1. The Narrow Door. Ch.13:22-30
22 And he went on his way through cities and villages, teaching, and journeying on unto Jerusalem.23 And one said unto him, Lord, are they few that are saved? And he said unto them, 24 Strive to enter in by the narrow door: for many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able.25 When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, open to us; and he shall answer and say to you, I know you not whence ye are; 26 then shall ye begin to say, We did eat and drink in thy presence, and thou didst teach in our streets; 27 and he shall say, I tell you, I know not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.28 There shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and yourselves cast forth without.29 And they shall come from the east and west, and from the north and south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.30 And behold, there are last who shall be first, and there are first who shall be last.
This is the first in a new series of incidents on the last journeys of Jesus toward Jerusalem. He realized the seriousness of the situation. He knew that he was offering his salvation to the people for the last time, and therefore he was making an effort to reach every possible city and village with his message.
Some one among his hearers asked him the question, |Lord, are they few that are saved?| He did not reply directly but his answer implied that many Jews who expected to be saved would be lost and many Gentiles whom the Jews expected to be lost would be saved. Jesus likened the blessings of his Kingdom to a banquet served in a palace. The door into this palace is narrow, and many who are invited refuse to pass in thereby; after a time this door is shut, and then those who before have refused to enter, intreat the Master of the house to reopen it, but in vain; they are forever excluded, and are overwhelmed with remorse and chagrin. The narrow door is that of repentance and faith in Christ; the opportunity for entrance is present but not endless; those who reject Christ will be excluded from his Kingdom; among these will be many whose folly will be specially apparent. In the parable they are represented as pleading for entrance, and on the very ground which condemned them. They are pictured as saying that they had known Christ well; they had eaten in his presence and he had taught in their streets. Why, then, had they not accepted him? These privileges only increase their guilt; and the Lord refused to recognize them as his own. Thus did Jesus describe the exclusion from his Kingdom of many Jews; and he added the equally surprising statement of the reception of Gentiles: |They shall come from the east and west, and from the north and south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.|
Thus Jesus gave a very practical turn to the question which had been asked in mere curiosity. It is not important to know exactly how many will be saved; it is for each who hears the gospel to place himself in that number, now and at any cost. It is not enough that one lives in a Christian land, and in a religious home, and possesses knowledge of saving truth; each must repent and accept Christ for himself. The sad truth is that many who, like the Jews, have the largest religious opportunities are the furthest from salvation: |There are last who shall be first, and there are first who shall be last.|
2. The Message to Herod and the Lament Over Jerusalem. Ch.13:31-35
31 In that very hour there came certain Pharisees, saying to him, Get thee out, and go hence: for Herod would fain kill thee.32 And he said unto them, Go and say to that fox, Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I am perfected.33 Nevertheless I must go on my way to-day and to-morrow and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her! how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her own brood under her wings, and ye would not! 35 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
A report reached Jesus that Herod was threatening his life. This report was brought by the Pharisees who hoped that it would terrify the followers of Jesus and induce him to flee to Jerusalem where he would fall into the hands of the Jewish rulers.
Instead, Jesus sent to the king a message of defiance and irony; it has no note of insolence, but reveals the courage and indignation of a true man. |Go and say to that fox| -- Jesus thus addressed Herod because he saw the craftiness of the king. Herod did not wish the disrepute of killing another prophet so soon after the death of John, but he wished his realm to be rid of one whom he regarded as a dangerous leader; so he did not arrest Jesus but tried to put him to flight. The Pharisees were asked to bear this message to the king because Jesus saw that they were one with the king in the malicious cunning of their report.
|Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures to-day and to-morrow and the third day I am perfected.| Thus Jesus declared that his time and task were divinely allotted; no king could shorten the time till the task was done. When his work was complete, then in his death and resurrection the glory and grace and power of Jesus would be made perfect. |Nevertheless I must go on my way.| Jesus was to leave Galilee and Perea, the realm of Herod, not because he feared the king, but in fulfillment of his task which would take him to Jerusalem. The explicit reference to Jerusalem was made in a tone of solemn irony, |For it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem;| that city had a monopoly in murdering prophets; it would be quite improper for Jesus to be killed in any other place.
