The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Luke 16:9-15

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 27, 2015

Luk 16:9  And I say to you: Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity: that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings.

9. “And I say unto you.” This is the conclusion drawn from the above parable by our Lord for the guidance of His followers at all times. “I” and “you,” are very emphatic. The steward said to himself, I know what I shall do; I shall make friends for myself of my master’s debtors. I say also to you, imitating the steward’s cunning and prudence, do you also make friends for yourselves out of the unjust, unrighteous mammon, which your Sovereign Master has deposited in your hands, to be dispensed by you, as faithful stewards, according to His will, by laying up your riches in the bosom of the poor, “that when you shall fail,” and shall be deprived of the stewardship at the hour of death, when you shall be called upon to render an account of your dispensation, “they” like the master’s debtors, whom the steward desired to conciliate in order to be admitted into their houses, “may receive you into” their houses, in the kingdom which is properly theirs (Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20), houses, or “tabernacles,” which are to endure for ever.

“Mammon of iniquity,” a common Hebraism for unrighteous, iniquitous mammon. “Mammon ” is a Syriac word, signifying riches (Matthew 6:24). Riches are termed iniquitous or unjust for several reasons, either, because they are, generally speaking, the fruit of injustice on the part of our forefathers, by rapine, plunder, &c, or, on our own part. Hence, the common phrase, “dives aut injustus aut hæres injusti,” quoted by St. Jerome (Ep. 1, ad Hebridiam, Qusest. 1), and as the heir of injustice knows not precisely to whom he should make restitution, he should give it to the poor; or, because they occasion injustice in their possessors, unless greatly on their guard, such as pride, avarice, luxury. In this way St. Paul terms concupiscence “sin” being the cause and effect of sin, “quod habitat in me peccatum” (Rom. 7:17); or, because, it is the unrighteous or unjust alone, that regard riches as their sovereign good, place their whole trust in them, and value them unduly, although false, deceitful, and transitory, never satisfying the human heart; the just, on the other hand, in possessing riches, regard them as transitory, and value heavenly riches alone; or, because, men often regard the riches they possess as absolutely their own, whereas, in reality they are God’s, to whom belongs the earth and its fulness. Men, in reference to God, hold them by the mere title of dispensation or stewardship. This latter meaning well suits the parable, in which God is signified by the “rich man.” We are only stewards, who unjustly employ for our own selfish ends what belongs to Him. Riches are not unjust or unrighteous of themselves, but only in their abuse.

“When you fail.” When at death, you are called upon to render an account of your stewardship, now to be taken away from you.

“They may receive you,” or, rather, God shall admit you, owing, in some cases, to their intercession, into His heavenly kingdom, which is peculiarly the inheritance of the poor; but He shall do so, especially in consideration of the pure motive of charity, which dictates the giving of alms to the poor, which are, therefore, given to Himself, whom they represent. This latter reason will hold, whether there be question of the faithful and just poor, themselves occupants of heaven, or of the unjust poor excluded from it, when we relieve them for God’s sake, whom in their poverty they represent.

“Into everlasting dwellings,” which peculiarly belong to the poor, as such. No doubt, many among the poor shall be excluded, who die impenitent, and many among the rich admitted, who shall merit by their charity the graces necessary to fulfil the other precepts of God. For, mere alms-giving will not save; but, alms-giving will move God to grant forgiveness of sin and the graces necessary for salvation. The rich have great difficulties in gaining heaven ; and from this passage, it is clear, that unless they discharge the duty of alms- giving they shall be excluded from God’s everlasting kingdom. “Everlasting” solid, enduring mansions, in opposition to these dwellings “made with hands ” in this world, whose duration is but temporary.

From this entire passage is clearly seen the duty of relieving the poor by almsgiving under pain of exclusion from the kingdom of heaven. We are mere stewards of the goods we possess in this world. If we appropriate them to our own use, instead of dispensing them according to the will and for the interests of our Master, we act the part of unjust, unfaithful stewards; and we shall be excluded from God’s everlasting mansions, when the accounting day arrives.

