The Rich Young Ruler and the Parable of the Unjust Steward

By S. Kent Brown

          Both Jesus’ meeting with the rich young ruler and the parable of the Unjust Steward deal with the goods of this world, but in very different ways. In the case of the ruler, who will not have known poverty, he takes the initiative and approaches Jesus (Matthew 19:16–26; Mark 10:17–27; Luke 18:18–27). Perhaps he has heard of Jesus and is impressed; perhaps as a person of means he is less than sincere when “he kneeled to him” (Mark 10:17). His motive matters little. What matters is how Jesus treats the man’s question: “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). In response, Jesus mentions a few of the Ten Commandments. Importantly, according to Mark and Luke, Jesus places the honoring of parents in last place, an emphatic position (Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20). We need little imagination to see that Jesus has families on his mind.

In his turn, the ruler affirms—perhaps sincerely, perhaps smugly—that he has done “all these” from his youth. Now Jesus presses the man and exposes his weakness for the goods of this world: “One thing thou lackest,” he intones. “Sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.” If that were not enough, Jesus invites the man to turn from his current lifestyle and “come, follow me” (Mark 10:21; Luke 18:22). As we all know, the man retreats, going “away grieved: for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22). At this moment, everything is about to change.

At first, to his disciples who witness the interchange Jesus says, “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:23; Luke 18:24). In a word, the wealthy will experience terrible difficulty entering the kingdom, something that Jesus has been warning about for months. To reinforce his point, Jesus frames the impossible—that “it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). Dumbfounded, the disciples cannot understand how a man of means, who is a Jew and has been keeping the commandments, can be left out. Incredulously, they ask, “Who then can be saved?” Now comes the thunderclap.

Jesus explains, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27). But what does Jesus mean? How does this declaration answer the disciples’ question about who can be saved? At this very point, the Joseph Smith Translation comes to our aid and adds words of Jesus that explain his saying. Similar adjustments appear in each of the synoptic gospels. “And he said unto [the disciples], It is impossible for them who trust in riches, to enter into the kingdom of God; but he who forsaketh the things which are of this world, it is possible with God, that he should enter in” (JST Luke 18:27). With these words, Jesus throws open the door of the kingdom to the wealthy of the earth. His answer comes like a fresh breeze, free and clear and untouched by noxious odors. According to Jesus’ words, it all depends on whether property and money have captured the persons of means. If those individuals are not tied to wealth and are willing, as Jesus says to the rich young ruler, to “sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, . . . [and] follow me,” the doors of the kingdom stand wide open to receive them.

The parable of the Unjust Steward presents a completely different approach to the goods of this world and their alluring character (Luke 16:1–12). Spoken to “his disciples,” the story has to do with “a rich man” and his “steward” (16:1), and teaches important lessons to those who will soon undertake the tasks of leadership in Jesus’ Church.

The steward is evidently a free-born man and is the treasurer for his master’s estate. If he were a servant or slave in the usual ancient sense of these terms, he would not have other employment options, as he hints (16:3). As time passes, the steward is discovered to be defrauding his wealthy employer who demands that he give “an account” of his activities (16:2). In a desperate effort to ingratiate himself to some of his boss’s business associates, and thus to provide a future soft landing for himself, he calls them in and reduces their bills (16:5–7). At that, “the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely” (16:8). In this context, the adverb translated “wisely” (Greek phronimōs) means something like shrewdly or cunningly, although the adjective of this term generally carries the more positive sense of wise in other passages (see 12:42).

The question is how does this story apply to Jesus’ disciples. Surely, the master’s positive praise for his wayward steward, even if grudgingly given, mirrors Jesus’ own judgment about the scene he has just painted. Presumably, very few of the wider group of disciples are “rich” as the lord in the story is. Hence, Jesus’ intended connection for his followers must be to the steward and his actions. We focus on two interpretations among several. First, it is obvious that the steward acts quickly and firmly in the face of a crisis. Since Jesus will soon turn over the reins of his Church to the Twelve and other disciples, the decisive actions of the steward serve as an example of how to deal with crises that will surely arise. Second, in contrast to the steward’s fraudulent ways, Jesus enunciates principles of proper stewardship at the end of the parable, principles that his future leaders are to follow: “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much” and “if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?” (16:10, 12).