However, the reference to Jerusalem led Jesus to pronounce a lament of touching pathos over the city he truly loved. He saw that his rejection and death would hasten the destruction of the city. He saw its doom already hovering over it like a bird of prey. He gladly would have given his divine salvation and protection, but his people would not accept him. Now they would be left to their own defense, that is to say, to the ruin which he alone could have averted. Henceforth they would not see him in his saving power until as a suffering and repentant nation they would finally welcome his return as that of their true Saviour and Lord. How Jesus always yearns to bless and to deliver, and how often he is spurned and rejected by those who need him the most!
3. Jesus as a Sabbath Guest. Ch.14:1-24
1 And it came to pass, when he went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees on a sabbath to eat bread, that they were watching him.2 And behold, there was before him a certain man that had the dropsy.3 And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath, or not? 4 But they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go.5 And he said unto them, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a well, and will not straightway draw him up on a sabbath day? 6 And they could not answer again unto these things.
7 And he spake a parable unto those that were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief seats; saying unto them, 8 When thou art bidden of any man to a marriage feast, sit not down in the chief seat; lest haply a more honorable man than thou be bidden of him, 9 and he that bade thee and him shall come and say to thee, Give this man place; and then thou shalt begin with shame to take the lowest place.10 But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest place; that when he that hath bidden thee cometh, he may say to thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have glory in the presence of all that sit at meat with thee.11 For everyone that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
12 And he said to him also that had bidden him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, nor thy kinsmen, nor rich neighbors; lest haply they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee.13 But when thou makest a feast, bid the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: 14 and thou shalt be blessed; because they have not wherewith to recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed in the resurrection of the just.
15 And when one of them that sat at meat with him heard these things, he said unto him, Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.16 But he said unto him, A certain man made a great supper; and he bade many: 17 and he sent forth his servants at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a field, and I must needs go out and see it; I pray thee have me excused.19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them; I pray thee have me excused.20 And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.21 And the servant came, and told his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor and maimed and blind and lame.22 And the servant said, Lord, what thou didst command is done, and yet there is room.23 And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and constrain them to come in, that my house may be filled.24 For I say unto you, that none of those men that were bidden shall taste of my supper.
Luke pictures our Lord not as a severe ascetic but as a man of human sympathies and social instincts, mingling freely with his fellow men, worshiping with them in their synagogues and eating with them in their homes. No domestic scene in the life of our Lord is sketched with more detail than that of the Sabbath feast in the house of a Pharisee. Jesus is pictured as entering with the guests, noting the ranks of society to which they belong, and taking a leading part in their conversation. Yet he never for a moment forgot his mission; he seized every opportunity for delivering some needed message. Here his tones were unusually severe, for he was among persons who, while formally courteous, were in their hearts hostile to him; but he showed to all his unfailing grace, and his desire for their highest good.
While the guests were assembling Jesus saw a man suffering from disease. He knew that the Pharisees were watching him and would object to his effecting a cure upon the Sabbath Day and he therefore turned to ask whether a cure would be lawful. When they hesitated to reply, he healed the sufferer and then rebuked their hypocrisy, and warned against all insincerity in religion by reminding these formalists that they would not hesitate on the Sabbath to rescue a beast they owned; should they regard it as sinful to deliver a human being from distress? Jesus never encouraged breaking the Sabbath law, but he taught that this law must be interpreted by love.
When the guests were seated and Jesus saw how they chose for themselves the most desirable places, he took occasion to rebuke selfish ambition and to give a lesson in humility. Evidently, when Jesus advised a guest to |sit down in the lowest place; that when he that hath bidden thee cometh, he may say to thee, Friend, go up higher,| he was not merely teaching good manners or worldly wisdom, nor was he advising the pride that masquerades as humility. He was stating the great law that among his followers true lowliness and conscious unworthiness in the sight of God are the real conditions of advancement and honor; |For every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.|
Then as Jesus looked around upon the company he took occasion to teach a lesson in true charity. He told his host -- and there was something of playfulness in his voice -- that in selecting guests one should invite not only the rich, lest he might be so unfortunate (?) as to receive an invitation in return, but also the poor, who could not return the favor. Here again, Jesus was not giving merely rules of social hospitality; he was illustrating the great spiritual principle of unselfish motives in all deeds of kindness. We are not to confer benefits with a view to receiving benefits in return.
