Study Guide

Gospel of Luke Wealth

Wealth

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. (NRSV 6:24-25)

But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. (KJV 6:24-25)

When he says stuff like this, we can almost imagine Jesus feeling at home in one of the Occupy Wall Street camps. They're certainly not going to let him into a tie-only country club. He'll send everyone home feeling guilty if he's not arrested first.

As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. (NRSV 8:14)

And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. (KJV 8:14)

According to Jesus, the pursuit of wealth = the pursuit of pleasures, and both will turn you into a worrywart. Wealth-seeking creates a hustle and bustle that "chokes" more profound values like, well, God.

The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God. (NRSV 12:16-21)

The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (KJV 12:16-21)

Here's a committed capitalist for you. Too bad you can't take it with you. His bank account's going to leave him short-changed when the Grim Reaper comes to get him.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. (NRSV 12:22-23)

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. (KJV 12:22-23)

Well, what is the "more"?

Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NRSV 12:33-34)

Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (KJV 12:33-34)

One way to get yourself some heavenly wealth is to distribute earthly wealth to the poor. For more on Jesus's heavenly economics, see our discussion of "Wealth and Poverty" under "Current Hot-Button Issues and Cultural Debates."

No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. (NRSV 16:13-14)

No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. (KJV 16:13-14)

The Pharisees totally miss how this applies to them, but Jesus wants us to ask: who or what is our master? P.S. Like this saying? Check out Carlo Goldoni's A Servant of Two Masters, an old Italian play that's been transformed to the modern stage.

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. […] The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. (NRSV 16:19, 22-23)

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: […] the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (KJV 16:19, 22-23)

After death, there's a kind of otherworldly swap-a-roo of the rich and poor that reflects the principle stated in 13:30: "Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. (NRSV 18:22-23)

Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. (KJV 18:22-23)

The rich ruler knows at least five of the ten commandments (18:20), but it's not enough for Jesus, who throws this additional requirement at him. That's what it's going to take to live forever.

How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Those who heard it said, "Then who can be saved?" He replied, "What is impossible for mortals is possible for God." (NRSV 18:24-27)

How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. (KJV 18:24-27)

Ouch. Jesus is flat-out slamming the door of heaven right in the face of the wealthy. But he's not happy about it, and he at least holds out the possibility that the impossible can happen—at least with God's help.

A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. […] Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." (NRSV 19:2, 8)

A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. […]And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. (KJV 19:2, 8)

Finally, we meet a rich man who does right in Luke's gospel. It may be difficult for the wealthy to enter God's kingdom, but Zacchaeus proves that with God, anything is possible (see 18:24-27).

He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on. (NRSV 21:1-4)

And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had. (KJV 21:1-4)

We've all been there, feeling good about ourselves when we give a little chunk of change to some charity or buy a coffee from Starbucks knowing that a portion of the purchase is going to fund job-creation programs. But according to Luke's Jesus, that just won't cut it. In terms of proportion, these acts are simply not radical enough.