Today I was reading the middle chapters of the Holy Gospel according to Luke. They are some of my favorites. The Gospel of the Prodigal Son was quite a challenge today. I know of that mercy which our Lord described. I have received that mercy which he shows. And yet, even more so today, it seemed like too far a stretch. "This could never happen. If it could happen, the parable is still too much for anyone to imitate. A parable like this can impress people, but can it change people?" These are the thoughts and sentiments. Lord have mercy! For man it is impossible, but not for you!
I move on to the next chapter. Luke Chapter 16 begins and ends with parables about money. The first parable is puzzling, but it can be put into some lesson or other worth appreciating. The second parable is such a caricature of extremes that we are often too comfortable with it. Who of us lives as richly as Dives? Who of us would treat Lazarus, or any homeless person so cruelly? We are all Christian people, and clearly not among the greedy class, right? We all know the lesson of the first parable on money, so we are quite confident that the warnings of the second parable are not directly applicable.
But there are these sayings in between the two parables. Did Jesus really put these lessons between two parables about money? Or did St. Luke just need some plausible place to stick these inspired words?
“The law and the prophets lasted until John; but from then on the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone who enters does so with violence.It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the smallest part of a letter of the law to become invalid.“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
Why on earth are these sayings here? If they are a summary of a tangent which came up in the course of our Lord's teaching, what kind of a tangent was it? He speaks of the violence that accompanied the in-breaking of the kingdom (and the violence of self renunciation needed for those who are entering), and fulfillment of the Law, and the permanence of the marriage covenant. Again, why on earth are these sayings in between two parables which warn against a life of greedy hedonism?
Answer: remember that the parable of Dives and Lazarus is more than just a moralizing picture about greed and punishment. It is more than a warning about the afterlife. It is a prediction of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord. It is a set-up for the greatest punchline of all stories; the true punchline of Christ's victory over death. It is the permanence, the all-conquering nature, of the Resurrection which is where this is all going. There is in fact an eschatological conclusion in the first parable too ("eternal dwellings!").
If the permanence of marriage was a side tangent in an eschatological discourse, we can see it would be a very small side tangent indeed, compared to the permanence of eternity! If the fulfillment of the Law was presented as more important than the upholding of the created cosmos, it was only because the maker of the cosmos was pointing to his eternal triumph as prophesied in the Law. If the beheading of John the Baptist had entered the conversation, it was only because these two parables were proposed to do more violence to the Kingdom of Satan than had ever been seen in the time of John.
What kinds of conversation and teachings our Lord initiated!