The precept of alms-giving may be also clearly seen from the providence of God in the present order of things. While arranging the unequal distribution of earthly goods, He appoints the rich as His own stewards and representatives in regard to His poor. In order to bind together more firmly the several members of the great human family, He has ordered that they should mutually depend on each other, as He had done in regard to the several members of the human body; and He has made the reciprocal exhibition of love, the great bond of indissoluble union. When the rich, then, neglect to succour their indigent brethren, and follow not the example of Him whose place they hold, Who “opens His hand and fills every animal with benediction;” Who “makes His sunfrom heaven rise on the good and bad, and rains upon thejust and the unjust,” they become instrumental in subverting the order of Providence, established by God. Through them His name is blasphemed; and an order of things established directly at variance with His divine ordinances; and their neglect made chargeable, with wicked men, on His infinite goodness and wisdom. Hence, our Lord regards the salvation of a rich man as so very difficult; because, it is so hard to find a rich man who complies, to the requisite extent, with the precept of relieving the poor.

The same precept is clearly referred to (1 John 3:17), where He condemns those who, having a knowledge of their neighbour’s wants, and the means of relieving him, still neglect doing so. Also, James 1:13-27; 2:15; Matthew 25:34-46. The same may be also clearly seen from the fate of the hard-hearted rich man, whose history and miserable end are given towards the close of this chapter, vv. 19-31.

In what follows in verses 10-12 our Redeemer would seem to have for object in these three verses, to inculcate charity towards the poor, and the faithful discharge, on the part of the rich, of their office as stewards, in the dispensation of the goods of this world, which, properly speaking, are God’s. This He inculcates, on the ground, that infidelity in the discharge of their office, of properly dispensing temporal goods, would entail the withholding or withdrawal from them, of spiritual goods, and their final exclusion from the eternal bliss, for obtaining which spiritual gifts and graces are indispensable. He also inculcates due correspondence with spiritual graces, and the proper use of them.

Luk 16:10  He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in that which is greater: and he that is unjust in that which is little is unjust also in that which is greater.

“He that is faithful in that which is least,” &c. This is an adagial expression, founded on the common opinion of mankind and experience, conveying what generally happens. It is understood of fidelity or want of fidelity in small things, arising from an innate principle of honesty or dishonesty. Men who find their servants honest in small things regard them as deserving of credit in regard to great things. Hence, we find the reward given in the Gospel, “quia super pauca fuisti fidelis, super multa te constituam,” &c. “The least” and “little,” are generally understood of temporal matters, which are “little” compared with spiritual treasures; and “greater” of the more precious treasures of the spiritual life. The man, who is not faithful in the administration of temporal goods, according to the will of God, shows that he does not deserve to be entrusted with the spiritual treasures of grace, which he would be sure to employ unprofitably. “Si quis domui suæ præsse nescit, quomodo Ecclesiæ Dei diligentiam habebit?” (1 Timothy 3:5.)

Luk 16:11  If then you have not been faithful in the unjust mammon, who will trust you with that which is the true?

This is an inference from the foregoing adage “If you have not been faithful,” in the dispensation of “unjust mammon,” the goods of this world, which are fugitive, uncertain, deceitful and never satisfy the cravings of the human heart, “who will trust you with that which is true?” He refers to the spiritual treasures of grace, which are in reality “true” riches, alone capable of satisfying the heart, alone conducting to the true and permanent end for which we were created. This may be understood of all men, to whom God commits His treasures of grace, to be employed by them for their own sanctification and final salvation. Our Lord here threatens the rich and avaricious, that by the misuse of temporal wealth, they will deserve to be refused spiritual graces, or, to have the graces which they possess, withdrawn from them. In verse 9, He proposes the reward of alms-deeds; in these verses, the punishment of neglecting it.

Luk 16:12  And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?

