Luke 16:1-8 The Parable of the Unjust Steward
Admittedly, this parable is more difficult to interpret than most. What lessons are we to learn from the actions of this unjust steward? If he is unjust, why should we model his behavior? How do his financial dealings apply to us? The Lord gives us some of the answers in verses 8-12. We are to make to ourselves friends in the world by our wise and merciful actions among our fellowmen. We are to be faithful in that which is our stewardship. Furthermore, the parable teaches us that the Lord is practical. He expects us to do the best we can even if we fall short of perfection.
The Lord has commanded us to be perfect (Matt. 5:48). Sometimes we get lazy like the unjust steward and think to ourselves, "I can never live up to that standard." As a result, we give up. This was probably the problem with the unjust steward. He probably thought, "I will never be able to collect all the money which my lord's debtors owe him. Besides, they will all be annoyed if I bother them-so I won't." Just as lazy saints can expect to be cast out of the kingdom, the unjust steward is warned that he is going to lose his job (v. 2). Hereupon, he repents.
For us, the letter of the law demands perfection, but the spirit of the law demands that we do the best we can. For the steward, the letter of the law demands that he collect all that is owed to his lord. The spirit of the law teaches that what his lord really wants is for him to make an effort and collect as much money as possible. His lord understands that he probably won't be able to collect the entire debt. He is willing to forgive that debt if the steward only makes an effort. The lord in the parable is practical and expects his servants to be the same, and so the steward is commended when he collects only a portion of the incurred debt.
For imperfect latter-day saints who say to themselves, "I just can't love my enemies; this commandment is too hard," the wisdom of the unjust steward declares, "If you can't love your enemies, then love your family, friends, and those who have not injured you." For the imperfect latter-day saint who says, "I can't fast for 24 hours; that's too long," the unjust steward declares, "then fast for as long as you can." In this manner, the individual may pay fifty, even if he owes a hundred. Consider the question, 'How much owest thou unto [the] Lord?' Our answer should not paralyze us, nor should we feel that we can never pay him back-that we can never live up to his standard of perfection. He knows that, but he expects us and all of his other unjust stewards to make an effort.
Luke 16:4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses
The unjust steward wisely figures out a way to be received into the long lasting habitations of the 'friends of the mammon of unrighteousness' (v. 9). Our job is to figure out a way to be received into the everlasting habitations of the Lord.
Heber C. Kimball
"'The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.' They make preparation for that which is to come, more so than many of this people do." (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 8: 109 - 110.)
Luke 16:8 the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light
James E. Talmage
"Our Lord's purpose was to show the contrast between the care, thoughtfulness, and devotion of men engaged in the money-making affairs of earth, and the half-hearted ways of many who are professedly striving after spiritual riches. Worldly-minded men do not neglect provision for their future years, and often are sinfully eager to amass plenty; while the 'children of light,' or those who believe spiritual wealth to be above all earthly possessions, are less energetic, prudent, or wise...If the wicked steward, when cast out from his master's house because of unworthiness, might hope to be received into the homes of those whom he had favored, how much more confidently may they who are genuinely devoted to the right hope to be received into the everlasting mansions of God! Such seems to be part of the lesson... Take a lesson from even the dishonest and the evil; if they are so prudent as to provide for the only future they think of, how much more should you, who believe in an eternal future, provide therefor!" (Jesus the Christ, 430)
Harold B. Lee
"The Master praised not the morality of the transaction but its farsighted prudence, and it is only this that the Master holds up for imitation. For the children of this world, the worldly people, are dealing with worldly people; they are sometimes wiser, more prudent, and more farsighted than some of the children of light, that is, the spiritually enlightened who are supposed to be making provisions for their own heavenly welfare. That is what the parable is trying to tell us.
"Surely, brethren, the souls in our charge are worthy of as much planning and attention as businessmen give their business... We may not be 'of the world,' but in the spirit of this parable, we can learn from the world." (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 71.)
Neal A. Maxwell
"The 'children of this world' are, in fact, often more 'anxiously engaged' in their causes than some of us are in God's cause." (We Talk of Christ, We Rejoice in Christ [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984], 113.)
