Feast upon the Word Blog

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Three Lukan Parables in Lesson 17

Posted by cherylem on May 26, 2007

This lesson is once again prepared using charts, etc and so I will just post a link here. While preparing this lesson I came across some incredibly moving stuff on the veil (see notes on Luke 14:15-24). Additionally I was led to think more about the gospel as a gospel of mercy and reconciliation. Last, I have given an explanation (leaning on Kenneth Bailey) of the parable of the unjust steward.

I want to add that sometimes my notes seem terse, leaving connecting thoughts unexplained. I apologize for this. Hopefully during the actual lesson presentation the connecting thoughts are there.

Here is the link:
Three Lukan Parables in Lesson 17

15 Responses to “Three Lukan Parables in Lesson 17”

  1. brianj said

    Cheryl: thanks for your notes. You write, regarding the unjust/clever steward, “But we, the children of light, often do not trust in our Lord’s mercy. The unjust steward recognizes the rich man’s mercy as his defining characteristic and uses it to his advantage. But the children of light do not have the wisdom to trust or throw themselves on the mercy of their master.” Interesting…. Or the wisdom to be merciful with their master’s goods.

    It certainly makes the summary statement by Jesus make more sense. He says, “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” In other words, show mercy freely—even with things that belong to God and not you—so that when you die you will be received into a heavenly home.

    This makes me think about something my father told me when he was a bishop. When he was first called, he asked around for advice from former bishops. “What is the one thing you wish you had done differently?” he asked them. They all gave the same answer: “I wish I had been more generous in dispensing fast offerings.”

    But I don’t want to limit my thoughts to money issues. I think your point is much broader than that. How can I be generous in “dishing out” the Gospel, or forgiveness, or hope? That’s the question I’m pondering….

  2. cherylem said

    Brianj,
    Thanks for the added comment: “or the wisdom to be merciful with their master’s goods.” I’m going to add that to my notes (I’m just printing them out this morning). This more completely reveals the point of parable. Thank you.

    And I do think this parable is about money. How one views and uses money (or the mammon of unrighteousness) becomes one of several defining characteristics of one’s own, especially if you have extra. Of course this spills over to other attitudes/attributes/spiritual understandings.

  3. Rebecca L said

    Cherylem,

    Thank you for this post. I think it is very ingenious and I appreciate the doctrinal points you make with this story–points with which I fully concur.

    The difficulty in understanding the parable comes from our difficulty understanding the Lord’s response and apparent confirmation of the steward’s self-serving actions.

    However, I think there is another way to read the parable and the Lord’s reaction without endorsing the steward. In so many of his speeches the Lord is ironic and I can’t help but see this as one of them.

    His “commendation”(v.8) of the servant is of the order of the blind man speaking to the Pharisees: “herein is a marvelous thing” (John 9:30). The idea that the mammon of unrighteousness could receive us into “everlasting habitation” and even pretend to give the kind of merciful security the unjust steward seeks, seems to be a major clue that the Lord is speaking tongue in cheek.

    Moreover, we don’t know the end of this story. Did his employer keep him? Did those he showed mercy to take him in? I expect the answer is “No” to both those questions. When we trust in mammon we fall utterly. (Ye cannot serve God and Mammon as the Lord procedes to point out.) This very straightforward statement needs to be accounted for in any interpretation.

    The unjust steward has tried to serve mammmon but in fact has NOT been faithful even there. His trust is misplaced, and it is unlikely that any employer would trust someone who has stiffed their previous employer so profoundly. They would accept his remission of their debt, but they would be very wary of taking him even into their mortal habitations.

    Morevoer this parable on stewardship follows directly the story of the Prodigal, the coin, and the sheep and the implied criticisms of the Pharisees’ stewardship throughout. I think this juxtaposition is important as well as the Lord’s summary that “ye are they which justify yourselves before men[like the older son, like the unjust steward]: but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15)

  4. nhilton said

    Thank you for your post/notes.

    Cherylem #2, Money is simply the universally understood symbol of “false gods” used in teaching that one must cast in “all our living” to the kingdom if we’re to inherit eternal life. I don’t think these parables are for any particular person, except the person who has something distracting them from their eye being single to the glory of God (us all). And I don’t think these are parables for those having “extra” any more than the person not even having “enough” i.e. Widow’s Mite. For the woman cast in all her living, not withstanding her want. How much easier it would be for the rich to give their excess if that were an option, but the ENTIRE point is that excess isn’t relevant–everything is required. Money is the token used in these parable of casting in EVERYTHING, not that money is even a good measure of actual dedication. If it were, we could each buy our ticket to heaven simply by donating our money to charity and becoming destitute. It’s not that easy.

  5. brianj said

    Cheryl: I think you are right: this parable is about money. I didn’t mean to suggest that it isn’t, just that I didn’t want to limit my thinking to that aspect only. But your emphasis is important, because in some ways it’s easier to think of this parable only symbolically and not literally. Meaning, it’s easier to freely share the Gospel, but not quite as easy to freely share my money (for me).

