The Third Exchange

This coming Sunday is the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. In yesterday’s post we heard the second of the three exchanges between the rich man and Abraham in which it is requested that Lazarus be sent to warn the brothers of the rich man about what fate awaits them. Abraham notes that their fate – good and bad – has already been well explained by the prophets. Continue reading

The Exchanges

This coming Sunday is the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. In yesterday’s post we considered the passing of the parable’s characters from life into death and the reversal of roles that ensued. In the beginning post it was said that this gospel could be considered as a play in three acts. We’ve now arrived at Act 3. This third movement was described as the narration giving way to dialogue between the rich man and Abraham in three exchanges. The topics of the exchange are: the finality of judgment, the witness of Moses and the prophets, and the blindness that prevents even the Resurrection from leading to conversion. Continue reading

The roles are reversed

This coming Sunday is the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. In yesterday’s post we looked at the details of the first movement of the reading in which the Rich Man and Lazarus are introduced and their way of life is described – Act 1, if you will. Today, we see the harvest from their lives, a second Act, in which “The Rich Become Poor and the Poor Become Rich.” Continue reading

A Way of Life

This coming Sunday is the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. In yesterday’s post we took a moment to consider the flow of Sunday gospels leading to the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. There is a continuity of teaching which collects thoughts on misplaced priorities, earthly wealth, being truly lost, counting the cost, and what fate awaits those who are lovers of what matters not to God. With all that in mind, today, we look at the details of the first movement of the reading.

Culpepper well describes this parable as a drama in three acts (Luke, 316):

  • Act 1 – a tableau during which the characters are introduced and their way of life is described, but nothing happens
  • Act 2 – the rich become poor and the poor become rich as each character has died and received their eternal reward
  • Act 3 – narration give way to dialogue, but between the rich man and Abraham, in three exchanges:
  • about the finality of judgment
  • about the witness of Moses and the prophets
  • about the blindness that prevents even the Resurrection from leading to conversion

Act 1 – The Tableau

The first three verses contain a sharp contrast in description between Lazarus and the unnamed “lover of money.”

  • The rich man is clothed in purple and fine linen where Lazarus is covered with sores or ulcers
  • The rich man “dined sumptuously each day” while Lazarus longed to eat what fell from the table, but can’t.
  • The rich man lives a privileged life while Lazarus ebeblêto pros ton pulôna, literally, “had been thrown before the gate” of the rich man’s house.

It is perhaps noteworthy that the first word in a Greek phrase is a position of stress, as is the last word in a phrase.  Even the Lucan grammar seems to stress the contrast between the two men:

  • The first word in v. 19 is anthropos = “a person” and the last word in the phrase is plousios = “rich”
  • where the first word in v. 20 is ptochos = “poor,” the last word in the phrase is “Lazarus,” a name meaning “God helps”

Perhaps Luke is making the point that “the poor” were not considered “people;” as well the rich depend upon themselves whereas the poor depend on God.

The rich man is splendidly robed and feasts on the finest foods (see Note below re: v.19) – a clear echo of the parable of the Rich Fool who is well satisfied: “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” (12:19). As the parable makes clear the flash and pomp of the rich man’s life in no way reflects the eternal glory that awaits the faithful.

Lazarus is the only character ever named in a parable. As mentioned above, the name means “God helps” and thus foreshadows Lazarus’ liberation even as its ironically contrasts his life – no one in this life helps Lazarus.  He has been cast away at the rich man’s gate. He is a cripple beggar covered with sores and in the end dies. Green [606] comments about names:

… the fact that this poor, crippled man has a name at all is highly significant. The poor man’s only claim to status is that he is named in the story; this alone raises the hope that there is more to his story than that of being subhuman. The wealthy man, on the other hand, has no name; perhaps this is Jesus’ way of inviting his money-loving listeners to provide their own!

In our tableau the two characters live with a “stone’s throw” of each other and yet they never meet, never speak, nor are in any way neighbors.  One is reminded of Jesus’ question to scribe (scholar of the law) in the parable of the Good Samaritan: “Which of these three [priest, Levite, Samaritan], in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?’ He answered, ‘The one who treated him with mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”  Our two main characters lived entirely separate lives, divided at table and divided by a gate.