Luke 16:9 they may receive you into everlasting habitations
If the unjust steward did indeed lose his job, we imagine that he would have appealed to his friends. Their reply may well have been, "You have lost your job? That's terrible! Feel free to stay here as long as necessary to get yourself back on your feet." The term everlasting as used in this verse would be better translated long lasting-"that they may receive you into long lasting habitations." The children of this world are not capable of providing everlasting habitations for anyone. Everlasting is a term which refers to God (Isa. 9:6; Jer. 10:10) and we know that Christ is the preparer of the everlasting habitations in the many mansions of his Father's house (John 14:2).
Luke 16:11 If...ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
Robert E. Wells
"Being in the world and having to earn enough for our family's needs sometimes places us in a difficult position. Some would even justify their poverty, reasoning that they are more spiritual than those with more. Such comparisons are risky. The Lord expects us to be wise and provident providers. He expects us to be frugal and prudent and good managers. He expects us to work hard, to study well, to develop skills, and to use our gifts and talents. He wants us to be wise stewards over all that he gives to us in this world-to faithfully manage our worldly wealth-so that we can demonstrate to him what kind of stewards and managers we will be over his worlds in the eternities to come. Jesus told us: 'If . . . ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon [worldly riches], who will commit to your trust the true riches?' (Luke 16:11.)
"I have seen very wealthy Latter-day Saints who put the things of the kingdom first, yet they have been blessed materially because of their vision and skill. We should not be jealous of them nor judge them. I dare say that the ones I am aware of are totally dedicated to the Lord and spiritually oriented, and they certainly have their priorities in order. The moment the Lord wants all they have, they are ready to consecrate it to him. They are not serving mammon but God, and they are ready to make any sacrifice." (The Mount and the Master [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991], 157.)
Sterling W. Sill
"If we do not develop wisdom in our own affairs, our own thinking, and our own families, certainly it will not be available when a crisis comes along. And if we cannot be profitable to ourselves, how can we expect the Lord or anyone else to trust us with their affairs?
"In carrying on the work of the world, we actually develop many of the skills that will enable us to be more effective in carrying on the work of the Lord, and vice versa. At their best, the work of the world and the work of the Lord can be closely related, for the Lord has said that to him all things are spiritual. Our skills should be directed toward success and should be capable of being profitable in any place when they are properly employed...To qualify for the title of children of light, we ought to be wiser, better informed, more dependable, and more profitable in our associations than any other people. Wisdom will make us rich toward God. It will make us rich in our associations with other people. It will make us rich in our material affairs." (The Wealth of Wisdom [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977], 100-101.)
Luke 16:13 Ye cannot serve God and mammon
Joseph B. Wirthlin
"We know that 'a double minded man is unstable in all his ways' (James 1:8) and that we cannot 'serve two masters.' President Marion G. Romney wisely observed that there are too many of us 'who try to serve the Lord without offending the devil.'" ("True to the Truth," Ensign, May 1997, 16)
Luke 16:15 God knoweth your hearts
Dallin H. Oaks
"The Savior told the Pharisees, 'God knoweth your hearts' (Luke 16:15). Paul warned the Hebrews that God 'is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,' and that 'all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do' (Hebrews 4:12-13 ;see also 1 Corinthians 4:5). Ammon taught his people that God 'knows all the thoughts and intents of the heart; for by his hand were they all created from the beginning' (Alma 18:32; also see Mosiah 24:12; D&C 6:16). And Mormon wrote, 'for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart' (Moroni 7:44).
"In this dispensation, the Lord has reaffirmed that God 'is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart' (D&C 33:1). Elder John Taylor said:
'He knows our thoughts and comprehends our desires and feelings; he knows our acts and the motives which prompt us to perform them. He is acquainted with all the doings and operations of the human family, and all the secret thoughts and acts of the children of men are open and naked before him, and for them he will bring them to judgment.' (Journal of Discourses 16:301-2.)
"In other words, God knows who is pure in heart. He can and will judge us not only for our actions but also for our motives, desires, and attitudes. This reality is challenging, not surprising." (Pure in Heart [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988], 10.)
Luke 16:18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery
For commentary on this sometimes difficult doctrine, see Matthew 19:3-12.
The reader might wonder about the context of this verse. Jesus has been teaching about the materialism and idolatry of the Pharisees. This verse directly follows that discussion and seems completely out of place. Why did Jesus comment here about divorce? The answer is found in the Joseph Smith Translation, which fills in the scriptural gaps, showing that the Pharisees were guilty not only of materialism, but of atheism, oppression, and adultery:
But he continued, saying, Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery; and whosoever marrieth her who is put away from her husband, committeth adultery.' (JST Luke 16:16-23)
"It is not difficult to see that the Savior had very strong feelings against the false doctrine and the life-style of the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders and that he was also concerned when even the believers were sometimes slow to sense the important difference between true doctrine and false doctrine. The differences between the Savior's doctrine and the Jewish leaders' traditions and practices were deep-rooted and fundamental." (Kent P. Jackson and Robert L. Millet, eds., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 5: The Gospels [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1986], 302.)
