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In Luke 15, The Pharisees criticize Jesus for his welcoming and eating with sinners, and in response, Jesus begins discussing parables.

The first two parables (or hypothetical questions) follow the same pattern, showing that God (or Jesus) must value the lost part of the whole as much, or even more, than the whole itself; that it was only natural to throw a party when these lost ones were found.

He throws many of the same elements into the parable of the two sons, then contrasts the celebration with the elder son's disapproval, who shows the same attitude toward his father that the Pharisees show toward Jesus.

Further, Jesus attaches a bias to their actions through the story, contrasting the Father's unconditional love (receiving the younger son simply because he loved his son, without reference to his failings) with the elder son's desire to earn his father's good opinion (after all of his obedient works, he felt entitled to having a party with his peers to celebrate how good of a son he was). In this way, Jesus seems to show how much the Pharisees had failed to grasp who their God really was, and how different their priorities were from His.

He goes on tell his disciples a story (still in the hearing of the Pharisees, it seems from verse 14) where the punch line again is aimed at the Pharisees: the story seems to be directed at the interaction between faithfulness and the proper use of wealth.

Considering the parable of the rich man and Lazarus seems to follow this flow of thought almost perfectly, what part does Luke 16:16-18 play, sandwiched in between the parables as it is?

Luke 16:16-18, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law. “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

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The chapter opens with teachings of non-possessiveness:

  • The parable of the steward of unrighteousness (1-9)
  • An admonition to administer well the wealth that God has granted us (10-13)

The Pharisees, however, who loved money (v. 14), objected to these teachings and derided Him. In their hearts, they were accusing him of false teaching, since the law spoke of wealth as a blessing (cf. Deuteronomy 28:1-6) and the prophets themselves promised the good things of the earth (cf. Isaiah 1:19). What Jesus states in v. 16-18 is rebuttal to what the Pharisees had in mind, as if they were about to say, "Do you stand in opposition to the law?" For this reason He makes clear that He is not opposed to the law:

And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than one tittle of the law to fall.

When He states, The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the good tidings of the kingdom of God are proclaimed, He is saying in essence that whereas the law was before imperfect, it is now being perfected. So with regard to the prior understanding of material wealth, now been perfected in the teaching of non-possession. This is why the following verse is connected:

Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is divorced from her husband committeth adultery.

Just as the law was not perfect with respect to what it demanded of a man with respect to divorce and remarriage and is perfected with His new command, so in the case of possessing material goods.

When the passage is understood thus, the parable of Lazarus no longer seems incongruous.

The interpretation above is a summary of the interpretation in Theophylact's 11th century Byzantine commentary on Luke, which is in turn summarizes the teachings of the Church Fathers; especially Cyril of Alexandria, who wrote an exhaustive commentary on Luke in the 4th or 5th century.

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  • 1) So the theme of these two parables do not continue the thought from what Jesus said previously? 2) What do you mean by "teachings of non-possessiveness"? – neil.consider Aug 29 '16 at 23:29
  • Luke 16:1-9 is the parable about the steward mis-administered the master's resources. Luke 16:10ff is Jesus speaking directly to the hearers on the same theme without a parable. When you say "what Jesus said previously", did you have something else in mind. – user15733 Aug 30 '16 at 0:44
  • "Non-possessiveness" means a focus away Old Testament teaching on earthly wealth. – user15733 Aug 30 '16 at 0:46
  • Yes, sorry about that. I am trying to follow the flow of thought starting from Luke 15:1 on to the passage in question (16:16-18). Since the parable of Lazarus seems to flow in the same direction as all of those parables so far, how do verses 16-18 help carry all of these parables' messages forward? – neil.consider Aug 30 '16 at 1:35

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