However, Jesus did not mean literally to forbid inviting rich guests to our homes or to insist that all feasts must be confined to paupers, but to teach that no service is to be rendered with the mere hope of personal gain. It is proper and pleasant, it may be even profitable, to entertain |friends| or |brethren| or |kinsmen| or |rich neighbors;| but in none of these cases is such entertainment a ground of merit for they may |bid thee again;| but if kindness is shown to the poor or rich simply for their good and with no thought of personal gain either present or future, the deed will not be without its reward: |for thou shalt be recompensed in the resurrection of the just.|
Possibly this reference or some similar reference called forth from one of the guests the exclamation, |Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.| Jesus took the occasion to give the parable of the Great Supper, by which he illustrated the sinful folly of refusing to accept his offer of salvation. In this story those who were bidden to the feast at first feigned a willingness to come, but subsequently, by their refusal and their flimsy excuses, they showed their complete absorption in selfish interests and their utter disregard for their host. However, their places were filled with other guests, some of them poor and helpless, from their own city; others were vagrants from the highways and hedges beyond. Thus Jesus plainly pictured the refusal by the rulers and Pharisees of his offered salvation and its acceptance, first by publicans and sinners, and then by despised Gentiles.
There was, however, a message for each one who heard the story, and there is a message to-day for anyone who is rejecting Christ. The Pharisees, by inviting Jesus to dine, pretended to feel some sympathy for him as a prophet, while in their hearts they hated him; and the very man whose pious and sentimental remark about |the kingdom of God| occasioned the parable, was unwilling to accept the invitation to |eat bread in the kingdom of God| which Jesus was presenting.
So there are those to-day who show an outward respect for Christian truth and talk sentimentally about the Kingdom of God, who, however, are so absorbed in selfish interests and have so little real love for God that they refuse the offer of salvation, while social outcasts and despised heathen gladly accept the invitation to life and divine fellowship and eternal joy.
4. Counting the Cost. Ch.14:25-35
25 Now there went with him great multitudes: and he turned, and said unto them, 26 If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.27 Whosoever doth not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doth not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have wherewith to complete it? 29 Lest haply, when he hath laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all that behold begin to mock him, 30 saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.31 Or what king, as he goeth to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and asketh conditions of peace.33 So therefore whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.34 Salt therefore is good: but if even the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be seasoned? 35 It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill: men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
As Jesus was journeying on toward Jerusalem the attending crowds were increasing in size and in excitement. The people imagined that he was about to establish a kingdom in pomp and splendor and power, and in these glories they expected to share. To remove the misunderstanding, Jesus turned to declare the true conditions of discipleship. His followers must expect sacrifice and suffering and be willing to part with all they possessed, even with life itself. When he declared that they must hate their kindred and their own lives, he of course meant that they must love them less than they loved him, regarding them with aversion only in so far as they were opposed to him or stood in the way of his service. To be his disciple one must be willing to |bear his own cross,| which was a symbol of suffering and of death; one must continually yield his will to the will of Christ, no matter what hardship or loss might be involved.
Jesus did not wish to discourage men from following him, but warned them first to count the cost. This he illustrated by referring to the folly of laying the foundation for a building without first estimating the entire expense and one's ability to meet it; he also stated, as a further illustration, the rashness of entering a war without first calculating what sacrifices must be made to win. Jesus did not mean that it is better not to begin the Christian life than to begin and fail, but that it is not wise even to begin unless one first realizes that it involves a readiness to renounce everything which the service of Christ may demand. |So therefore whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.|
Nothing could be more useless than a worldly and selfish and willful follower of Christ; he is like salt that has lost its savor; he lacks the very essence of discipleship; he can be of no possible service to his Lord.
5. The Prodigal Son. Ch.15
1 Now all the publicans and sinners were drawing near unto him to hear him.2 And both the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
3 And he spake unto them this parable saying, 4 What man of you, having a hundred sheep, and having lost one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? 5 And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.6 And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and his neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.7 I say unto you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance.