Luke 16:19 there was a certain rich man
"The Joseph Smith Translation makes no essential changes in the parable, but introduces it with a statement of the Lord to the Pharisees, with whom he is having a strong confrontation: 'Verily I say unto you, I will liken you unto the rich man.' The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is more explicit when it is read with the knowledge that it was the Pharisees who were selfish and wicked, and who would go to hell for having failed to hear Moses and the prophets during their mortal lifetime. The meaning of the parable is thus changed from general to specific. This one sentence added by the Joseph Smith Translation ties the whole conversation together as mortar ties the blocks of a building or a wall." (Robert J. Matthews, Behold the Messiah [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1994], 178.)
Luke 16:20 there was a certain beggar named Lazarus
Of all of the Master's parables, only this character, a poor and despised, beggar is given a name. Why would that be? What is the significance of naming the beggar, Lazarus?
As with all things, the Lord did this for a reason. Clearly, the name was given as a type of prophetic foreshadowing. The great message of the parable is that the wicked will not believe even if a messenger is sent to them from the dead (v. 30). The greatest and grandest of Christ's public miracles was the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Lazarus had been dead for four days. Like the beggar, he had been taken up to the bosom of Abraham in spirit paradise. For four days, he had walked and talked with the righteous spirits of the dead. He could now return and tell the Jews all about what he had seen. He could tell them that if they did not repent, they were headed for the fiery torments of hell. If they would just listen to his testimony, he could protect them from an unnecessary punishment. We may presume that this is exactly what Lazarus did after he was raised from the dead. But what was the reaction of the Jews to Lazarus? Not only did they reject him, but they tried to kill him (John 12:10). Indeed, 'If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one [named Lazarus] rose from the dead' (v. 31).
James E. Talmage
"Now a Lazarus had been in reality raised from the dead, and many of the Jews rejected the testimony of his return and refused to believe in Christ through whom alone death is overcome. The Jews tried to get Lazarus into their power that they might kill him and, as they hoped, silence forever his testimony of the Lord's power over death." (Jesus the Christ, 461)
Luke 16:20 Lazarus...was laid at his gate, full of sores
Lazarus was laid at the gate of the rich man by a third party. Apparently, he was so disabled, that he could not walk there by himself. Therefore, we must assume that Lazarus had an industrious spirit, that he was reduced to begging because of a disabling illness over which he had no power. Elder McConkie noted, "Implicit in the account is the fact that Lazarus was poor in spirit, patient in suffering, had faith in god, and lived righteously. The rich man reveled in luxury, worldliness, selfishness, and unbelief." (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:519)
Robert E. Wells
"[In Jesus the Christ] Elder Talmage presents Lazarus and the rich man as extremes of contrast between wealth and destitution. The rich man was clothed in the costliest attire; his everyday meals were sumptuous feasts. Lazarus, on the other hand, although honored in the scriptures with a name while the rich man was not, was a poor, helpless beggar, sick and covered with sores.
"Then the scene changes dramatically. The same two men are on the other side of the veil, both having died. Lazarus's festering body was probably thrown into a pauper's unmarked grave, while the rich man probably was given an elaborate funeral with pomp and ceremony befitting his status. He is now suffering in hell, but angels have borne Lazarus's immortal spirit up to paradise. Their roles and conditions are completely reversed from what they were on earth... There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this parable. Apparently in the Savior's mind, those who are rich and who are also selfish and proud can look forward to a time of torment after death, while many of those faithful ones who have suffered poverty and afflictions and wretchedness in this life can look forward to compensation in the next, with freedom from sickness, hunger, oppression, and torment.
"We should point out that the rich man's fate was not necessarily the consequence of hard work and the success and goals he achieved, nor was the paradise of Lazarus totally the reward of his poverty. Evidently the rich man failed to use his wealth properly and gave in to self-indulgence and sensuous enjoyment of earthly things to the exclusion of concern for the needs of his fellowmen. Conversely, Lazarus apparently obeyed the commandments and worked hard when he had good health, and in every way he deserved the blessings he received." (The Mount and the Master [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991], 3.)
