Luke 16-18
(Jesus Challenges Our Understanding of Order)
October 28th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

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

- Luke 16:13 (KJV)

Summary of Chapters

These three chapters include some topics that are difficult for many listeners and readers to comprehend and accept, but these passages also include some very direct messages. As with the study from the last couple of days, these chapters are only found in Luke.

Chapter 16 begins with the "Parable of the Shrewd Manager." A man is fired for incompetence, and before anyone knows of his firing he reduces the bill for many of the debtors. The reader may be astonished to see that upon hearing this news the master applauds the manager!

Also astonishing for many people of Jesus’ day was the subsequent story of poor Lazarus and the Rich Man. This is the only parable in which Jesus names one of the characters. But the difficult dimension of the story for many of the people in the original audience was hearing that the poverty-stricken Lazarus ends up in Heaven while the Rich Man gnashes his teeth in Hell. When the rich man realizes that his fate is sealed he asks for a message to be sent to his brothers to warn them, but God tells him there is no point:

    “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

    “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

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

    “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

    Luke 16:17-31 (NIV)

In chapter 17, Luke notes that Jesus was now on his way to Jerusalem (for the final time). Jesus chose this time to warn his disciples of the coming of the Kingdom of God. It will come as suddenly and unexpectedly as the destruction of Sodom and the Great Flood, said Jesus. Some will be taken and others left behind. This disturbing statement must have left the disciples confused, because they could only respond with a pithy question: “ ‘Where, Lord?’ (Luke 17:37 - NIV).”

Chapter 18 begins with the Parable of the Widow who uses persistence to win a long-suffering case in front of a crooked judge. Jesus explains that God will also reward those who persistently cry for help, but then Jesus turns the topic by asking how much faith he will find when he returns: “ ‘I tell you that he (the Father) will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?’ (Luke 18:8 - KJV)"

The puzzling comments from Jesus continues as he says those who “ exalt themselves will be humbled (Luke 18:14) and that we must “receive the kingdom of God like a child (Luke 18:17)” or else we will not enter it. After a conversation with a rich man, Jesus noted, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:24 - NIV).” This left the disciples totally confused, because the general assumption at the time was that wealth was a sign of blessing from God. Therefore they asked, who then can be saved? Jesus explained with a one line statement that has often been quoted:

    Jesus replied, "What is impossible with men is possible for God"

    - Luke 18:27 (NIV)

As if to underscore this point, Jesus predicts his death for a third time. He explains how he will be mistreated and then rise again. The disciples were also mystified by this explanation. Jesus could not halt his journey to wait for the disciples to figure it all out, so he continued on his path to Jerusalem, and was nearing Jericho when he healed a blind man who acknowledged the identity of Jesus.

Reflection and Application

In his series of teachings on the Parables, the Rev. Gregory Doll noted that "Parable of the Shrewd Manager" is one that many teachers shy away from because it’s difficult to comprehend and even more difficult to explain. One interpretation indicates that Jesus asks us to examine what we do with the resources we have been given. None of them really belong to us, so we ought not to be greedy and possessive with them, but instead use them for the greater good of man and God.

Other sources point out that farm managers in Jesus' day were known to tack on extra fees in their transactions. Thus what this man was doing was redeeming himself by removing those fees, similar to the experience of Zaccheus the tax collector when he gave back everything he stole. Therefore, the shrewd manager put himself in the trust of his former customers. In the same way, we are asked to give up our dependence on wealth and put our trust in our Creator.

Many people thought that wealth was a sign of righteousness, so the story of the rich man and Lazarus was a bit shocking. One could find the same message in this story as in the Parable of the Shrewd Manager. The rich man assumed that the wealth given to him was for him alone. He found out differently, but it was too late. If we read back on our notes from all the prophets we can better understand God’s statement that if people did not listen to all of these warnings, then they won’t notice if a man rises from the dead.

God wants us to listen to him. Listening requires time and attention. Taking a break from the world on the Sabbath is an ideal time to listen for God, but we can do it on any day, even if our break from the world is only for five to ten minutes of prayer or a twenty minute walk or run outside communing with God. Talk to him, and listen for the answer with an open heart because it may not always be the answer you want, but it will be the answer you need.

Jesus was issuing some of his final warnings and teachings as he began his trip to Jerusalem. The journey by foot is about 112 miles from Galilee to Jerusalem (point A to point C on the Google walking map shown on this page). It could be walked in a few days, but Jesus probably took weeks or months in order to reach more people with healing, forgiveness, and teaching.

On this journey, we can see that Jesus leaves no doubt that money will not save us, in fact, it might blind us if we try to hold onto it.

What will save us? Persistent faith, like that of the widow in the parable from chapter 18 will help to save us. Luke says that Jesus told them this parable so that “they should always pray and never give up (Luke 18:1 - NIV).” In an earlier chapter he had told them exactly how to pray, but he followed up with a two-part reminder and illustration in this chapter: Number one, be persistent like the widow and number two, don’t pray like the self-righteous who say “thank God I am not a sinner!” Instead, we ought to admit our sins.

If we try to overcomplicate the message from Jesus, we will miss it. Therefore, he tells us to accept it like a child would – in faith, without extensive explanation. At some point, a child begins to ask a lot of questions, but at younger ages, they just accept the way things are: The sun rises and sets every day and Mommy and Daddy take care of me. When I fall down and scrape my knee it hurts, when I eat, I feel good (unless I eat too much candy, then I feel bad). They don’t need to know why these things happen; they just appreciate the cause and effect.

The time with his disciples was running short, so Jesus made sure they heard the messages about riches and exaltation. They don’t understand at first because they are thinking in terms of man’s capabilities, so Jesus tells them that nothing is impossible for God. God can make a blind man see and bring a man back to life. He can take away the riches of a man or nation in an instant. He can do anything.

By the time he got to Jericho (point B on the map) Jesus was getting very close to Jerusalem, so his messages became even more tantamount. It’s interesting to note that the disciples had been with Jesus throughout his ministry and witnessed all his power, but on this final journey they did not yet fully see all he was talking about. By contrast they came across a man who was not physically able to see, but recognized Jesus, calling out to him, “ ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ (Luke 18:38 - NIV).” People tried to stop him, but he persisted.

This is the child-like faith and widow-like persistence that Jesus is talking about. Jesus tells him that his faith has healed him. This man, who was on the lower rungs of society because of his handicap, is now recognized by Jesus. The humble were exalted, and those who exalted themselves and told the blind man to be quiet have been humbled.

Our lesson is to pursue Christ with the same persistence as the widow and blind man – let no one deter us. It may seem fruitless at times, but we must accept like a child and trust that with God nothing is impossible.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What is the longest journey you have taken by foot?
    2. What does it mean to pray with persistence?
    3. How can we become more child-like in our belief in God and more mature in our faith?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know you see things differently than us. Help us to pray to you without ceasing.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Luke 19-20 (Jesus Arrives to Save What Was Lost)

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