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Dec 21, 2007


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I agree that the main focus of Jesus teaching was correctly focused priorities. However, there is another important theme, particularly in Luke. The gospel was good news for the poor. I am sure that was partly spiritual. However, the fact that the poor were addressed specifically suggests that something was going to happen that would help their physical situation as well. Maybe Jesus expected something to happen to the poor as a consequence of changed behavior by the wealthy. I think we need to grapple more with how the gospel is good news for the poor.

Luke records some interesting challenges.

But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you (Luke 11:41).

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind (Luke 14:13).

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys (Luke 12:33).

This last one is particular interesting. It seems to suggest the best way to ensure that our priorities are right is sell possessions and give to the poor.

We really need to keep our priorities right. However, we need to understand that “helping the poor” is probably higher up God’s list of priorities than it is up ours.


One minor quibble. Matt 24:4-35 is not about the “end of time”. Jesus said the temple would be destroyed. The disciples asked when “these things” would happen. Jesus gave a very clear answer in these verses. “These things” happened in AD 70 as he said they would, within the lifetime of his listeners. Then in Matt 24:36-44, he says that no one will know when he will return. Life will be going on as normal (in stark contrast to the period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem. He refused to give signs of his return.

More on this here.

Michael W. Kruse

Excellent points, Ron. Thanks.

Luke Timothy Johnson argues in his commentary the Luke likely targeted wealthy readers. Theophilus is the one for whom Luke composed the gospel and appears to be a man of means. I'm not doubting that Luke is good news for the poor but rather drawing attention to how Luke repeatedly frames the issues. We don't find abstract social justice arguments about oppressors and the oppressed, or discourses on the equitable distribution of resources. We have practical advice to wealthy people about how to exhibit the heart and mind of God. I’ve got more to say here but I’m holding my remarks for later posts.

Concerning 12:33, I almost included that in my discussion but I felt it was tackling too much. Notice the reason Jesus gives for selling and giving to the poor. It is not because this is the just thing to do. It is not that it corrects some past injustice. Rather to, “Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” I think Jesus is using this as a rhetorical device to devalue the importance of great wealth here versus the value of wealth in heaven. I don’t buy that this is a literal command, as so many around Jesus (outside the disciples) do not follow it and neither do we see it lived out in the early church.

I agree we need to grapple more with how the gospel is good news for the poor but I want to finish reflecting on what it means to be in abundance. You wrote, “Maybe Jesus expected something to happen to the poor as a consequence of changed behavior by the wealthy.” That is precisely my thought. And I very much agree that God has the poor as a much higher priority than we do.

Michael W. Kruse

"End of time" may not be the best phrase. Matthew 24:3 says:

"As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"

Jesus was responding to this question. We get into lots of interpretive questions and I think you and I are probably in a very similar place on the interpretaion of this passage. I understand 24:42 on to be instruction about what we are to be about between then and his coming again.

Brad Cooper

Ron and Michael,

First, the minor quibble: I agree that we must be very careful about interpreting Matt. 24 (and related passages in Mark and Luke). There are 2 different events in mind (as Michael points out in his use of 24:3), and it is no easy task to discern which part of Jesus' answer pertains to which part of the disciples' question.

Second: Excellent points by both of you. I agree heartily with almost everything said.

Michael, you said: "As I look through the gospels and read where Jesus talks about the poor, I’m unaware of any where Jesus attributes the poverty of some to the wealth of others. Nor does Jesus advocate closing the gap between the rich and the poor."

BINGO! In fact, it seems that rather than closing the gap, there is some inference that God himself establishes the gap for his own purposes. (One servant gets 5 talents and one servant gets only 1 talent.)

I believe that God sovereignly gives each of us what he wants us to have when we have it. This has to do with humility and faith.

On the other hand, God never intends for the disparity to be so great that the poor are hard pressed to have their basic needs met while the wealthy are at ease in "ignorant bliss." (I can't think of any place this is stated in the gospels, but it is clearly stated in 2 Cor. 8:13-14.)