Luke 16:22 the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom
What do the scriptures tell us about heaven and hell? Remarkably, this parable teaches us more about the subject than any other Bible passage (for the Book of Mormon equivalent, see Alma 40:11-14). The Christian denominations hope to die and go to heaven. To Mormons heaven often means the celestial kingdom, but to other Christians, the term refers to the place we call Spirit Paradise. Their use of the term is not incorrect. Synonyms for heaven include paradise, spirit paradise, and Abraham's bosom. They all represent the same place.
Jesus' use of the term Abraham's bosom is interesting. He could have called it by another name, but he intentionally made reference to father Abraham because the Pharisees believed they would go to heaven just because they were descendants of Abraham.
"For, no principle was more fully established in the popular conviction, than that all Israel had part in the world to come (Sanh. 10.1), and this, specifically, because of their connection with Abraham...'The merits of the Fathers,' is one of the commonest phrases in the mouth of the Rabbis. Abraham was represented as sitting at the gate of Gehenna (hell), to deliver any Israelite who otherwise might have been consigned to its terrors" (Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, p. 187-88)
The parable clearly teaches them that Abraham won't save the wicked Jews from hell. Remember, in the parable the Pharisees are likened to the rich man (see JST Luke 16:23). Therefore, the meaning is that the Pharisees could expect to go to hell in spite of their relationship to Abraham. What's more, those whom they most despised, the downtrodden and beggars, could expect to be exalted to heaven!
Luke 16:23 in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments
Bruce R. McConkie
"Hell is referred to as outer darkness. At death the spirits of the wicked 'shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil. Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection.' (Alma 40:13-14.) So complete is the darkness prevailing in the minds of these spirits, so wholly has gospel light been shut out of their consciences, that they know little or nothing of the plan of salvation, and have little hope within themselves of advancement and progression through the saving grace of Christ. Hell is literally a place of outer darkness, darkness that hates light, buries truth, and revels in iniquity." (Mormon Doctrine, p. 551)
Luke 16:26 between us and you there is a great gulf fixed
"What was the gulf that separated Lazarus and the rich man and prevented Lazarus from helping? That they could see and converse with one another seems obvious. The Prophet Joseph taught that 'the righteous and the wicked all go to the same world of spirits until the resurrection.' He also said, however, that within that spirit world there are 'bounds, limits, and laws by which [wicked spirits] are governed or controlled.' In the same world of spirits, the state of righteous spirits is very different from the state of wicked.
"President Joseph F. Smith was privileged to see the world of spirits in vision. (D&C 138.) He saw the Savior visit the spirit world between his crucifixion and resurrection, and organize the righteous spirits to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ there. He saw that the gospel was to be preached to 'all the spirits of men' (v. 30)...It seems certain that one aspect of the gulf was that the rich man did not at that time have the opportunity to sooth his torments with the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, Christ's mission to the spirit world bridged that gulf, giving all the opportunity to hear the gospel and relieve their sufferings by conforming their minds, hearts, and actions to it-all this made possible by the power of the atonement. That the rich man and others like him can overcome their torments by hearing and accepting the gospel in the spirit world seems clear." (Kent P. Jackson and Robert L. Millet, eds., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 5: The Gospels [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1986], 359-360.)
"The world of spirits is one world, even as the world of mortals is one world. We live and act in a world today wherein we find saints and sinners in one sphere; the degraded and defiled, as well as the pious and the pure go about their business on the very same stage of the mortal drama. So it is in the world hereafter-'the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil' (Alma 40:11), live and move and have their being in one and the same realm. 'Where is the spirit world?' Brigham Young asked. He then answered: 'It is right here. Do the good and evil spirits go together? Yes, they do. Do they both inhabit one kingdom? Yes, they do.' And yet, even as the pure maintain a separate existence from the perverse in this stage of action, so also is there a division between spirits beyond the veil of death. On the one hand, death is a great leveler: it breaks all the bands of poverty, infirmity, and worldly caste or station. On the other hand, death is a great separator, an occasion wherein a 'partial judgment' of the spirit results in a designated area of residence. That there was a major separation of the righteous and the wicked before the ministry of the disembodied Savior is evident from the scriptures. (See D&C 138:1; Luke 16:19-31; 1 Ne. 15:26-30.) Regarding the nature of things since the meridian of time, Heber C. Kimball asked: 'Can those persons who pursue a course of carelessness, neglect of duty, and disobedience, when they depart from this life, expect that their spirits will associate with the spirits of the righteous in the spirit world? I do not expect it, and when you depart from this state of existence, you will find it out for yourselves.'" (Robert L. Millet and Joseph Fielding McConkie, The Life Beyond [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1986], 17-18.)