8 Or what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a lamp, and sweep the house, and seek diligently until she find it? 9 And when she hath found it, she calleth together her friends and neighbors, saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I had lost.10 Even so, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
11 And he said, A certain man had two sons: 12 and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of thy substance that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together and took his journey into a far country; and there he wasted his substance with riotous living.14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want.15 And he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.17 But when he came to himself he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: 19 I am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.20 And he arose, and came to his father. But while he was yet afar off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called thy son.22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: 23 and bring the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat, and make merry: 24 for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing.26 And he called to him one of the servants, and inquired what these things might be.27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.28 But he was angry, and would not go in: and his father came out, and entreated him.29 But he answered and said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, and I never transgressed a commandment of thine; and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30 but when this thy son came, who hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou killedst for him the fatted calf.31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that is mine is thine.32 But it was meet to make merry and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
The precious and matchless parable of the Prodigal Son belongs naturally to Luke. Its literary charm, its tender beauty, its deep human interest, its breadth of sympathy, its perfect picture of the grace and love of God, all are in peculiar accord with the purpose and genius of this Gospel.
The parable is linked with two others, the teachings of which it includes and completes: the parables of the Lost Sheep and of the Lost Coin. The occasion of all three parables was the censure passed by the Pharisees upon Jesus because of his association with social outcasts and his cordial welcome to penitent sinners. Jesus rebuked his enemies by showing that it is natural to rejoice in the recovery of a lost sheep or a lost coin or a lost son: much more, then, must God rejoice in the recovery of a lost soul. Evidently they who fail to share his joy must be out of sympathy and fellowship with him.
The first parable reveals the love of God in depicting his compassion for the distress and helplessness of the sinner. The second shows how precious a lost soul is in the sight of the loving God. Both of them picture his yearning and patient effort for the recovery of the sinner and his abounding joy in the restoration of the lost. The statement that |there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance,| is not to be interpreted too literally. It does not mean that God finds more satisfaction in a repentant sinner than in a sinless saint. Jesus was here referring definitely to the penitent publicans and to the self-righteous Pharisees. God did not take delight in the sins of the former, nor did he regard the state of the latter as perfect, even taking the Pharisees at their best and regarding them as faithful to the laws of God. Whatever its motive, morality is always better than lawlessness and impurity. However, a repentant sinner who understands the grace and mercy of God is always more pleasing to him than the Pharisee, proud, critical, and unloving, however correct he may be in his moral behavior.
This truth is made more plain in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Here we have perfectly described the experience of the repentant sinner and also the unsympathetic attitude of the disdainful Pharisee. The first is represented in the story by the prodigal and the second by the conduct of his elder brother.
In describing the waywardness of this younger son, Jesus gave a complete picture of the character and consequences of sin. Some have thought that the parable of the Lost Sheep indicates that sin is due in part to ignorance and folly and that the parable of the Lost Coin shows that it may be occasioned by misfortune or accident. The parable of the Prodigal Son, however, shows that it is usually due to willful choice and to a desire for indulgence. Its results are sketched in appalling colors. We are shown all its disillusion, suffering, slavery, and despair. As a picture of the inevitable consequences of sin, no touch could be added to the scene of the prodigal in the far country when he had spent all, when the famine had arisen, when he had sold himself to feed swine and was unable to be satisfied even with the coarse food he was providing for beasts.
Nor is there any more beautiful picture of repentance than was drawn when the Master described the prodigal as |he came to himself,| his sin had not been mere folly, it had been madness. He remembered a former time of joy and plenty in his early home. He realized his present desperate need; he resolved to arise and go to his father. Most of all, he saw that his offense had been not only against a loving, earthly parent but against God, and that he was wholly undeserving of fellowship with his father. Repentance is not only sorrow for sin; it is an acknowledgment that the offense has been committed against a holy God; it is a change of heart toward him, and a resolution for a new life which manifests itself in definite action. |He arose, and came to his father.|
Strictly speaking, this is the end of the parable of the Prodigal Son. In another sense the most beautiful part immediately follows. It is a description of the matchless love shown by God to every repentant soul. The father had never ceased to love the prodigal or to hope and yearn for his return. He had been eagerly looking for his wayward son. The first sight of the prodigal filled his heart with compassion; he |ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.| The prodigal was ready to confess his fault, but the father scarcely heard his words as he commanded the servants to |bring forth quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat, and make merry.| It is a picture not only of pardon but of complete restoration. It assures the sinner that as he turns to God he will be received into the closest fellowship of a son and heir and that his return will give joy to the heart of God who will regard him as one that |was dead, and is alive again,| as one who |was lost, and is found.|
The picture of the elder son is exquisitely sketched. It was unquestionably intended to describe the loveless Pharisees who envied the joy of the repentant publicans and sinners. It furthermore brings a message to all persons in every age to whom religion is merely a matter of unwilling obedience and of loveless faithfulness to the laws of God. It depicts souls out of fellowship with God, feeling no real joy in his service and sharing none of his gladness in the salvation of lost souls.
