by Jacob Hudgins
“For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light”(Luke 16:8).
The characters Jesus uses in his parables are often legendary. The Good Samaritan, the prodigal son, and the shepherd seeking his sheep are pitch-perfect. They exemplify stellar qualities and teach obvious lessons. Yet some of Jesus’ parables are baffling because the heroes are not at all what we would expect. Sometimes Jesus puts everyday people into his stories because they have something to teach us about our relationship with God. What can we learn from these stories?
1) The nagging friend
This hero has an unexpected visitor and feels a burden to feed him. He rushes to his friend’s home at midnight and asks for help—yet his friend is reluctant because it is so late. “I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs”(Luke 11:8). The story has direct application to prayer because Jesus’ next words are “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you”(Luke 11:9). Jesus wants us to be like the nagging friend in our prayers. He tells a very similar story about a persistent widow and the corrupt judge she annoys into helping her (Luke 18:1-8) and likewise connects it to prayer.
Jesus is not teaching us that we must nag God into doing our will. If everyday people know the power of persistence in getting what they need, how much more should Christians? These unlikely heroes teach us that God wants us to be persistent in our prayers.
2) The unjust steward
This “hero” discovers that he is about to be fired so he cuts deals with all his clients on his owner’s dime. His thinking is that once he is fired, these people will love him and help him because he gave them a good bargain (Luke 16:4). His master, despite his personal loss, is impressed: “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness”(Luke 16:8). Jesus tells us that “the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light”(Luke 16:8). We can learn something from this man’s resourcefulness, though it seems an unlikely source for a spiritual lesson. “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings”(Luke 16:9). Like this man did, we can use our money in a way that will prepare us for the time when our money runs out.
Jesus wants us to be shrewd—to plan ahead and use our time and resources now to ensure that our future will be secure. Is it possible that worldly people—with their visions of 401ks and coming economic crises—have more foresight than God’s people?
3) The beggar Lazarus
Jesus describes Lazarus graphically: “And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores”(Luke 16:20-21). He is contrasted with the nameless “rich man” who eats well and ignores the beggar at his gate. Yet when both die, it is Lazarus who is carried to Abraham’s bosom and comforted while the rich man is in torment. He begs for Lazarus’ help, but is denied by Abraham: “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish”(Luke 16:25).
Jesus uses Lazarus to teach us to expect reversals. We must become comfortable with discomfort now because Jesus shows that things will change after death. It is a warning for Americans who love their comforts and often fail to share and help others. Things will not always be as they are now.
Everyday people have something to teach us about our relationship with God. Be persistent. Plan ahead. Expect reversals. May God bless us to understand his word—and obey it!