Bruce R. McConkie
"Until the death of Christ these two spirit abodes were separated by a great gulf, with the intermingling of their respective inhabitants strictly forbidden. (Luke 16:19-31.) After our Lord bridged the gulf between the two (1 Pet. 3:18-21; Moses 7:37-39), the affairs of his kingdom in the spirit world were so arranged that righteous spirits began teaching the gospel to wicked ones. (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., pp. 473-476.)
"Thus, although there are two spheres within the one spirit world, there is now some intermingling of the righteous and the wicked who inhabit those spheres; and when the wicked spirits repent, they leave their prison-hell and join the righteous in paradise. Hence, we find Joseph Smith saying: 'Hades, sheol, paradise, spirits in prison, are all one: it is a world of spirits. The righteous and the wicked all go to the same world of spirits until the resurrection.' (Teachings, p. 310.)" (Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 762.)
Luke 16:31 If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead
Joseph F. Smith
"In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, when the latter, looking beyond the yawning gulf that separated him from Paradise, saw Lazarus enjoying bliss in Abraham's bosom, and wanted an angel sent to warn his friends on earth, the Lord Jesus said if they will not believe the Prophets and Apostles, neither would they believe though one should be raised from the dead. So in these days, if the Prophets, Apostles and Elders called of God and commissioned to preach the Gospel are not believed by the people, neither would they believe an angel, or one raised from the dead. I once felt that this was a pretty hard saying, but I am now convinced that it is true. I always, perhaps, conceded that it was true, yet at times I felt, would it not be possible for an angel to convince the people when we could not.
"Since then I have seen and conversed with men, have known the feelings of their hearts and seen that they were just as full of the darkness of hell as they could be. So full and firmly rooted were they in darkness and ignorance and in a determination not to receive the truth that, though angels and ministering spirits had taught them, they would still have preferred to remain in ignorance and unbelief. I was forcibly reminded of this a short time ago, when in conversation with Alexander H. Smith. Do you suppose an angel would convince him? He said that no human testimony could convince him. Affliction and the chastisement of God might affect his body, but could not touch his heart; it is like adamant, and there are thousands and thousands in the same condition-shutting out the very possibility of truth's reaching their understandings. They will not receive the testimony of men, yet they will quote and reiterate the testimonies of men whom we know to be as wicked and corrupt as the devil; but when Prophets and Apostles ordained under the hands of the Prophet Joseph, and who are carrying out the very plans and purposes made manifest through him, bear testimony of these things, their testimony is rejected, for they will not receive the testimony of men. It is simply this-we will not have the truth, we can not bear it, and you cannot force it upon us-we do not want it." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 11, Feb. 17, 1867)
N. Eldon Tanner
"It is sad but true that many, many people are not acquainted with the words of the prophets, and many refuse to believe, and others often scoff and ridicule the teachings of the Savior. It is extremely sad that many, through their own learning and their sensuous knowledge, become self-satisfied and think that they are sufficient unto themselves and need not heed the word of God; and often, because they have not heard, seen, touched, or talked to God, they deny even his very existence, and use their influence to dissuade others.
"But all of this ignorance, derision, scoffing, and ridicule does not destroy the truth, which finally will triumph. We must learn to live by faith and believe in the words of the Lord, especially in those things which we mortals do not and cannot fully comprehend." (Conference Report, October 1969, Second Day-Morning Meeting 49.)
"I pray that God will put it into the hearts of our loved ones and those of the Saints of Zion who are not as faithful as they should be... that they will realize that we do not only have Moses and the prophets, but also the living prophets of God who are sent to show us the way; that they will listen unto them. When I think of all the Lord has revealed in the establishment of his Church and kingdom on the earth in these later days, to me it is all Isaiah described it to be when he said the Lord would proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder, and the wisdom of their wise men should perish, and the understanding of their prudent men should be hid. God help us to touch the hearts of those who cannot see and who are walking in darkness." (Conference Report, October 1950, Afternoon Meeting 154.)