Ron, I really appreciate how you brought out the verses in Luke. I have often pondered those verses, also. It may well be that is precisely because Theophilus was wealthy (and associated with the wealthy) that he focuses more than any other gospel on giving to the poor.

Michael, I have to disagree with you about the intent of these verses. I think that literal giving to the poor is in view here. Otherwise, why not say: Give to everyone. Or, give to the temple. Or, give to my ministry (which was rather supported by certain wealthy women, as Luke points out in Lukek 8:1-3). Instead, he repeatedly says to give to the poor.

And we see Luke giving clear examples of its practice in the early Church in his sequel:

Acts 2:45: "Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need." (NIV)

Acts 4:34-37: "There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet." (NIV)

And it appears that Jesus himself was continually taking a collection for distribution to the poor (cf. John 12:4-6; 13:29).

Look forward to what's next! :) Paul's epistles and James have a lot to say about these issues. And John uses it as his illustration of love that is shown in deeds and not just words.....

Thanks for the conversation, guys. Grace and peace to both of you.

Rob Decker


Great post. Very important stuff, here.

One other parable that you skipped over, but may be addressing later is my favorite, the parable of the unrighteous steward (Luke 16:1-12).

Again, as you point out, there is not the point that the unbalance of wealth is unjust on its own. But there are two other significant points of the parable.

First, in v. 11, Jesus refers to mammon as "unrighteous mammon" or "dishonest mammon," not just mammon, not just wealth. The "dishonest" is the same word that he uses to discribe the servant.

Secondly, there is the clear implication from the parable that our wealth is not ours, but is the Master's, and that when we treat wealth as ours, to do with as we please, we are being dishonest and/or unrighteous.

But then the more important point comes. We're not told to disown wealth, even unrighteous wealth, and we are somewhat rebuked for doing so. Instead we are told to use it for others, so that we'll have friends to welcome us into our "next job."

Shouldn't this parable be called the parable of the "blessed kickbacks?"


There is an interesting contrast in Luke 12:31,32 that we miss because of the way that the verses are divided. The father will give us the kingdom, so we should sell what we have. This suggests that we we have is not of the kingdom. I wonder if Jesus is suggesting that we should get rid of wealth that cannot contribute to the kingdom. It is going to depreciate anyway. If it is just valuables in a storehouse (thesarus) it is dead wealth doing nothing for the Kingdom of God. Capital that is producing stuff and providing jobs for people is not hidden in a storehouse. Getting wealth out of a storehouse and into a purse suggests using it or giving it away.

I have seen lots of explanations of that parable, but none of them are totally satisfying. We perhaps we need to think a bit more about what Jesus meant by unrighteous mamman. Would we recognise it if we saw it. How much of our wealth in the west is unrighteous mammon. It is easy to be like the Pharisees and "justify ourselves in the eyes of man" (16:11).

You make some good points. I don't think we have fully grasped how radical the gospel is. Not from the point of view of justice, but through mercy and following the example of Jesus. I think the changes to society would be even more dramatic than those envisaged by the liberationists. We would see some industries shrink and others die. Strip malls might be partly stripped. We would see other industries grow and new ones emerge. We would see a dramatic decline in poverty, as the poor receive the good news, have their minds renewed in Christ and are equipped with human or physical capital to be productive in the Kingdom. The passages you quote from Acts are just a fortaste. Imagine is something like that happened in America or New Zealand. The changes would be mind blowing, reflecting the greatness of our gospel.

Brad Cooper

Aaaahhhhhhhh.....Yes, Ron! Amen!

..."more dramatic than those envisaged by the liberationists"....similar and yet very different!

Rob and Ron,

I have heard a fairly satisfying explanation of the parable in Luke 16:1ff. I'm going to ponder it some more, but I think the main point of the parable is that we are to use our worldly wealth as an investment in the kingdom--so that when we get fired from this job (we die), we'll be welcomed into the eternal kingdom of our Lord. However, I have never noticed that the word which the NIV translates as "worldly" is the same word used to describe the wicked servant. That's an important point that I'm going to have to explore and ponder. Thanks for that insight, Rob.


Michael W. Kruse

Great discussion folks!


“I think that literal giving to the poor is in view here.”