12. “Another’s,” temporal wealth, which belongs to God—like that which the steward squandered—given as His own to us for administration. We have merely the use of it from Him. Riches were never ours ; we brought none of them into this world, nor shall we bring any out of it. They are external to us, and by no means belong to us, foreign to the rational and spiritual nature of man. “Your own,” the spiritual treasures of grace, which may be called ” our own,” because they remain with us; they adhere to us, and conduct us to our last end, for which we were destined and created, and which we cannot lose. “Who will give?” &c. No one; God will withhold or take away spiritual goods in punishment of our abuse or maladministration of the temporal goods confided to our stewardship (Psalm 48:17, 18; Job 27:19).

Luk 16:13  No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other: or he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Our Lord in this verse employs an adage founded on experience, regarding the impossibility of serving two masters of opposite characters, demanding opposite and contrary things, in order to dissuade His followers, and the Pharisees, also, whom He specially censures, from the pursuit of avarice. (See Matthew 6:24, Commentary on.) The adage is suggested by the idea, that those who neglect alms-deeds, show an inordinate attachment to riches, which they serve as an idol. Now, such service is incompatible with the service of God. We can serve only one or the other.

Luk 16:14 Now the Pharisees, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. ‎

Now the Pharisees, who were covetous”—fond of money—“heard all these things.” The Greek has, “the Pharisees also,” as well as the disciples, whom He addressed, “heard all these things.”

And they derided Him.” The Greek word for “derided,” εξεμυκτηριζον, conveys the external expression of their contempt—literally, they turned up their noses at Him—a common metaphor, denoting derision—“naso suspendere adunco” (Horace). They sneered derisively at our Lord—Himself poor and bereft of all earthly riches—for inculcating on the rich the duty of distributing their wealth among the poor. Not considering the selfish accumulation of wealth, opposed to the teaching of Moses, and to the high standard of legal perfection they proposed to follow, they sneered at the doctrine, that they were mere stewards of their earthly wealth; that riches were unjust “mammon;” that the amassing of wealth was incompatible with the service of God, especially as the law of Moses promised temporal blessings to its faithful observers. Hence, these men sneered at our Lord’s teaching, just as, now-a-days, we find the haughty, the libidinous, &c., despise the Evangelical teaching regarding humility, charity, &c., so opposed to their loose, dissolute morals. “The sensual man perceiveth not those things that are of the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:14).

Luk 16:15 And he said to them: you are they who justify yourselves before men, but God knoweth your hearts. For that which is high to men is an abomination before God.

Having observed their sneers, our Lord, in order to cover them with confusion, reproaches them publicly, with vainly affecting to be just, though not so in reality, and forces them to enter into themselves, that they might discover what God sees in their interior, viz., hypocrisy, secret injustice, avarice, and envy. He conveys, that while they affected to be just, they were abominable in the sight of God.

You are they who justify yourselves before men”—that is, affect legal justice, and wish to be regarded as just before men, putting on the appearance of sanctity and disinterestedness.

But God knoweth your hearts.” By this, our Lord conveys, that He clearly saw into their interior, and knew the vices with which they were tainted; but, as these vices were too great to be exposed, He insinuates so much by saying that God, “the searcher of hearts,” saw how their hearts were tainted with avarice and other corrupt passions. “For,” is a proof of the assertion tacitly conveyed in the words, “God knoweth your hearts,” viz., that their secret vices, with which they were stained, were well known to God, and their acts prized at their proper value. “What is high to men”—what is held in esteem by men, riches, station, and apparent sanctity, which men can only judge of from what they see—“is an abomination before God,” “abominatio Domini est omnis arrogans,” &c. (Proverbs 16) Sometimes God approves of what men approve; but, oftentimes what men approve of is detested by God, if avarice, pride, hypocrisy, reign in the heart, and sincerity be wanting. The sentence here uttered by our Lord has reference to the pride and hypocrisy of the Pharisees, whose external sanctity men prized and valued, but, God hated and detested, as the interior dispositions were wanting. All their external show was the sheerest hypocrisy, which is an abomination before God.

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