Red Letter Year: 8/21

Luke 16.1-18

16 Jesus told this story to his disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a manager handling his affairs. One day a report came that the manager was wasting his employer’s money. 2 So the employer called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? Get your report in order, because you are going to be fired.’

3 The manager thought to himself, ‘Now what? My boss has fired me. I don’t have the strength to dig ditches, and I’m too proud to beg. 4 Ah, I know how to ensure that I’ll have plenty of friends who will give me a home when I am fired.’

5 So he invited each person who owed money to his employer to come and discuss the situation. He asked the first one, ‘How much do you owe him?’ 6 The man replied, ‘I owe him 800 gallons of olive oil.’ So the manager told him, ‘Take the bill and quickly change it to 400 gallons.’

7 ‘And how much do you owe my employer?’ he asked the next man. ‘I owe him 1,000 bushels of wheat,’ was the reply. ‘Here,’ the manager said, ‘take the bill and change it to 800 bushels.’

8 The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light. 9 Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.

10 If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. 11 And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? 12 And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?

13 No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

14 The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money, heard all this and scoffed at him. 15 Then he said to them, “You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God.

16 Until John the Baptist, the law of Moses and the messages of the prophets were your guides. But now the Good News of the Kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is eager to get in. 17 But that doesn’t mean that the law has lost its force. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the smallest point of God’s law to be overturned. 18 For example, a man who divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery. And anyone who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”


What is going on in this story? Is Jesus advocating immoral behavior? This is one of the most confusing and discussed parables in all the Gospels, so don’t feel bad if you scratched your head while reading it. Passages like this make some scholars go bald.

But at least a few things are clear, so let’s focus on those. First, this comes right after the three stories of people finding lost things. In the first two, the shepherd and woman worked hard to find what was lost. In the third, the father showed passionate compassion on his returning son. Those stories were directed to the Pharisees. Here, Jesus turns and addresses his disciples, giving them a more positive teaching to complement what they had heard him tell the Pharisees. Disciples are to be engaged in finding lost people and that task requires all the hard work, passion, compassion, and cleverness we can muster. That is one basic message here. Disciples aren’t always as savvy as non-disciples, but we should be. Our art should be as good as theirs. Our engagement with culture should be second to none. We should employ the full measure of our mental capabilities, the full breadth of our imaginations, and the highest level of skillfulness. Doing crappy art and slapping a Christian label on it is not okay. A big problem with the ‘Christian marketplace’ is an attitude of ‘that’s good enough.’ It works in that such c-artists are able to sell within the confines of that closed market. But their art cannot compete in the wider marketplace because it is not very good. Jesus is encouraging his disciples not to settle for this, but to make good art.

The other thing that is clear in this story is that possessions should be used to foster relationships. I experienced this first hand just yesterday. I was on the receiving end of some much needed generosity. I was blessed and the giver was blessed to know he had heard correctly from the Lord about our need (which was immediate). And we had a lovely meal and a few hours of wonderful conversation. Sharing possessions creates a bond between people that cannot be created any other way. I gave some clothes to another church last year and some months later I was hanging out at that church and saw a guy wearing a shirt very similar to one I owned. I was writing my dissertation at the time and was appropriately scatter brained. I thought to myself, ‘hey, I’ve got a shirt like that.’ Later, on the way home, I realized it was my shirt, one I had donated. Almost a year later, I still think about and pray for that man. That shirt, that little thing as Jesus called possessions, created a bond between us that sticks. As scatter brained as I get, I still remember his face and this story and to pray for him. I hope he prays for me too.

All followers of Jesus should do the best work they can possibly do and they should use their earthly possessions to create relationships that are eternal.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Red Letter Year: 8/20

Luke 15.11-32

11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

13 A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in living without control. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

17 When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

20 So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

22 But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

25 Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

28 The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

31 His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”


This story is so powerful it needs very little comment, so I just want to point a few things out to you. First, the main character of this story is the father. Like the shepherd and the woman from yesterday, it is the father who has lost something. The first and most important thing for us to understand from this story is the consistent, even handed, passionate compassion the father shows to both sons. This is how our heavenly Father acts with each of us. This is also how we should act toward each other.

Second, pay close attention to what the text says and what it doesn’t say regarding what the second son did. The NLT had “wild living,” but it is literally, “lived without control.” That is all that is reported. It is the first son who makes an accusation regarding prostitutes (echoes of what the religious leaders were saying of Jesus), but that speaks more to the first son’s mental state (more on that in a moment) than anything. We don’t know how the second son spent his wealth, but the sin he comes home to confess is not about that, it is about the dishonor he showed his father in taking his inheritance early. His sin, his lostness, is the breaking of relationship with the father. That is the only sin the story names and it is quite enough. He winds up tending pigs for a Gentile, about as alienated as a Jewish boy could ever get. Jesus’ audience probably cringed at this.

Third, this is really a story of two lost sons. The second son was physically lost. The first son stayed physically, but his anger and bitterness toward both his brother and father show through everything he says and does in this story. He refuses to go in and asks a servant instead of finding out himself. He describes his own work as slaving, pouts that he never gets to go off with his friends, and reveals a lurid imagination regarding his brother’s time away. He is as alienated as his brother ever was. Except he may not be able to get to the point where he comes to his senses. The literal translation of v.29 is “never transgressed your commandments.” He doesn’t think he needs to repent, like the religious leaders Jesus has been dealing with. The father shows the same compassion for his older son, but will he receive it? Will he renew his relationship with his father and brother and be healed of his bitterness?


New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.