I agree that he was literally telling us to give to the poor. What I doubt think is literal is “sell all you have.” Giving to the poor is a central theme. I’m wanting to wrestle with why give to the poor.


Kenneth Bailey has forever changed the way I see the Unjust Steward. He calls it the knuckle buster of the all.” I’ve read so many interpretations but when I encountered Bailey’s, it was like tumblers on a safe clicking into place. He separates the parable (16:1-9) from the pericope about unrighteous mammon (16:10-13). The parable has some very distinctive Middle Eastern nuances to it that might not have been obvious to a Greek or a Roman. The parable comes across to many as Jesus endorsing deceitful behavior and indeed one emperor justified Christian persecution based on this “immoral” teaching. Bailey suggests that 10-13 were placed there by look to make certain that his Greco-Roman readers didn’t get the wrong idea because the story was not primarily about the deeds or the wealth. It was about the servant’s shrewd assessment of his master’s character and then depending entirely on that character for his deliverance.

Maybe I should do a post next week on this parable giving Bailey’s insights. It’s fascinating. But I love the ides of “blessed kickbacks.” :)


“I wonder if Jesus is suggesting that we should get rid of wealth that cannot contribute to the kingdom. It is going to depreciate anyway. If it is just valuables in a storehouse (thesarus) it is dead wealth doing nothing for the Kingdom of God. Capital that is producing stuff and providing jobs for people is not hidden in a storehouse. Getting wealth out of a storehouse and into a purse suggests using it or giving it away.”

I thinking along similar lines.

“…more dramatic than those envisaged by the liberationists…”


Brad Cooper

Hey Michael,

I understand what you're saying now. I never interpreted Luke 12:33 as saying to sell ALL our possessions. The only place I can remember seeing that is in the case of the rich young ruler....and that was a very specific call to him only. In Luke 12:33, I think Jesus gives a general command to all those who have more than they need to liquidate part of it and give to the poor.


I decided to drop by for a peep Michael and this is a really good discussion you have going here.

I agree with you that for Jesus-priorities- is what's at focus. I am sure you will get here in your futher discussion of the New Testament and wealth but I just wanted to throw in: Acts 20:35 "In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' "

I see the phrase: "it's more blessed to give than to receive" as such a corner stone of the kingdom ethic re:wealth/giving/poor etc. And of course it's interesting that Paul deliberately works in a particular way to benefit the poor.

I would just like to agree with Ron and Brad that the Lukean input is very important to this conversation as he writes with a particular and practical concern for the poor. I would say though in response to Brad's charge that perhaphs the text infers that God establishes "the gap" for His purposes. That while we all start out at different points {i am agreeing with you re:talents}, this is metered by the fact that there seems to be an expectation that we steward our resources in light of the eschatological hope of complete redemption, the remaking of all things, end of suffering etc ala Rev 21. And consequently Luke 12:48 "But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

~michael you have me doing something I really don't want to...jump back into this conversation :)

Michael W. Kruse


"michael you have me doing something I really don't want to...jump back into this conversation."


Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated. :)

I'm aware that my way of coming at this series is probably creates an apprehension that I'm forgetting the poor. I'm "front loading" the conversation with a focus on abundance and purposely trying to avoid a digression into solving the poverty problem at the outset.

I would shade Luke ever so slightly in a different way. I don't think Luke was written to the poor to encourage the poor. I think Luke was written to the wealthy. The poor are Luke’s theological and rhetorical devices for shinning light on the plight of the wealthy. This clearly has consequences for the poor but the transformation sought is in the heart and mind of the wealthy. Transformation of the heart and mind is the focus, not the presentation and prescription of social policy for the poor. This is the lens I’m angling for.

As to giving and receiving, the economist side of me (and I’m not formally an economist) observes that “giving” necessitates “having.” Where did the resources come from that we have to give? (This takes me back to the post #4 in this series.) What about the role of owning and employing capital to create more wealth that both creates wealth, thus expanding opportunities for earning greater wealth for others, and greater resources from which to give?

BTW, I’ve received my copy of “Jubilee Manifesto.” Hope to get to it next month.