In this light, it seems plain that Jesus tells the story as both an example of what the leaders of his burgeoning Church are to do when facing emergencies and a statement of the principles that are to guide them, especially as they become stewards of property and money donated by others as sacred gifts.

 

—Based on The Testimony of Luke by S. Kent Brown, an e-volume in the BYU New Testament Commentary Series, available at Deseret Bookshelf; see byuntc.com for sample pages and the table of contents).

Good Friday

by Eric D. Huntsman, cross posted at http://huntsmanseasonal.blogspot.com/2013/03/good-friday.html

Good Friday is observed with great solemnity in some Christian traditions.  While not marked as a holiday as such in the LDS community, Good Friday can be a tender and reflective time for individuals and families to pause and consider how Jesus, as our great high priest, offered himself as a sacrifice for us: “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:12).  Understanding how and why he died makes the miracle of his resurrection on Easter morning all the more glorious and joyous.

Customarily, the day Jesus died on the cross is called “Good Friday” in English, either because it is a “holy” Friday, or, more likely, because in English “good” is often an archaic expression for “God.”  For instance, “goodbye” means “go with God.”  Accordingly, the Friday before Easter is “God’s Friday” because this day saw the

Garden Tomb stone

Garden Tomb stone

culmination of God’s efforts to reconcile the world to himself through the death of his Son.  The apostle Paul described it this way:

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.  For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.  And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Romans 5:8–12). Continue reading

A Message to the Latter-day Saints from the Book of Revelation

By Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes. This is the seventh in a series of articles extracted and edited from The Revelation of John the Apostle, volume fourteen in the Brigham Young University New Testament Commentary Series.

The real horror of the last days is not the locusts with their vicious scorpion tails or the horseman and their deadly mounts so vividly described in Revelation chapter 9. It is that there will be men and women who will live through the evil day and not be humbled, who will continue to cling to their gold and silver as though these lifeless and powerless things were gods. Thus, these people practice the most blatant form of idolatry—knowing the impotence of the works of their hands coupled with a refusal to admit their error and turn to the truth (Rev. 9:20-21).

And all this will “be accomplished after the opening of the seventh seal, before the coming of Christ” (D&C 77:13). The Second Coming does not usher in the millennial era. The woes pronounced by the trumpets in Revelation chapter 8 and 9 do. Let us emphasize, Christ will not appear in glory as the millennial day dawns. Instead, Satan’s inferno-created sadistic hoards and their murderous horses will (v. 18).

How long after the millennium begins will it take for the Lord to come? At the present time, “the hour and the day no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor shall they know until he comes” (D&C 49:7), but it will likely be sometime after the seventh seal is opened. During these last days, the faithful of God are to watch and wait, taking the time to fully prepare for what is to come. Continue reading

Peter’s Keys (Matthew 16:18-19)

By S. Kent Brown

Somewhere near the Gentile town of Caesarea Philippi, close to the base of Mount Hermon, Jesus speaks words to Peter, his chief apostle, that find no correspondence in ancient scripture: “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19). (Outside of scripture, Michael the Archangel appears as keyholder; see 3 Baruch 11:2 and 4 Baruch 9:5). The question arises, What is Jesus promising to Peter? What are these keys? Latter-day Saints usually think of keys as the divinely bestowed, authorizing powers that allow a priesthood holder to exercise priesthood authority when performing an ordinance such as a setting apart, or a baptism, or a sealing in a temple. Resting beside this LDS understanding of such priesthood and temple keys are patterns that illuminate how people in the New Testament world may have understood the nature of Peter’s keys. It will become clear that the promised keys bear links to “the gates of hell,” to the next world, and to a greater knowledge of God.

