As we read through Luke each week there will be two devotions focusing on particular passages. Click here to read past devotions.
Focus Point: How does this Fit? (Luke 16:14-18)
Chapter 16 is bookended by a pair of parables about money. So these verses feel out of place. Especially verse 18. The NIV titles the section, 16-18, “Additional Teaching”, as though Luke realized he forgot a couple of topics… “money, money, money… oh yeah, don’t get divorced… money, money, money”.
But Luke’s intention here isn’t random and verse fourteen becomes the key tying the section together. Interrupting Jesus’s teaching on money, the Pharisees are “sneering”, why? They “loved money” and justified themselves in front of men – rather than God.
The Pharisees sought to live a radical commitment to the Law and to purify the Jewish people.** The New Testament’s disdain for them was not a common perception. Instead, the Pharisees were seen as keepers of the Law. Both upholding the covenant and defining the Law.
Yet, Jesus did not follow the Pharisees’ example. Most often we read this through Sabbath healing stories (6:6-11, 13:10-3, 14:1-6). These healings make Jesus appear to be a lawbreaker. Which begs the question, if Jesus – and the new kingdom he was inaugurating – follow the Law.
So these verses, 15-18, serve to make clear that the Kingdom cannot be divorced from the law. Rather than abandoning the Law, Jesus is taking the mantel from the Pharisees, he is now the one keeping and defining the Law. He says this more openly in the Sermon on the Mount (“I have not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them” – Matthew 5:17, leading into the “you have heard it said, but I tell you” passages). In Luke the surrounding chapter underscores the Law as viewed through Jesus. Specifically here, rather than hoarding wealth, we live to help our neighbors. Or, to counter the focus of the Pharisees, more important than sabbath ritual is what we do with our money…
So rather than “additional teachings” these verses are the crux of the teaching. And the topic of divorce is not a forgotten idea randomly dropped into chapter 16. Instead, it serves two purposes:
- It is a metaphor for the Kingdom Jesus inaugurates. God’s Kingdom cannot be divorced from Law.
- It also demonstrates how the Pharisees did not follow the law but allowed more exceptions for divorce to gain the approval of men.
Following the Babylonian exile, it was believed the people had not honored their covenant with God. In breaking the Law, becoming sinful, God allowed them to be conquered. They were currently under the foot of the Romans, exiles in their own land. The only way God would save them (salvation was freedom from exile) is if they lived out the covenant law! The Pharisees sought to live out the covenant, purify Israel, and bring about national redemption. (NT Wright, New Testament and the People of God, 189-90, 300)
Connecting to Today: I spent a lot of time pondering the three verses in the midst of the money passages (16-18). Commentaries helped me piece the details together. But in many ways I am like a Pharisee, straining a gnat only to swallow a camel (Mt 23:23-4).
The Pharisees were so caught up in the wrong parts of the law, they missed what was essential. In the same way, I spent hours discerning a cryptic passage. Which was good and fun (I am a bit weird). But all around it was a call to action – calling to me, a rich person in the eyes of the world. A better question for me to ponder is how can I live faithfully in a culture that loves money? How can I “use worldly wealth to gain friends for [myself] so that when it is gone, [I] will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (v9)?
- Divorce (v18) — Jesus’s understanding of divorce is a challenge to today’s society. The union between a couple is a strong bond, not meant to ever be broken. While there are few exceptions, the Bible does not allow for remarriage; instead, it desires transformation and reunification. Now there is much to be said. I believe there are times for divorce (beyond even the NT allowances, for instance in situations of abuse). And I believe remarriage can be God’s desire in a broken world. BUT, these are things that require much prayer. Also, I am sure divorce should not be as common.
- The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (v19-31) should not be taken as a literal description of Hell – as though Heaven will look into Hell. Instead, it is a sign of the reversal of fortunes. And points back to the opening of chapter 16, the rich man did not make friends for himself in the eternal life…