Chapter sixteen contains two of Jesus’ well-known parables with a teaching between them. The first parable was directed toward his disciples (vs. 1) but was overheard by some local Pharisees (vs. 14). In his parable, Jesus taught of an asset manager who was fired by his master for mismanaging the owner’s wealth. In order to not lose everything, the manager approached the owner’s debtors with a “discounted rate” in order to get their help. This rate may have been part or all of his commission or even illegal interest. By cutting their bills drastically, he won their friendship. Although the owner did not approve of the manager’s initial bad management, he had to commend his quick thinking.
Jesus pointed out that believers are often foolish in their financial matters compared to unbelievers, and that should not be one of our characteristics (vs. 8-9). He taught that our faithfulness or lack thereof is basically the same, no matter if we have much wealth or a little (vs. 10-12). However, we must not get caught in the trap of serving wealth rather than serving God, because the two are mutually exclusive (vs. 13). The Pharisees who overheard this thought it was absurd. Wealth is a sign of God’s blessing, isn’t it? Jesus responded that their lives showed that they were not serving God. They justified their wrong priorities (vs. 15), ignored the Messiah’s offer (vs. 16-17), and did not honor marriage (vs. 18).
The second parable is the famous story of the rich man and Lazarus (vs. 19-31). The point is not, as some have tried to make it, that rich people automatically go to hell, while poor people are spiritual and go to heaven. Under the Jewish law, helping the poor was commanded, so the rich man’s refusal to do so showed his attitude toward God’s law. In this parable Jesus made four very important points.
First, the afterlife is real and eternal. Not only did the rich man and Lazarus recognize each other from this life, they also recognized Abraham, who had been dead for 2,000 years. Notice also that the rich man, when asking on behalf of his brothers, never asked for his own release. There is the implication that he knew there was no way out.
Second, the pain or pleasure in the afterlife is real. The rich man was “in anguish” (vs. 24), while Lazarus was “comforted” from his sores (vs. 25). Even after death, the rich man felt the punishing fire and requested water to quench his thirst.
Third, perspective in the afterlife is different. At some level, the rich man remembered his brothers. Though we do not know the relationship he had with them in life, he was infinitely concerned about them now, asking Abraham to have Lazarus warn them for him. It seems he thought they were as greedy as he was.
Fourth, the Scriptures are the final word. Abraham’s response was significant. He said that even a resurrection would not be enough to convince people of the truth, if they already ignored what God had given in the Scriptures. This is similar to what Paul wrote in Romans 1, that people suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, refusing to believe in Jesus even though God proved who he was by raising him from the dead. A person who rejects the Scriptures has rejected all of God’s revelation.