Notes

Some interesting notes on some technical aspects of the text. In opening verses (19-20) there is much revealed in the words used:

  • rich man: The oldest Greek manuscript of Luke dating from ca. A.D. 175–225 records the name of the rich man as an abbreviated form of “Nineveh,” but there is very little textual support in other manuscripts for this reading. The rich man is popularly known as “Dives” which is the Latin Vulgate’s translation for “rich man.”
  • lying at his door: The Greek is ebeblêto pros ton pulôna, literally, “had been thrown before the gate.”  The verb is passive, thus others (unnamed) dumped Lazarus at the rich man’s gate – perhaps other rich people who did want Lazarus at their gate? friends of Lazarus?
  • poor man: the use of the word ptōchós (poor, destitute) in such close conjunction with ploúsios (wealthy, rich) gives us the suggestion that this parable is a narrative rendering of the first Beatitude and woe of Luke 6:20-24.
  • Lazarus: The name of Lazarus, an abbreviated transcription of El-azar (“God helps”), appears in the NT only in the gospel of John and this parable. It is the only proper name to appear in a NT parable attributed to Jesus.

Image credit: Lazarus and Dives, illumination from the 11th century Codex Aureus of Echternach, Public Domain at Wikipedia

The optimist in me

This story about the “dishonest steward” follows immediately after St. Luke’s telling of the Prodigal Son in which the young man wastes wealth and opportunity, but comes to his senses, returns home and is restored to the family. The dishonest steward is one who wastes his position and opportunity, comes to his senses and works to restore his future from his pending dismissal. Did Luke intentionally put these two stories back-to-back? Hard to know. I will tell you that the parable of the dishonest steward is one of the most debated parables among scripture scholars. So, if you are hoping that I will unravel the wisdom and mystery of this parable for you … well, that would be a long wait for a train don’t come. But I will give it a go. Continue reading

The dishonest steward: a larger context

This coming Sunday is the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time in Lectionary Cycle C. The gospel is the parable of the “dishonest steward,” a parable that is one which we are surprised when the dishonest steward’s master praises him for his prudence as the now-dismissed steward scurries around making deals and writing off debts. As all parables, it stands on its own, but this parable exists in the milieu of readings with themes of riches, reversals, and hospitality. Continue reading

The Dishonest Steward – a final thought

Lessons.  The teaching portion of uses parallel opposites – trustworthy/dishonest, dishonest wealth/true wealth, small/great, what belongs to another/what belongs to you. Verse 13 forms a conclusion to the parable formed by an:

  • An opening assertion – No servant can serve two masters
  • Two supporting observations – He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other
  • The conclusion – You cannot serve God and mammon  [see Note on Luke 16:9 below]

The word translated “serve” in this verse is not the usual word for serve (diakoneo), but douleuo, which more literally means, “be enslaved to” or “be controlled by.” The same word is used in 15:29 of the older son stating to his father: “Look, all these years I served you…” One cannot be controlled by God and mammon. We can have only one God – and it shouldn’t be wealth.

As in this world, so in the kingdom: trustworthiness in small things leads to a greater trust; spiritual realities but also concerned with physical stewardship (v. 13). The community of Jesus will have to deal with problems of spiritual and material stewardship as there is always the danger of subordinating the spiritual to the material without realizing that a new master has taken over.

Craddock (Luke, 191-2) concludes his comments with:

Verses 10-12 contain sayings all of which are framed on what logicians call an argument a fortiori, that is, an argument from the lesser to the greater. The life of a disciple is one of faithful attention to the frequent and familiar tasks of each day, however small and insignificant they may seem. The one faithful in today’s nickels and dimes is the one to be trusted with the big account, but it is easy to be indifferent toward small obligations while quite sincerely believing oneself fully trustworthy in major matters. The realism of these sayings is simply that life consists of a series of seemingly small opportunities. Most of us will not this week christen a ship, write a book, end a war, appoint a cabinet, dine with the queen, convert a nation, or be burned at the stake. More likely the week will present no more than chance to give a cup of water, write a note, visit a nursing home, vote for a county commissioner, teach a Sunday school class, share a meal, tell a child a story, go to choir practice, and feed the neighbor’s cat.

Notes

Luke 16:1 steward: In the Roman context a steward has access to his master’s wealth and acted as his agent in business affairs – leading to an enviable social status strongly associated with his master’s standing. The implication of losing such a position pointed to the alternatives of manual labor or begging – and homelessness as well.  In other words, the steward is facing life “outside the camp” as a newly marginalized member of that world.

[1–8a] The parable of the dishonest steward has to be understood in the light of the Palestinian custom of agents acting on behalf of their masters and the usurious practices common to such agents. The dishonesty of the steward consisted in the squandering of his master’s property (Luke 16:1) and not in any subsequent graft. The master commends the dishonest steward who has forgone his own usurious commission on the business transaction by having the debtors write new notes that reflected only the real amount owed the master (i.e., minus the steward’s profit). The dishonest steward acts in this way in order to ingratiate himself with the debtors because he knows he is being dismissed from his position (Luke 16:3). The parable, then, teaches the prudent use of one’s material goods in light of an imminent crisis.

