instructs the disciples to avoid stumbling over the Pharisees by forgiving them. And, of course, such a warning and instruction applies to all, not just the disciples and the Pharisees.

And Jesus shows us the simple meaning of repentance. The stumbling block comes seven times a day and admits he has offended. Jesus advises to forgive each time, even though it is becoming somewhat predictable. Many today, believing that severe penalty results in obedience, seek to define “true repentance” as repentance that is proven by perfect subsequent behavior. Jesus uses the word repentance in such a way as to remove any basis for that belief, or at least eliminates “perfect repentance” as necessary for forgiveness.

The rich man in the Lazarus account recognizes his clan’s need to repent. But does not see how the Law will lead them to that. Abraham does know how that will lead to it, either through his personal experiences where he repeatedly did not get it right, or because he has gained spiritual knowledge on the other side of mortal death.

But it is so important to keep the context here. Jesus has been building a concept that could easily be shifted. The concept is that the Kingdom of Heaven is built on forgiveness and forgiveness will be sought by those who pursue righteousness because they will face their failure. But it is so easy to shift the borders of the concept slightly, so that those who cause others to stumble, such as the Pharisees, become the new objects of vendetta, the new demons that must be universally hated. And so it has been for many religious groups since the 1st century, the Pharisees are presented as a caricature, a distorted image intended to emphasize certain characteristics.

We could reinforce the confusion by misapplying Jesus’ earlier words about hating people. Taken in the context of his whole presentation of the concept, we can know that he was ensuring that we understand that we must recognize the propensity to sin even in people we are loyal to. So in that sense, yes, we must despise the Pharisees.

But here in his teaching about stumbling blocks and forgiveness, Jesus is adjusting our concept to be like his. Jesus knew the Pharisees must be despised, recognized as having failed in their role of managing the master’s resources, as evidenced by the healing on the Sabbath event. Yet, very soon after this context, Jesus will be in physical and spiritual agony as he fulfills the righteous requirements of the Law. Hanging there on the cross, he will say, Father forgive them.

That is his context. In that context we know that when he told us to forgive the stumbling blocks, he included the stumbling blocks we are know to be worthy of hate. Because he did.

This can be one of the most difficult requirements we have. It is beautiful to imagine a world where forgiveness is supreme. But it appears to be beyond human ability, especially when we are in the grips of woe, cataclysm in our beings. How can we forgive when the offense is real, not petty? How is it possible when the offense is so powerful that recovery is impossible?

Perhaps that is what the disciples perceived. They immediately ask for help.

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”

I appreciate that Luke clarifies that it is the group that will soon be known to the believers as Apostles. These are the ones that Jesus has called to accompany him and receive intensive concept training. They are hearing the indirect teaching over and over. It appears Jesus is frustrated with the response from these 12 (depending on if you count Judas Iscariot, which I do). They should know.

6 “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,” the Lord said, “you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. 7 Which one of you having a slave tending sheep or plowing will say to him when he comes in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? 8 Instead, will he not tell him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, get ready, and serve me while I eat and drink; later you can eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank that slave because he did what was commanded? 10 In the same way, when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are good-for-nothing slaves; we’ve only done our duty.’”

This is the final statement of the physical context. In his normal indirect technique, Jesus concludes with a statement that will either drive you further into the Law and Prophets, or will reinforce your concept of the absolutely essential and absolutely powerful mercy of God.

First he addresses that faith is needed, both affirming the apostles acknowledged lack and showing that it is a tiny amount that has power. Faith is simply “a conviction of things unseen” as the writer of Hebrews defines it. Faith in what is very, very important.

So Jesus gives us an indirect lesson, that builds on the context.

He gives an example of servants that do their duty, and makes us all acknowledge that for doing duty no love is forcibly obtained.

Remember that just moments before, he told them the parable of the Prodigal son. The non-prodigal son did his duty and totally missed the love of the Father, both giving and receiving.

Jesus gave the parable of the Unjust manager, where the manager is praised for forgiving other people’s debts to the master.

You cannot be confident forgiving other people’s debts to God, unless you are confident in his nature. Once you begin to be confident in his nature, you become focused on his Love, and are confident he also forgives you when you fail at forgiving others.

This teaching session started with the Pharisees requiring that people do their duty. Nothing that could be considered to be violating the Sabbath is to be allowed, even at the expense of the suffering of other people. He ended this teaching session by encouraging the Apostles to not be like the Pharisees. Expecting praise by doing what is required.

Be like the Unjust manager, spend the masters resources on the things he wants them spent on.

Be the non-prodigal son in an imaginary sequel – he regularly has a party because he knows his Father Loves him, spending the Father’s resources, not on accounting gains, but on Love.

I think Jesus ended with this hard and oppressive saying because it was, and is, critical that the next set of managers understand. Jesus just explained the duty to forgive, and the apostles ask for more faith, acknowledging their lack.

Jesus presents them with a wrenching puzzle that they will understand when their concepts adjust.

How can you enjoy relationship with the master when the best you can do will never be more than just doing your duty? What does the master want?

Some of the disciples got it. Some of the apostles got it.

Do you get it?

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: