As Jesus’ popularity grew, so did the opposition He received from the contemporary Jewish leadership (cf. 12.1; 14.7-14; 18.9-14). While He opposed the Pharisees’ selfishness straightway, He also used His debates with them to instruct His disciples in kingdom values, especially financial generosity. In Luke 15-16, Jesus’ creative teaching methods made an impact upon both the Pharisees and those He was training for kingdom leadership. The bulk of these chapters are unique to Luke, figuring into his extended portrayal of Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem (9.51-19.41), where Jesus would finally demonstrate the reality of the kingdom for all to see.
While the scenes of ch 15 are popular in both the church and some segments of the broader Western culture, Jesus employed these vignettes as an argument against the Pharisees of His day. Luke reported that, “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!’” (15.1-2). To the indignant Pharisees, Jesus told a three-part parable, the point of which was that the conversion of sinners should bring joy, not complaining:
- Just as a shepherd rejoices with friends over finding the one lost sheep from a fold of 100 (vv. 1-7//Matt 18.12-14).
- Just as a woman calls her neighbors to celebrate when she finds a lost silver coin, even though she had nine others (vv. 8-10)
- Just as a father rejoices with a banquet when his prodigal son returns home (vv. 11-32). In the longest of the three figures, and perhaps the peak of the parable, Jesus here introduced the element of opposition to the euphoria that had come over the crowd each time the lost item was found. The prodigal’s older brother came in from the field, and when he learned that a large party was under way for his recently repentant brother, “he became angry and didn’t want to go in” (v. 28). He defended himself to his pleading 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” (v. 29). In the final scene of the parable, Jesus attacked the Pharisees, who like the older brother, were more concerned for their own congratulations than the conversion of those who were dead and lost
Jesus had not yet concluded His argument against the Pharisees. While they were still within hearing distance, Luke 16 records that Jesus turned directly to His disciples and taught them principles of faithful kingdom leadership, especially as it regards financial resources. In Luke 15, Jesus had spoken against the selfishness of the Pharisees because of their stingy attitude toward the repentant tax collectors and sinners, and here against their selfish love of money. Jesus began the lesson with another parable, this time detailing the shrewdness of a manager who was about to be fired. The soon-to-be-unemployed man devised a plan for his own financial security by canceling some of his debtors’ accounts, hoping that he would win their favor and receive a welcome into their homes (vv. 1-7). The key to the parable is found in Jesus’ statement: “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” (v. 8). The message for the disciples was clear: use financial resources for spiritual friendships so that “they may welcome you into eternal dwellings” (v. 9). This is the means of faithful financial stewardship, springing from one’s commitment to serve God, not money (vv. 10-13//Matt 6.24). At the midpoint of the chapter, Luke provided the link that connects the various threads of ch 16: “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and scoffing at Him” (v. 14). In short, they loved the pleasure of men—including lax standards in the marital covenant (vv. 16-18//Matt 19.9//Mark10.11-12)—more than God. Having yet to leave the theme of financial stewardship, Jesus told a final parable of a rich man and Lazarus—a poor, ill man who was left at the rich man’s gate. Both men died, but in the afterlife their fortunes were reversed. The Patriarch Abraham was there and explained the fate of both men; to the rich man—now in agony—he 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” (v. 25). Despite the rich man’s pleading, Abraham would not agree to send someone to warn his family about the agony that awaited those who would not repent; in the patriarch’s mind Moses and the prophets were a sufficient witness—if these were rejected, one would not reform their ways even “if someone rises from the dead” (v. 31)!
Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees’ selfishness was prompted by their differing opinions regarding the contemporary application of the Old Testament. Since they had altogether missed the demands for mercy present in the law and the prophets, they were obviously unable to comprehend the greater demands for unselfishness and generosity that were consistent with His coming and His kingdom. Jesus admonished the Pharisees for not recognizing His unique relationship with the Old Testament, the One who is the climax of the storyline of Scripture:
- When Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, the Pharisees charged that He was not acting in continuity with the teaching of the law or the prophets (15.1-2). The Pharisees catalogued a number of Old Testament texts as evidence that the righteous—especially someone who made the Messianic claims—should not associate with the unrighteous. The Psalms begin with the righteous happily separating themselves from the wicked: “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path of sinners, or join a group of mockers!” (1.1; cf. Deut 21.20-21; Prov 2.11-15). Leaders of Judaism were so successful in urging Israelites to abstain from table fellowship with Gentiles, that even Peter was deluded for a time (Gal 2.11-14; cf. Leviticus 11; Deut 14.3-21). The apostle Paul rebuked Peter’s pride because he knew that in Christ the walls of separation had been removed, the tables turned; in the Messianic era, it is the righteous that employ meals for the sake of contaminating the ungodly with grace and sanctification
- Jesus said that the law and prophets were until John, and that the kingdom of God had arrived in Himself (16.14-18). Jesus rebuked the Pharisees’ attempts to employ the Old Testament to justify themselves before men, saying: “The law and the Prophets were until John, since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is strongly urged to enter it” (v. 16). In essence He announced that a new standard of judgment had arrived; no longer could one point to a passage of the law or prophets to show their righteousness. God knows the heart, and Jesus’ incarnation makes it such that no one could hide what is inside. The Pharisees—thinking they could employ the law to acquit themselves—were actually all the more guilty, because the law actually pointed to Jesus, and they should have recognized Him. He thus reinforced the place of the law as the contemporary arrow pointing to Him, saying: “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter in the law to drop out” (vv. 16-17)
- Jesus could yet employ the teaching of the Old Testament to illustrate kingdom principles. In part, the story of the rich man and Lazarus illustrates Jesus’ point of the validity of the Old Testament as a witness to Himself (16.19-31). In it, “Abraham’s side” (v. 22) is the place of salvation, opposite the place of torment, Hades (v. 23). What is striking in the context of Jesus’ diatribe with the Pharisees is that father Abraham, the patriarch of promise, passed judgment consistent with that of Jesus. Jesus’ point was that the Pharisees were guilty by their own standard; they used the Old Testament as an excuse for their greed and selfishness when in fact Abraham himself would condemn their lack of mercy to tax collectors and sinners, and the needy. And since the Pharisees had actually rejected the Old Testament witness (of Jesus), they would certainly not accept the witness of His resurrection
*For a complete list of references, please see scripturestoryline.com