Luke 16 is a fascinating chapter. Jesus starts off with a parable in which, at a casual read, he seems to be commending devious behaviour, then he tosses in a single sentence about divorce before launching into a story with a very metaphysical flavour which differs radically from his normal down-to-earth parables.
We studied this passage at Bible study this week and our rector John preached on it today. I struggled a bit to understand what Jesus was really saying about money in the first parable: is he really saying that using money to win friends is good, regardless of whose money it actually is? Or is he using hyperbole: even a dishonest manager can use his resources to make friends: how much more should we do this? Another alternative is that the manager was cutting his commission. Or perhaps these were bad debts and he figured by cutting them, they’d be more likely to be paid, and at the same time he’d earn the friendship of the debtors, and the commendation from the rich man for making the best of a bad debt. Interestingly my wife had no problem with the parable. She read the final interpretation.
Whatever the meaning intended by Jesus, we can be sure that he was not condoning dishonest behaviour. The Pharisees reacted badly to this parable — I guess they read it as an attack on their high regard for material wealth.
The second parable is curious because it uses Jewish pictures of heaven and hell in a way that I can’t recall in any other parables. Jesus’ other recorded parables used scenarios from life: banquets, journeys, weddings and so on. So why did Jesus choose this imagery?
He makes a very pointed comment at the end of the parable of course: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” The message of the parable is also about the motivations of the heart: is it God or money that you are following? I like the picture and scenario: it’s very vivid! But I would still like to know why Jesus chose this imagery.
And finally, I wish I knew why Luke chose to sandwich the divorce passage between these two parables!