The elder brother knew nothing of the experience of a true son. He was merely a slave. When the prodigal returned he was not watching with his father, he was |in the field;| when he learned that his brother had been welcomed to the home he was filled with anger. He refused to enter the house and when his father came out to entreat him, he accused him of partiality and unkindness. His words described admirably the self-righteousness of the Pharisees, |I never transgressed a commandment of thine;| they also show how little he appreciated his true privileges, |thou never gavest me a kid.| The reply of his father intimates the possibilities which he never had appreciated and the privileges which he never had enjoyed, |Son, thou art ever with me, and all that is mine is thine.| It had always been possible for the Pharisees to enjoy the grace and mercy and love of God; but to them religion had been a mere burdensome round of rites and duties. It had given no satisfaction, no gladness, to their hearts. Something of their experience is paralleled even by Christians of the present day. Failing to appreciate the gracious pardon of God and his willingness to supply every spiritual need, forgetting the possibility of living in daily communion and fellowship with him, knowing nothing of his joys in the salvation and repentance of lost souls, they are seeking in their own strength, wearily and joylessly, to do the things that they believe to be right and to obey the commands of God, but their lives are like those of servants, not like the free, joyous, loving experience of true sons.
Possibly the most artistic touch in the parable is its abrupt close. We do not know whether the elder son yielded to the entreaty of his father or not. It was an appeal to the Pharisees; would they accept the grace of God and further his plans for the salvation of the lost, or would they continue to criticize and envy the repentant sinner? Shall we live as servants or as sons?
6. The Unrighteous Steward. Ch.16:1-13
1 And he said also unto the disciples, There was a certain rich man, who had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he was wasting his goods.2 And he called him, and said unto him, What is this that I hear of thee? render the account of thy stewardship; for thou canst be no longer steward.3 And the steward said within himself, What shall I do, seeing that my lord taketh away the stewardship from me? I have not strength to dig; to beg I am ashamed.4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.5 And calling to him each one of his lord's debtors, he said to the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? 6 And he said, A hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bond, and sit down quickly and write fifty.7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, A hundred measures of wheat. He saith unto him, Take thy bond, and write fourscore.
8 And his lord commended the unrighteous steward because he had done wisely: for the sons of this world are for their own generation wiser than the sons of the light.9 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles.10 He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much: and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much.11 If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? 12 And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
The parable of the Unrighteous Steward is often regarded as the most perplexing of all the parables of our Lord. It seems to picture a man who robbed his master and received his master's praise and was pointed to by Jesus as an example for his followers; further, it seems to indicate that a place in heaven can be purchased with money. A more careful reading shows that the praise was bestowed, not for dishonesty, but for prudence and foresight, that our Lord would have his followers imitate these good qualities in a bad man, and further that it is possible to use wealth so generously as to secure endless satisfaction and joy.
The story is that of a steward or a trustee who was in charge of the property of a rich landowner. Report had reached his master of the extravagance and dishonesty of this servant. An account was demanded and he was certain to lose his position. However, he seized on the opportunity which was still his so to use the wealth intrusted to him as to secure friends who would provide a home for him when his stewardship had been lost.
The story is intended to illustrate the stewardship of wealth. No money is really owned by a follower of Christ; it is simply intrusted to him to be wisely used in accordance with the will of the Master. For its use a strict account must some day be made. It will, therefore, be the part of wisdom and of prudence so to use that which is now intrusted that in the eternity to come there will be no regret but only joy for the way in which wealth was employed. In the parable the steward was guilty of fraud, as he reduced the debts of those who owed money to his master. He was really using for his future benefit money which was not his own. Of course the Christian is to act with scrupulous honesty; nevertheless, as he benefits others by his generous gifts, he really is using money which belongs to the Lord, but of course he is using it in accordance with the will of his Master.