To begin, we first turn to Isaiah’s record that offers the one instance of an Old Testament person receiving keys. A man named Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, is called by the Lord through Isaiah his prophet to serve as the royal treasurer. In intriguing language, the Lord hands the duty to Eliakim with the words, “the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open” (Isaiah 22:22). It appears that, among his duties, this man is to hold the key to the main door of the palace, part of his responsibility “over the [royal] house” (Isaiah 22:15). Continue reading

July 31, 2015: Next conference of the BYU New Testament Commentary

Save the date for Friday, July 31, 2015, for the next BYU New Testament Commentary conference. The conference will be held on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah. The topic of this year’s conference is 1 Corinthians. The commentary on that book has been written by Michael Rhodes and Richard Draper and is under review by the committee. The conference will include a variety of presentations and discussions about this forthcoming volume in the commentary series and about Corinth, Paul, and LDS biblical studies in general. Anyone interested in New Testament studies will find this conference very helpful. The conference is free and open to the public. The schedule of speakers will be announced soon. Note: this date is a change from the previously announced date of May 13, 2015.

 

Raising the Son of the Widow of Nain

By Eric D. Huntsman. Cross-posted at New Testament Thoughts and excerpted from The Miracles of Jesus, 106–108.

Only Luke tells the story of the widow of Nain, whose son Jesus revived even as his body was being taken to its burial (Luke 7:11–17).  Placed after the healing of the centurion’s son and before the calming of the storm, this story may have been the first instance of Jesus’ raising someone from the dead (see “List of the Miracles of Jesus” in the Appendix).  According to the Lucan account, Jesus approached the city of Nain in Galilee, accompanied by a large following of disciples and others.  The site of ancient Nain, is now occupied by the Arab village of Na`in some four miles southeast of Nazareth.  The town has a beautiful view of the Jezreel Valley, which might have given it its name, meaning “lovely” or “charming.”[1]  At the gate of this town Jesus met the funeral procession of the young man, described as “the only son (Greek, monogenēs huios) of his mother, and she was a widow” (Luke 7:12, emphasis added).   Moved with compassion, Jesus told the bereft mother not to weep, reached out and touched the funeral bier, and called upon the young man, saying, “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise (Greek, egerthēti)” (Luke 7:14, emphasis added).  Immediately the young man sat up alive and began to speak.  Continue reading

Healing Women

By Eric D. Huntsman. Cross-posted at New Testament Thoughts

In a culture and time period that were so male-centric, the attention that Jesus paid to women was noteworthy.  All four of the gospels, and especially Luke, contain stories of Jesus healing women, teaching them, including them in his parables, and even allowing them to become part of his ministry.  In addition to three individual stories about Jesus healing women, Luke also includes a summary that notes how Jesus was accompanied in his Galilean ministry by a group of women “which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities,” including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, “and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance” (Luke 8:2–3).  All this is particularly striking in the cultural context of the gospels, in which Jewish men would be wary of interaction and especially any kind of physical contact with women to whom they were not related.[1]  The fact that none of these women are directly named allows them to serve as types of all women whom Jesus invites to come to him and be healed.  Continue reading

Calming the Stormy Sea

By Eric D. Huntsman. Cross-posted at New Testament Thoughts and excerpted from The Miracles of Jesus19-22.

The divinity of Jesus that the miracle at Cana symbolized was even more clearly demonstrated in those nature miracles that are the clearest examples of epiphanies, or direct revelations of a divine identity.[1]  The twin examples of Jesus’ calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee and his later walking on that same body of water are striking illustrations of this because they employ common Near Eastern symbols of creation, which often involved a deity defeating the unruly powers of chaos, which were often represented with images of stormy seas.[2]  But more importantly, because the Hebrew Bible credited YHWH, or Jehovah, with the ability to subdue the sea and tread upon the face of the waters, these New Testament miracles directly connect Jesus with the Jehovah of the Old Testament.

Mark 4:35–41 gives the earliest account of Jesus stilling a storm and thereby saving his disciples.  Continue reading

“He Took Our Infirmities, and Bare Our Sickness” (LDS Gospel Doctrine Lesson 7: Mark 1–2; 4:35–41; Luke 7:11–17)

By Eric D. Huntsman. Cross-posted at New Testament Thoughts.

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 7 focuses on the miracles of Jesus, a topic that has been of great interest to me the last several years, and the results of my research and thinking on this topic have recently been published by Deseret Book as The Miracles of Jesus. Continue reading