On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus instructs his followers about the power of faith and the duties of discipleship. He calls his disciples to adopt the attitude of servants whose actions are responses to their identity rather than works seeking reward. A little faith goes a long way is our Lord’s point in the gospel. A mustard seed’s-worth has miraculous potential. The patience, tenacity, and endurance required for the life of faith are the blessings received in water and the word (baptism), bread and wine (communion), the word read and proclaimed in this assembly. Anticipate them. Receive them with thanksgiving. Faith is the inner belief given to us by the Holy Spirit, which enables us to cling to God’s gift of the Savior.
The story of the rich man and poor Lazarus is set within a series of Jesus' teachings to his disciples. It is composed of two parts. The first sets the stage for the dialog between the dead rich man and Abraham. In the dialog itself, the rich man pleads first for himself and then for his brothers. The story reflects the popular understanding of life after death at the time of Jesus. We are told only that Lazarus is poor and afflicted and that the rich man did nothing to aid this pitiful man who lived on his doorstep. In death, Lazarus was with Abraham and the rich man was in the torment of Hades. His request that Lazarus aid him was denied, since he had failed to aid Lazarus in his life. Nor can Lazarus come back from the dead to warn the rich man's brothers. If they did not learn from the Scriptures, they would turn a deaf ear even to one who returned from the dead. The story makes several points. The first is the way our destinies beyond death are determined by our lives in this world. The second is the importance of sharing our wealth with the needy. But the story also discourages any hope that even the miracle of the risen Christ can easily reverse the hardness of the human heart toward others in need. It claims that the Holy Spirit working through God's Word is the way we are changed in our attitudes and actions toward others.
The story of the wily steward has been a problem for interpreters. Does Jesus encourage dishonesty? As verse 8 shows, he is rather contrasting the clever industry of the this-worldly with the lethargy of children of the kingdom. Whether the steward is moral or immoral in his actions is not the point of the comparison. The charge against him was not dishonesty, but wastefulness and mismanagement. Jesus’ teaching, however, is an appeal for the “children of light” to be as enterprising in their pursuit of the kingdom as this steward was in trying to make a place for himself in this world. He follows this with a corollary on the use of worldly wealth in preparing for eternity. The crafty steward used his money to prepare an earthly dwelling. But, earthly wealth, though it may be associated with evil, can be put to good use for God’s kingdom. It can be given as alms to the poor and lowly so that their benefactor may share with them a place in the kingdom. A conclusion about stewardship is drawn for the followers of Jesus. As in this world, so in the kingdom” trustworthiness in small things leads to a greater trust. This refers to spiritual realities but is also concerned with physical stewardship. There is always the danger of subordinating the spiritual to the material without realizing that a new master had taken over.
This chapter is bound together by the theme of joy over the recovery of what was lost. All three parables apply to the return of the repentant sinner; the story of the prodigal son develops the theme of God’s love and adds the contrast of the older brother’s hostility. Jesus is surrounded by “tax collectors and sinners,” causing murmuring among the scribes and Pharisees (see 7:39). Jesus addresses his listeners directly: “What man among you…?” What he suggests all will do in going after the one lost sheep is actually not what many of us would do, but the attractiveness of this extravagant individual concern makes the listener want to agree. We are drawn into God’s world, seeing and acting as he would. The shepherd’s joy is like God’s joy; his dedication to the individual sheep, carrying it back to the flock, is a reflection of God’s love. A different image is used in the second parable to the same effect. The woman has lost one of her ten silver coins. She turnes her house upside down in search of this one coin in ten. What about the other sine silver pieces and the ninety-nine sheep—are they not important, too? Surely, but the joy of the kingdom breaks out of the ordinary categories of reason and good business. It is like a new life, a resurrection, and must be celebrated.