In applying the parable, Jesus indicated that the right use of money, which seeks the welfare of others, applies not only to the rich but also to the poor, |He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.|
Jesus further indicated that the stewardship which all Christians now enjoy is a training for larger service in the life to come. |If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?|
The motive which inspires fidelity as stewards is that of love. The difficulty with the dishonest servant was that he was disloyal to his master and was really seeking to serve himself. One who really loves his Lord will be faithful in the use of that which is intrusted to him. The danger of stewards is that of divided allegiance. |No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.|
7. The Rich Man and Lazarus. Ch.16:14-31
14 And the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things; and they scoffed at him.15 And he said unto them, Ye are they that justify yourselves in the sight of men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.16 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.17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one tittle of the law to fall.
18 Every one that putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth one that is put away from a husband committeth adultery.
19 Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day: 20 and a certain beggar named Lazarus was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table; yea, even the dogs came and licked his sores.22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels into Abraham's bosom: and the rich man also died, and was buried.23 And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things: but now here he is comforted, and thou art in anguish.26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that they that would pass from hence to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from thence to us.27 And he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldst send him to my father's house; 28 for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.29 But Abraham saith, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one go to them from the dead, they will repent.31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead.
The parable of the Unrighteous Steward was intended to teach the possibility of the right use of wealth. The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus was designed by our Lord to warn his hearers against its abuse. Between the two parables Luke records a number of sayings, the connection of which cannot be determined beyond question but they seem to have been quoted by him as an introduction to the second of these parables, vs.14-18. They contain a rebuke of the Pharisees for their besetting sin of avarice and a statement of the unfailing authority of the Law, the letter of which they observed, but by the spirit of which they were condemned.
These Pharisees ridiculed our Lord for teaching the absolute necessity of generosity and benevolence and the unselfish use of wealth. Our Lord replied that while these enemies of his might receive the approval of men, God read their hearts and many who received human praise were but abominable in the sight of God. Jesus stated that while the gospel message did differ from the Law and while many were eagerly accepting its blessed privileges, it did not set aside the Law, but only showed how its demands could be met. When he stated that |one tittle of the law| could not fall, he referred to the minute projections which distinguish Hebrew letters, and meant that the slightest requirement of the Law was sacred and abiding. He illustrated these truths by a reference to the Seventh Commandment, and insisted that adultery did not lose its sinful character because of any interpretation of the Law such as was put upon it by those who were teaching lax theories of divorce. It was still sinful, even when justified by civil enactment. Thus Jesus was reminding the Pharisees that the Law might abide and be sacred even when legalists who observed its letter were condemned.
In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus by no means taught that it is sinful to be rich or that the poor are all saved. He did mean to suggest the solemn peril of the selfish use of wealth. The sin of the rich man did not consist either in the way in which he had acquired his wealth or in the fact that he possessed it, nor yet in any breach of moral law, but in the plain statement that while he was living in selfish luxury one who was in sore need lay unrelieved at his door. The rich man is commonly called Dives, the Latin name for |a man of wealth.| Lazarus is the only person in any parable of our Lord to whom a special name is given. It is just possible that the name was intended to indicate the character of the man as one who trusted in the help of God. The story shows not only the contrast between the two men in the present life, but the still greater contrast in the life that is to come. The picture is not to be interpreted with absurd literalness; but it does contain a serious warning, and behind its figures of speech are solemn realities. It does indicate the remorse and the anguish which forever may be experienced by those who upon earth make only a selfish and heartless use of wealth and position and opportunity. The consequences are shown to be as endless as they are distressing. A time of reversal is to come, a time of judgment and retribution.
It is evident that Jesus was especially warning the Pharisees; the rich man was a representative of this class who were notorious for their scrupulous observance of law and for their lives of selfish luxury and indulgence. The rich man addressed Abraham as his father, and was addressed by Abraham as his son. This is an intimation that the most orthodox Jew might be lost and come at last to a place of torment.
As the rich man requested that a special warning be sent to his brethren, it is possible that he was expressing his sympathy; more probably he was making an excuse and intimating that had he been given more light he would not have so grievously sinned. The reply is, therefore, very significant, |If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead.| It was an answer to the Pharisees for their continual request that Jesus should give some striking sign by which they would recognize his divine mission. Our Lord indicated that a striking prodigy or miracle will never convince those whose hearts are not right with God. He declared further that the Law and the Prophets plainly set forth the divine requirement of love. One who fails to observe this supreme law in the use of wealth and of all similar opportunities and privileges is under condemnation and is in peril of eternal pain.
