Funny Money in Luke

I know you know the stories. But what is the effect of reading them as a big story?

First, there’s the rich Jewish ruler. He comes to Jesus asking what must be done to enter eternal life. The commandments he keeps just fine,  but giving up his money to follow Jesus? Not so much. Jesus looks on him sadly: how hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom; it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. (Luke 18:18-27).

Oh yeah, but don’t forget that all things–even this impossible thing–are possible with God.

And we find out how true that is. After predicting his death to his disciples, Jesus enters Jericho. And there he sees Zacchaeus. Little dude up in a tree. Jesus invites himself over for a meal, and perhaps to spend the night. And, while everyone is grumbling about Jesus hanging out with a sinner, Zacchaeus boldly addresses Jesus as his master, and proclaims that he is giving away half of what is his, and recompense for all his frauds.

So it is possible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom? Apparently.

“Salvation has come to this house today, because even this guy is a child of Abraham–not that he just needed his identity reaffirmed, but that the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Even the lost rich guy.

And, somewhat to our surprise, Jesus then tells a story–a story in which he plays the part of the rich guy.

There’s a king going off to receive a kingdom. He entrusts his cash to his servants while he’s gone. (Oh, and there are some rebellious ones who don’t want him to be their king.) When he comes back, he demands an accounting of what he’s left behind. And the guy who gets in trouble? It’s the one who didn’t even let his money be lent at interest so that the master would have a return on his investment when he comes back!

At this point I will just say that the parable is “interesting.” Not that Jesus’ ultimate goal for us is that we make tons of money for him. But what if part of the point is that money is, in fact, given for the purpose of making a return for the King and his Kingdom? What if the point is to unexpectedly juxtapose the danger of money as something that will keep someone out of the Kingdom with a story of money well used so that the King is enriched?

Just something to ponder in your heart.

10 thoughts on “Funny Money in Luke”

  1. Note that Jesus says salvation has come to Zacchaeus’s house after he agrees to pay everyone back four times as much. Still rich?

    Zacchaeus did what the other rich man wouldn’t do, so he will be repaid “many times as much” when the master returns. So will the disciples and anyone else who leaves their possessions (18:28-30). This, I would suggest, is what the parable is getting at; those who store up treasure in heaven (rather than on earth) by giving away their possessions and following Jesus (18:22) will be repaid many times as much (i.e. ten cities for ten pounds) when the “master” returns.

    The shrewd investment practice recommended by Jesus is to invest in heaven, that is to “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys” (12:33).

    1. Yeah, I agree. It takes a little bit of transfer in meaning about what the mullah is referring to in the parable from when it’s given to when it’s returned, but I can see it as roughly parable to making friends with unrighteous mammon so that the poor will receive you into the heavenlies when the time comes.

  2. The larger context of Luke, which Nathan sets up quite well, is about economic woes and the seemingly undying circulation of money and credit. This makes sense because the historical context of 1st century Palestine was annexed by Rome, an empire which thrived on usury and extortion. In this way, Jesus is not playing the part of the rich king; he is rather playing the role of the rebellious servant by opting out of the investment scheme.

  3. If I were more of a skeptic, I would say there’s a streak of of envy and malice directed towards the rich and successful, which isn’t surprising considering Jesus and his disciples were poor and homeless.

    I wonder where Zacchaeus came up with the money to pay everyone back four times what he took.

  4. I just preached on the dishonest manager a couple of weeks ago (as it was recently in the the RCL-Year C schedule).

    I took the approach that the dishonest manager wakes up and realizes (in a similar way to the prodigal son’s ultimate realization) that relationships are more important than money. I think Jesus is saying that we shouldn’t use to people to serve money but instead use money to serve people.

    So I guess it all comes down to a matter of priorities. All of these Lucan narratives seem to point to the principle that it’s okay to have money, but it’s not okay for money to have you. Simple point, yes, but rather difficult to put in practice. Quite a tricky thing, mammon.

    1. AMBurgess,

      When is money ever that neat and tidy? By and large, the whole point of our financial system is to feed the ongoing process of money begetting money. Make no mistake, money has us.

      Though, I realize on a smaller, more local level we can, to an extent, use money in such away so that it does not become an idol. But wasn’t Christ more concerned with the larger more systemic powers-that-be rather than that of personal finances and keeping a checkbook in the black? The mammon’s of the world are not on Main Street; they are on Wall Street.

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