  6. cherylem said

    #3 Rebecca,
    Thanks for these thoughts. I have to think about the irony. John often uses irony, but I am not sure that irony is used often, or at all in Luke/Acts. (I would have to do some research to say anything more about this. Do you know if Luke uses irony? Any other examples in that gospel?)

    #nhilton,
    And thank you also. I agree that money is a universal symbol. Yet I also think that the urge to worship money in reality is very strong. Jesus lived in a class-conscious culture which at the same time was religious and had rules for giving to the poor; money and its use was important and debated. But I also agree that ultimately the person whose eye is single toward God will give everything.

    #5Brianj, these parables are hard teachings to us, I think. I think we all find it hard to share our money. We want to hold on to it very tightly.

  7. nhilton said

    I worry about limiting this teaching to money because it easily becomes a “pride from the bottom up” issue where the poor point to the rich as the wicked. It makes the teaching too segregated and absolves the poor from responsibility…or even the middle-class who don’t see themselves as having a real problem with money mongering.

  8. BrianJ said

    nhilton, #7: “It makes the teaching too segregated and absolves the poor from responsibility”

    I don’t disagree. My concern, expressed in #5, is that making the parable NOT about money “absolves the rich from responsibility.” So I think the first thing to do is to take the parable at face value: it is about money, just as Jesus says. Then we expand it beyond money to inlcude other worldly possessions (car, food, clothing). Then we expand it even further to worldly intangibles (time, talents, etc.). And finally, we can look at it more symbolically (testimony, foregiveness, etc. as I mentioned in #1).

    (By the way, when I said in #5 that I have a problem sharing my money, it is precisely because I fall into the “poor” category, not the rich. I think I have so little, that I want to hold on to every bit of it.)

  9. Rebecca L said

    Cherylem–Irony in Luke is not prominent, as you point out. For me, I think the irony is part of the personality of Christ. It comes out in some of his parables in Luke and some of his direct statements. I think it is even possible that it is a source of confusion for his followers at times. (Perhaps here).

    I think there is some irony in the stories of the “lost” sheep,99 just persons “who need no repentance”– and the son who didn’t transgress “at any time thy commandments”–both jabs at the Pharisees (Luke 15). Luke 17:10, which discusses unprofitable servants shows that the description of the ninety and nine is really just the account the Pharisees would give of themselves.

    Also, we see what you could possibly describe as bitter, lonely, and to me heart-breaking irony in Christ’s statements: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yeah and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”(Luke 14:26) (cf. Luke 12:51-53). The exaggerated enumeration has the effect of driving you past your limit, which is of course his point, but I think there is bitterness in this because Christ knows that while he brings division and discord now, he really wants to bring peace and unity and to tie families together.

    Another possibility is when Christ responds, “Why callest thou me good? none is good save one, that is, God.” (Luke 18:19) He knows he is “good” by the standard that this man uses, yet he picks apart the normal use of this word to show the painful irony underlying our pretensions to goodness.

    There are other passages in Luke that speak to an ironic perception of the world and a view that the norm we know will be turned upside down, i.e. that the world we percieve is very different from the real order of things–and isn’t that irony? [Things hid from the wise/ given to babes(Luke 10:21), exalted to be abased and vice versa (Luke 14;10-11)]

    Just some thoughts. Thanks again for your notes and for all your generous postings!

    Rebecca

  10. Rebecca L said

    Last thought– what about the very funny depiction of the Pharisee’s prayer? esp. after the statement in Luke 18:9 that this is a parable for those who are righteous in their own eyes, we get v. 11 : “God, I thiank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.”

  11. cherylem said

    Rebecca,
    Thanks for the added thoughts on irony. You have opened my eyes to new possibilities.

    I did find this: “The Lukan Voice: Confusion and Irony in the Gospel of Luke” by James M. Dawsey (an out of print book with some used copies available on Amazon).

    There is mention of irony in Luke here: http://www.stjohnadulted.org/Luke3.PDF

    Here is someone who [I think – I haven’t read this yet] agrees with you re the unjust steward:
    The Riddle of the Unjust Steward: Is Irony the Key?
    Donald R. Fletcher
    Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 82, No. 1 (Mar., 1963), pp. 15-30
    doi:10.2307/3263987
    This article consists of 16 page(s).

    This is interesting: http://ntluke.blogspot.com/2007/03/great-irony-on-road-to-emmaus-luke-2413.html

    Thanks again.

  12. Robert C. said

    RebeccaL #10, I love the next couple verses (in Luke 18):

    And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

    cherylem, thanks for the great links/references!

  13. RebeccaL said

    Thanks for the refs. Any idea on how I can read the one in the Journal of BL?

    You know, rethinking this has completely changed the way I see the story of the young rich man.

  14. cherylem said

    #13 Rebecca,
    I’ve ordered the article via Interlibrary Loan through my public library.

    And . . . I just realized I’ve been using my own idiosyncratic spelling of Lukan . . . I’ve corrected in the post titles, but anywhere else I’ve spelled this wrong: c’est la vie. (grin)

  15. Rebecca L said

    Thanks!

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