8. Warnings to the Disciples. Ch.17:1-10
1 And he said unto his disciples, It is impossible but that occasions of stumbling should come; but woe unto him, through whom they come! 2 It were well for him if a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble.3 Take heed to yourselves: if thy brother sin, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.4 And if he sin against thee seven times in the day, and seven times turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.
5 And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.6 And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye would say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou rooted up, and be thou planted in the sea; and it would obey you.7 But who is there of you, having a servant plowing or keeping sheep, that will say unto him, when he is come in from the field, Come straightway and sit down to meat; 8 and will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? 9 Doth he thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded? 10 Even so ye also, when ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do.
After the severe rebuke given by our Lord to the Pharisees in view of their selfish abuse of wealth, Luke records four apparently disconnected warnings given to the disciples. The first, vs.1, 2, was against the peril of causing others to sin. In this world of selfishness and of evil desire, our Lord declared, it is inevitable that such offenses will be committed, but he pronounced a solemn woe upon anyone guilty of this grievous fault. He declared that it would be better for such a person to be drowned in the sea rather than to allow himself to become guilty of such a sin. The death of the body is far preferable to the death of the soul. Therefore, Jesus warned his followers lest they might lead anyone astray or causes anyone to stumble, particularly such as might be in years or experience less mature than themselves. No age of the Church has been without its tragedies in which power and influence have been selfishly used to mislead innocent souls, and no life is beyond the possibility of placing stumblingblocks in the paths of others or of exerting even unconsciously influences which may cause others to sin.
In the second warning, here recorded by Luke, vs.3, 4, Jesus guarded his disciples against lack of charity. He intimated that his followers should be ready always to forgive. He did not advise weakness or indifference to sin; he suggested that a brother who offends may deserve and should receive a rebuke. It is proper that he should be made to feel and to appreciate his fault. Nevertheless, he is to be treated with kindness and if he sincerely repents, he is to be forgiven freely. Even if he repeats his sin with frequency, no revenge is to be harbored against him. Jesus suggested that his offense might be committed |seven times in the day,| by which he meant an unlimited repetition of the fault; even then if his repentance is sincere, forgiveness must not be denied.
The twelve apostles, probably in view of the particular responsibilities which rested upon them, turned to their Master with the petition, |Lord, increase our faith.| The reply contains a solemn warning, that there is need of such increase, a far greater need than the petitioners realized. Nevertheless, there is also in the reply a gracious promise. They were lovingly rebuked for their lack of faith, but they were reassured by a revelation of the unlimited power of faith. Our Lord asserted that if they possessed real faith, even so small as to be compared with one of the most minute objects in nature, namely, |a grain of mustard seed,| they would be able by a word to accomplish incredible results, speaking figuratively, to cause a mulberry tree to be rooted up and planted in the sea. The followers of Christ to-day need to be reminded of these same truths, namely, of the narrow limits to which faith is usually confined and the unbounded possibilities which might be theirs if their trust in Christ were more simple, more unquestioning, and more real. Vs.5, 6.
The fourth warning here recorded rebukes the pride, the self-confidence, the desire for praise and for reward, which too often characterize the followers of Christ. Jesus taught that no human works, however perfect, give a claim upon God, but are merely the fulfillment of duty. This truth is set forth in the parable of the Unprofitable Servant. Vs.7-10. The word |unprofitable| does not mean worthless, but merely implies one who has not gone beyond his obligation or duty. The picture is that of a slave who has labored faithfully in the field and who when the day is done merely continues in the evening to accomplish his appointed tasks. His master does not show any particular gratitude to one who is doing that which he is expected to do. He does not especially praise his servant for doing the things commanded.
So in the case of every man, a life of the most blameless holiness and love is no more than God requires. It is no ground on which a special reward can be demanded. It is no reason for expecting promotion or praise. To do less would be to neglect an obvious duty, and to do more than duty is impossible. While this parable rebukes all pride and cuts off all merit of works, it is nevertheless true that in other parables our Lord taught the certainty of rewards which he is to grant faithful servants not as a matter of compulsion on his part but in loving grace.