To a large degree I’m processing out loud in these posts. Please do jump back in. I can use the help.

Brad Cooper

Hey Andy,

Welcome to the conversation....or the assimilation. ;)

I understand that the idea that God sovereignly creates the gap is a hard one to accept. I'm a little hesitant myself. But I think it is worth pondering.

And I'm not speaking as one who has enjoyed great wealth; for the last 25 years, I've been hovering around the poverty level (by American standards) and experienced serious financial difficulties. I'm just starting to distance myself from that level in the last few years and hope that this year (as the Lord wills) we will make that distance significantly greater (as we pay off the last of our debts and make a few other wise improvements to our situation).

From that perspective, then, I have seen how God has used that gap in my life to teach me a lot of things that I would not understand nearly so well otherwise...among them: humility, faith, and compassion for the poor.

Also....Although poverty and financial distress will be done away with in the establishment of the new earth and new heavens, I see definite hints that there may still be significant differences in the wealth enjoyed in the next life....as "then he shall reward every man according to his works" (Matt. 16:27)....or consider the response of the master to the servants in Luke 19....etc.

There are so many angles to all of these issues that it's great to have more people in the discussion....so welcome!



I really appreciate your post Michael, my problem is time but whenever possible I'll be in the loop adding my 2 cents and learning from you guys.

I agree with yo, Michael and Luke's target of transformation of heart and mind especially of the wealthy. My addition is just mainly that this transformation should lead to practical solutions, {and if for those of us that serve in the economic spheres of society} policies that result in "good news" for the poor. I also agree that we must have to give and therefore wealth creation is vital. Let me also quickly add that some of the highest praise in scripture is reserved for those who gave out of little. This kingdom ethic is no doubt salvic for both the rich and the poor.

finally i would luv to hear your thoughts on the Jubilee Manfiesto.

Brad, thanks for further expanding. I too know what it means to grow up in great need in a southern developing country. I suspect the sovereignty question is broader than the scope of this post and gets into questions on evil and God's justice. So my intention was to debate that as much {though that my be exciting for the future :)} as to talk about the eschatological hope and the kingdom fully coming. Would you agree that saying there are difference in our reward is not the same as saying the plight of poverty will persist for evermore?



oops...Sorry Brad- that should of been "my intention was NOT to debate that..."

Brad Cooper


I absolutely agree. And I think that a very integral part of bringing Christ's kingdom to earth in the here and now...is to eliminate poverty whereever we can.....That's why I love what Michael's doing here. I want to learn as much about it as I can and hope to contribute whatever little I can.

Now that I am distancing myself from the poverty level, I have been looking at different ministries--trying to evaluate which ones I think are doing the best job of alleviating poverty while at the same time effectively sharing the gospel message. (That might be a topic for discussion sometime, Michael.....)

Although we have always looked for ways to help those in need (even while are own situation was difficult) and have participated in ongoing sponsoring of a child in Honduras (etc., etc.), now I am looking to expand that effort.

Anyways....I think I'm rambling a little....I really appreciate your comments and the spirit in which you bring them.



I have been looking again at the parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21). The rich man’s land produced good crops, but he did not acknowledge the blessing of God. He saw everything in terms of himself. God gave, but he took. He stored his surplus up for himself so that he could eat drink and be merry. His only objective was to use what God had given him for himself. This was a totally self centred life.

The rich man could have turned his wealth into capital. He could have used the surplus to build a business that would benefit other people. He could have given to the poor, but he chose to sore his wealth in barns. This decision made his wealth unproductive. God had given him an enormous opportunity, but he buried it in his barns, where it would only benefit himself. His wealth would make no contribution to society or to the kingdom of God. By storing his wealth for himself, he effectively transformed his capital into a stock of consumer goods.

We can be rich toward God by using our wealth as capital to produce things for society. Or we can give to the poor and help them to be more productive.

I also note that in Luke 12:33, the word in “give alms” is derived from eleos”, which means mercy. In this text, giving to the poor is about showing mercy, not establishing justice.

Brad Cooper


Good stuff! I like the note about mercy in Lk. 12:33. Excellent.

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