John’s Witness Recalled and Confirmed

Luke 16:14-31

The Pharisees, out of their love of money, scoffed at him when they heard these teachings, and he said to them,
“You are those who assert your right-standing before men, but God knows your hearts, since what is elevated among men is what God curses.”
“The law and the prophets were [maintained] until John; but since then the Good News of the Kingdom of God is announced, and there are all those responding to the call eagerly cramming in. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tiny distinguishing mark of the law to pass away.
“Everyone who dismissing his wife in order to marry another commits adultery [and violates God’s purposes], and the one marrying she who was dismissed has likewise committed adultery.
 “There was this rich man, he clothed himself in purple robes of exquisite material and and everyday feasted sumptuously. And at his gate a poor man positioned himself, Lazarus [we’ll call him], covered with sores, hoping thereby to feed himself with the rich man’s left overs from his table [when it was put out with the rubbish]. But all he received were the dogs coming to lick his sores. And so it happened that the poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in the place of fire, Hades, being in torment and lifting up his eyes he sees Abraham from afar and Lazarus embraced at his side. And so, calling out, he says, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me will you, and send Lazarus to dip his finger in water that he may cool my tongue [and slake my thirst], for I am suffering in these flames.’ But Abraham replies, ‘Child, recall how received good things in your life, and Lazarus the bad; but now he receives comforted, and you are the one who is in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that the ones wishing to pass from here to you cannot do so, and neither may they cross from there to us.’ To this he replied, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to the house of my father for I have five brothers that he may be a witness to them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ And Abraham says, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear what they have to say to them.’ But he replies, ‘No, father Abraham, [that will not be enough] but if someone from the dead will go to them, then they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded should someone rise again from the grave.’”

This then follows from Jesus’ affirmation that it is simply impossible to bring about a negotiated settlement between God and Mammon. The service of God is total. His law is a broad rule for life in its totality (Psalm 119:96). Luke tells us his investigations had revealed that the Pharisees derided him; such teaching instinctively brought forth their scoffing.

Jesus’ reply was to explain to them why they were so instinctively opposed to such singular commitment. They were bent upon making themselves appear self-righteous. Thus they had to negotiate a modus vivendi; they had to accommodate before men. And how was that to be done? It was by the tried and true method of adding a jot here, and italicised emphasis on this point, a tiddle there. The sacred text itself needed to be adjusted, Jesus says to them, in order to accommodate the demands of God and mammon. Their approach was to suggest you could have it both ways.

You are those who are so bent on confirming your righteousness in the eyes of men that you have forgotten that God knows your hearts. What is elevated among men is what God curses.

To repeat: Jesus’ reply was to explain to them why they were so instinctively opposed to such singular commitment to the God who had made Israel possible, the God who had called Israel into existence. They had forgotten tat Israel’s constitution had been made possible by the Lord God whose law had revealed that the instinctive disposition of human hearts is towards wickedness and that that wickedness finds its root in a decided opposition to God Himself. There follows a series of statements that require our careful reading to appreciate the connections between them:

The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the Good News of the kingdom of God is preached and there are all those responding to the call who are eagerly cramming in. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one little dot of the Law to become void.
Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

It was John the Baptist who had prophetically announced the inauguration of the Kingdom of God with the coming of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus certainly affirmed that he was continuing from where John had left off. John had called for Israel’s repentance; they were not to tamper with God’s word to them. They were not to try and adjust God’s law so that a joint rule could be established between God and any of the non-god idols that dominated the lives of the peoples of the earth. There was to be no modus vivendi between Israel’s God and mammon. Israel was to

… keep on doing justice, loving kind dealing and walking humbly with their Lord … (Micah 6:8).

And they were certainly not enjoined to flag through the adulterous union between Herod and the wife of Phillip, his brother (Luke 3:15-20). And so, for his unwillingness to add a jot or a tiddle, a nunch or a wink, to God’s law, had meant imprisonment. He had spoken out against the adultery of Herod and Herodias and the woman was not at all pleased. We might even surmise about what this might suggest as to who it was that was provoking Herod to have Jesus murdered.

Jesus also reiterated the teaching of the law. Effectively, he tells the Pharisees:

By your silent acquiescence, you stay on side with those who parade their righteousness before men. If you are aligning yourselves in any way with that crowd of reckless rulers who took John’s life then you are perpetrating what is an abomination in God’s sight.

We might want Jesus to be even more explicit in his comments about Herod’s injustice and violation of God’s law, but here we need to keep in mind that this is Luke’s report and when Jesus aligns himself with what John had proclaimed it was clear enough that he was also condemning what John had condemned as completely contrary to God’s law.

And then we read the parable of “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” What is it doing here in Luke’s narrative? It’s place is somewhat uncertain until we come to the end of the story where it concludes with these words:

If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded should someone rise again from the grave.

As we have read Luke’s two books, we have found his repeated emphasis upon the continuity between John’s baptism for repentance to receive forgiveness and the baptism in Jesus’ name to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5; see also Luke 7:18-35). Moreover, Luke is telling us how the opposition of Herod to John was maintained in his emergent opposition to Jesus’ preaching and ministry inaugurating the Kingdom of God. In his crazed, manic and self-centred way imagined that Jesus must have been John.

John whom I executed has been raised (9:7-9)

Herod’s identification of Jesus with John, seeing his ministry as a threat to his regime, is the background, Luke tells us, of Jesus’ own disciples emerging understanding of their Master and the work he had been sent to do. Jesus ministry had captured the imagination of many, and many were saying that John had been raised.

The parable “The Rich Man and Lazarus” may not have been a coded message about Herod, but its conclusion does raise a question about those who are simply aiming to live off the fat of the land and ignore the needs of those at their front gate. And Luke certainly seems to suggest that Herod could be in mind when this story is told.

In the story as Jesus tells it, there is no hint of repentance from the Rich Man – Lazarus’ resurrection would simply be a convenient way for the Rich Man to get a message to his five brothers in order to warn them that a “fate worse than death” awaits them. Father Abraham’s reply is clear enough: believing someone who has been resurrected is what those obeying the law and the prophets will believe. And Luke has already told us that Herod believed John had been raised; did that turn him around?

 

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