"He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man's, who will give you what is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
"The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.
"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery."
- Luke 16:10-17,18
In yesterday's reading, Jesus gave us the parable of the Unjust Steward. This is after giving several parables illustrating God's love for those who return, after the Pharisees complained that He dined with tax collectors and sinners. We read the parables of the shepherd with the missing sheep, and a woman with a missing coin. Jesus then taught a splendid parable which is unique to Luke's Gospel, that of the Prodigal Son. In yesterday's reading, He said to His disciples: "There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. So he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.' Then the steward said within himself, 'What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.' So he called every one of his master's debtors to him, and said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' And he said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' So he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' So he said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.' So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home."
"He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much." My study bible tells us that "faithful means trustworthy. It is essential for a Christian disciple to be trustworthy in small as well as in great things." There's also a respect for truth implied here: it seems one has it or one doesn't. So many things rest on this.
"Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?" A note tells us that "true riches" are spiritual treasures. But let us regard this word mammon and what it tells us. Literally, my study bible says, in Aramaic it is wealth. But it's also a Semitic term that gives us the meaning of "the treasure we put our trust in." In other words, there's a challenge here. What is it we ultimately believe in? What is it we choose in our hearts to trust in? It leads to Christ's question here: if you haven't been faithful to your belief in material wealth, then who's going to trust you with something far more precious?
"And if you have not been faithful in what is another man's, who will give you what is your own?" My study bible says that "what is your own implies one's own property. If one is not trustworthy in managing someone else's property, one can hardly expect to be given property of one's own." Yesterday's reading gave us the parable of the Unjust Steward; in some sense we are all stewards of the wealth entrusted to us by God and the life we've been given in this world. If we haven't been faithful in that stewardship, shall we be trusted with more -- the true riches of the kingdom?
"No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." My study bible tells us, "Ultimate loyalty cannot be divided. Life is devoted either to God first or riches first, not both."
Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God." My study bible tells us that "what is highly esteemed" presumably refers to money.
"The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail." The law the prophets, says my study bible, "represent the Old Testament period, ending with John the Baptist. Pressing into the Kingdom means earnestly seeking to enter into it." A tittle is a small punctuation mark in written Hebrew: my study bible interprets this by saying, "the smallest part of God's purposes behind His law will not fail to be accomplished." As He does so memorably in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus here is speaking of the fulfillment of the Law, not a deviation from it.
"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery." This verse is listed "separately" because Jesus is introducing a new law here, a new teaching. My study bible tells us: "Jesus, teaching the permanence of marriage, lays down a new rule, a standard of life in the Kingdom." It's important to think about this "rule" in the context of the reading. First of all it indicates the standard of human relationships: they denote something deeper than material gain or possession. While a woman had a highly difficult life if she was divorced, divorce was simple for men. In this way, divorcing a woman was similar to ridding oneself of a possession that was unsatisfactory. Here, Jesus lays down a different standard, and it goes along with whether or not we trust in God or in our possessions. It's a different way of looking at what the Kingdom asks of us.
Let's think about today's reading in the light of Jesus' final teaching, about divorce. Marriage is always significant to Christ, because it is a deeply holy institution. It is one in which there is an inclusiveness of equals: two people who become one flesh. Therefore the significance of the way in which a woman would be treated in a marriage takes on a different character than the way we think of this in more modern times: the proclamation here is one of love and inclusiveness and equality -- to truly love another as oneself, and not as a possession. In this sense, Jesus' proclamation of this standard of love in marriage is an elaboration in keeping with His declaration that one cannot love God and mammon, and that if one is untrustworthy in the one, he or she will also be untrustworthy in the greater riches, those of the kingdom. It's a different way of looking at relationship, and at what is in the world that we have to choose to manage one way or another. It all boils down to how we see, and what we love, and perhaps best put the way Jesus does it: in what we trust. As we have often noted in this blog, the Greek word for faith is rooted in that for "trust." When we have faith in something, we trust in it. And we can't ever forget this meaning; it's too significant, too clear and too potent for us to forget that this is what faith is all about. So, what do you put your faith in? Faith or trust in wealth, in material riches and possessions, really puts us in a particular frame of mind, the ways in which we will look at the world and at all the people in it, in all of our relationships. But faith -- trust -- in God and God's laws implies an entirely different way of relating to the world. In this view we are clearly stewards of all the gifts given us, including the relationships that God has given us, and as such we must "manage" them in a particular way, one that reflects the values of the Kingdom, and not just a material perspective alone. It is in this way that Jesus criticizes the Pharisees and their uses of the Law, the customs of the time to which He objects: life isn't just about material reality, but there is so much more. To love God, to trust in God, is to trust in God's ways, to see things a certain way. Therefore whatever we have in life is managed by His grace, by the perspective of trust in the Kingdom. Our integrity is truly at work here, and its measure -- in one choice or the other.