Luke 16:6 One hundred measures: literally, “one hundred baths.” A bath is a Hebrew unit of liquid measurement equivalent to eight or nine gallons.

Luke 16:7 One hundred kors: a kor is a Hebrew unit of dry measure for grain or wheat equivalent to ten or twelve bushels.

[8b–13] Several originally independent sayings of Jesus are gathered here by Luke to form the concluding application of the parable of the dishonest steward.

[8b–9] The first conclusion recommends the prudent use of one’s wealth (in the light of the coming of the end of the age) after the manner of the children of this world, represented in the parable by the dishonest steward.

Luke 16:8 dishonest steward: literally, steward of wickedness (oikonomos tes adikias)

acting prudently: other translations take the term phromimos as “cleverly” as term close to the more common word for prudence (phronesis).  These are both terms that Aristotle described as a kind of practical wisdom.

children of this world: This could also be translated as “children of this age” thus drawing a parallel to Luke’s use of phrases such as “this generation.”

Luke 16:9 wealth: mamōnás [wealth, mammon] The Greek miamōmás seems to come from an Aramaic noun which most probably derives from the root ’mn (“that in which one trusts”).  The word does not occur in the OT but is used in later Jewish writings in the senses (a) “resources,” (b) “gain” (especially dishonest), and (c) “compensation” or “ransom,” but also “bribe.” In general it has an ignoble sense, is often called unrighteous, and is a target of ethical censure and admonition. In the NT the word occurs only on the lips of Jesus. It denotes “earthly goods,” but always with a stress on their materialistic character. When people trust in it (Lk. 12:15ff.) or give their hearts to it (Mt. 6:21), they cannot love God. Believers, then, must break out of enslavement to it and learn to depend on God (Mt. 6:24).

eternal dwellings: literally, “eternal tents” (aiōniai skēnai), possibly echoes the exodus tradition, as it refers to the “tent” (skēnē) or tabernacle of God’s presence. The adjective “eternal” clarifies that Jesus refers not to temporary dwellings, but rather to the permanent place where God’s presence dwells.

Luke 16:10-13 Jesus’ sayings about stewardship and wealth describe “a form of stewardship that is firmly rooted in the OT understanding of Yahweh as the true owner and conferrer of all land and property” with the corollary that since property and land are given to God’s people to manage in the horizon of their accountability before God, they are to be used for the good of all, including the poor (Green, 597, cf Gen. 12:7; Exod. 3:8; 32:13; Lev. 20:45; 25; Deut. 7:13).

Luke 16:11 dishonest wealth: literally, “mammon of iniquity.” Mammon is the Greek transliteration of a Hebrew or Aramaic word that is usually explained as meaning “that in which one trusts.” The characterization of this wealth as dishonest expresses a tendency of wealth to lead one to dishonesty. Mammon is called unrighteous not because it is inherently evil but because of the unrighteous attitudes the pursuit of money can produce. If money were inherently unrighteous, then all uses of it would be evil. But that is not Jesus’ view (see 19:1-10). The attitude reflected here may be similar to that of 1 Timothy 6:10, where Paul says that the love of money is the root of all evil. Our own experience shows us that money brings out distorted values in people.

eternal dwellings: or, “eternal tents,” i.e., heaven. his opposed to the teachings.

Luke 16:10-12 The person who is trustworthy in very small matters…: The second conclusion recommends constant fidelity to those in positions of responsibility.

Luke 16:13 You cannot serve God and mammon: The third conclusion is a general statement about the incompatibility of serving God and being a slave to riches. To be dependent upon wealth is opposed to the teachings of Jesus who counseled complete dependence on the Father as one of the characteristics of the Christian disciple (Luke 12:22–39). God and mammon: see the note on Luke 16:9. Mammon is used here as if it were itself a god.

 

Sources

Commentaries

  • R. Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995) pp. 306-11
  • Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997) pp. 586-97
  • Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) pp. 243-9
  • Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) pp.965-6
  • Leon Morris,. Luke: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Vol. 3: (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988) pp. 254-6
  • G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI;  Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic;  Apollos, 2007) pp. 341-3
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com

Dictionaries.  Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995, c1985). F. Hauck, mamōnás, Vol. IV, pp. 388-90

Scripture –  Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. ©