Luke 16

Sharon Doran
Thursday, January 17, 2019, 8:30 PM

The lecture this week begins with a look the historical context of the languages associated with scripture. Luke 16 contains two eschatological parables: the stories of the dishonest steward and the rich man and Lazarus. Eschatological is derived from the Greek “eschatos”, meaning “last.” Therefore, the parables of the dishonest steward and Lazarus need to be interpreted as they relate to death, judgment and the final destiny of the human soul. An appreciation of the historical context of first century Palestine is necessary to better understand not only Luke 16, but the parables throughout the Gospels. At the time of Jesus, Rome was the occupying power in Israel. But prior to that, the Greeks were the reigning world power. So the culture of Israel at the time of Jesus was formed by Greek, Roman and Hebrew influences. The original languages of the of scripture were Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. The Greek language was superior to Hebrew and Aramaic when it came to complex philosophical topics, so the Greek language was adopted by the intellectuals at the time of Jesus. About 250 years prior to Christ, Ptolemy II was the Greek ruler overseeing Egypt, and he commissioned the translation of the Torah from its original Hebrew into Greek. Ptolemy recruited six members of each of the twelve Israelite tribes and then sequestered these 72 men into separate chambers. Miraculously, all 72 versions of the Torah were identical. The Greek translation of Torah or the Pentateuch became part of the world renown library in Alexandria, Egypt. Later, the entire canon of the Hebrew scriptures was translated into Greek, and this translation came to be known as the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX). The Septuagint was the translation in use at the time of Jesus. The city of Corinth, Greece, was taken by Rome in 146 B.C. as the Roman empire expanded. The Romans brought with them the Latin language, and in 382 A.D., Pope Damasus I asked St. Jerome to translate the scriptures into the Latin Vulgate. At the time of Jesus, Jerusalem and the rest of Israel was under Roman occupation. The Romans imposed a heavy burden of taxes and export tariffs, which led to social unrest. In 2 Maccabees, we read about the origin of the Zealots, a revolutionary group of Jews who wanted to install a Jewish theocracy as the ruling power. Simon the Zealot was one of the twelve apostles. In addition to the taxes on agricultural goods, there was a so-called temple tax that all Jews were asked to pay. Matthew 17 tells the curious story of a fish caught by Peter. In its mouth was a shekel, enough money to pay to the tax for both Jesus and Peter. Some of the tax money collected by Rome was used to build a series of roads that facilitated the transportation of goods. Some of these trade routes traversed Palestine and an emerging middle class profited from the flow of goods. However, peasant farmers were displaced by rich, often absentee land owners. These peasant farmers worked the land but paid a heavy tribute to the wealthy land owner. With this structure in mind, we can better understand the parable of the dishonest steward. In brief, this story is about a steward who is about to be fired for mismanaging his master’s assets, so he curries favor with some of his master’s debtors by remitting some of their debts, in hopes of later being rewarded with housing. As an occupation, stewards managed the wealth of their employer, hoping to maximize profit. The steward in this parable is being fired not because he stole from his master, but because he poorly managed his employer’s assets. Much like the prodigal son who squandered his father’s estate, the steward squandered the wealth of his master. In a similar way, the apostle Judas behaved as a dishonest steward, squandering both the material and spiritual gifts given by Jesus. The steward in this parable hopes to secure his future by forgiving the debts of the peasant farmers. He hopes to store up earthly treasures through his forgiveness, but Jesus wants us to store up heavenly treasures through our forgiveness of others, as shown in the Lord’s prayer. Somehow, the steward is not only able to satisfy the master’s debtors, he is also praised by the master for his shrewdness! Although scripture does not explicitly say, we can envision a scenario where the steward reduces the debt of the peasant farmer by eliminating his own commission, and then “cooks the books” by showing an even smaller amount of profit to the owner, who then owes less taxes to the Romans. All interested parties win, with the exception of Rome: the peasant farmer pays a smaller tribute, the steward loses his commission but secures a place to live and the land owner receives the same amount of money but pays a lower tax. What is the spiritual message for us in this parable? In a worldly sense, the steward profits by ingratiating himself to other worldly people. How much more will we spiritually profit if we align ourselves with spiritual people, such as the saints, and spiritual goods, such as prayer, fasting and especially almsgiving! We are called to live “in” the world, but not “of” the world. The Church is our home here, helping us with Her sacraments to reach our eternal home. As Luke 16 continues, we read about dishonest wealth, or mammon. Jesus tells the eavesdropping Pharisees that if they cannot be faithful with the things of the world, how can they be faithful with spiritual goods? We cannot serve both God and wealth. We cannot be in covenant relationship with worldly goods. We cannot make money an idol. The use of unrighteous mammon will lead to an eternal habitation, but perhaps not the eternal destination we desire if the use of unrighteous mammon leads us to hell. In what seems to be a random comment, Jesus once again upholds the indissolubility of marriage, declaring that anyone who divorces and remarries commits adultery. However, in the same conversation Jesus reminds his listeners that prior to John the Baptist, the law of the Old Covenant was in force, but with the proclamation of the Kingdom of God by Jesus, the Old Law is fulfilled and a New Law established. Jesus describes the violence associated by this event, which could be the “violence of conversion” for a penitent sinner, but also this violent event could refer to the beheading of John. John was imprisoned and subsequently executed for his public criticism of the unlawful marriage between Herod and Heroidas, the wife of his brother Phillip. By reminding the Pharisees of the indissolubility of marriage and the death of John, Jesus is chastising the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. The Pharisees condemn John and Jesus for their proclamation of truth, yet they stay silent over Herod’s adulterous relationship with Herodias, which by Levitical law required the stoning to death of both parties. By their silence, the Pharisees ingratiate themselves with Herod, who in turn, had ingratiated himself with Rome. The lecture then continues with story of the rich man and Lazarus. For many years, the rich man ignores Lazarus as he begs at the gate. After they both die, Lazarus is allowed to rest in the bosom of Abraham, but the rich man is sentenced to eternal agony. The name Lazarus was fairly common at the time of Jesus, so the Lazarus of Luke 16 should not be confused with the Lazarus, the good friend of Jesus found in John’s Gospel. However, there is a great connection between these two stories. The Lazarus in Luke’s Gospel begs Abraham to send someone from the dead to convince his five brothers to change their ways. Abraham responds by saying that since they would not listen to the prophets, they would not listen to someone raised from the dead. In John’s Gospel, Lazarus is in fact raised from the dead. But instead of listening to him, the Pharisees plot to kill him! Even more, despite his own resurrection from the dead, many refused to believe Jesus! We know from 1 Corinthians 15, that if Jesus had not been raised, then our faith is in vain. The parable of the good steward and the story of poor Lazarus reminds us that what we do in this world with our gifts matter for the next world. The catechism “affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul -- a destiny which can be different for some and for others” (CCC 1021). Be a good steward and use your gifts well.

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