Abraham said, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead. (Luke 16:31, NIV)
Before I started this year-long practice of reading Luke-Acts in 2014, I had always known Luke’s gospel spoke a lot about the poor and the rich. But it is one thing to know it, and another to sit down week after week with the gospel and read it.
Luke is about as subtle as a sledgehammer.
The verse at the top of this post comes at the end of a chapter that is relentlessly about wealth and how to use it. It starts with a parable that is often puzzling to people — the dishonest manager. The man who got his way into heaven by reducing the debts people owed his master. I’m not arguing I fully understand the parable, but in light of the whole chapter, the message appears to be that we are in the position of the dishonest manager. We are about to be called to account for the way we’ve managed our master’s — that is God’s — wealth that has been put in our hands. If we want to end up on the good side, it is time to start using that wealth to remove burdens from those who are in our debt or who could be blessed by it.
This certainly is the point of the rest of the chapter and the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man saw the poor Lazarus every day and walked by him. Now tormented, he pleads for word to be given. It is a version of A Christmas Carol without the happy ending.
And the zinger for us right at the end. If the witness of the Old Testament is not enough to get us to be generous, then even a man rising from the dead would not be enough to convince us.
We who are fresh from Easter worship are confronted by that assertion. Does the risen Lord persuade us of what we did not believe without Jesus?
I cannot say what the specific application of this chapter — or this theme in Luke — is. John Wesley taught that every penny we have is a gift from God. After we have used our money to care for the needs of our family and to provide for necessities for our work and education, we should give every penny beyond that to doing good for others — good for their bodies, minds, and souls. Others teach that after we offer one tenth to God, the balance of our money can be with clear conscience used in any ways that are not manifestly evil or sinful. Others teach about money in other ways.
I am not certain what the proper biblical stance is, not down to the fine points. But you can’t spend as much time as I have with Luke so far this year without being hounded by the question: Will you serve God or money?