The "Sons of this World" - Luke 16.1-8

You’ll need to have a Bible and start in Luke 15.1 and follow on into chapter 16 (or open this link up in a separate window).

Sons of this World
Luke 16.1-8

The Back Story
We must start clear back in Luke 15.1-3. There we quickly see the situation and the purpose of this section; “tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear” Jesus (1). This irked the religious elitists, the Pharisees and scribes, who whined that “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (2). That whine is a beautiful statement in itself, though it was meant to be demeaning and dismissive. Because of that statement Jesus tells three stories “to them” (3), to the Pharisees and scribes.

The first is the story of the lost sheep, where the shepherd leaves behind the 99 and searches out the one who is lost. When he finds it, there is great joy and rejoicing, a celebration. “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (7). The repentant sinner in the story is the tax collectors and the “sinners” that had drawn near to hear Jesus. The righteous are the self-righteous religious elitists who don’t think they need any saving or any repenting because they think they’ve got their act together, just ask them!

The second story is about the woman who lost her coin. She hunts hard for that lost coin, and on finding it she too throws a celebratory party. “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (10). Again, the “sinner who repents” is the tax collectors and “sinners” gathering in Jesus’ presence.

The third story is about the two lost brothers. The prodigal son (the tax collectors and sinners) comes to himself (17) and returns to the father and finds that he is received, loved, cleaned up, clothed, cherished and celebrated over, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate” (24). But the other son is the stubbornly self-righteous, the holier-than-thou, the “I don’t need saving” son who remains on the front porch where it’s dark, outside from the celebration and outside the father’s fellowship – thus here are the religious elitists, the Pharisees being invited in.

So these three stories are being told to the Pharisees showing why Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners.

The Punch Line
Now look past the chapter break and you will see that in 16.1-8 Jesus is still talking about why he eats with tax collectors and sinners. But here he turns to tell this story to his disciples, “he also said to his disciples” (16.1). Then he weaves a story about a plantation manager (or something like that) who has fallen short of his position, mismanaging his employer’s possessions (1). Seeing that charges rightly stood over him and he was about to receive his just reward, he immediately moves into action, shrewdly making deals and recouping what was being wasted. In other words, he starts acting like the diligent manager he was supposed to be all along. 

This story is not about business practices, but about these tax collectors and sinners who have squandered their lives away, by being less than what God created them to be, but have now come to be with and hear Jesus, while the religious elitists stand at a distance and refuse to come to Jesus. So the punch line pops out with surprising brilliance (at least it was surprising for me!): “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (8). Who are the “sons of this world”? It’s the tax collectors and sinners who have now, later in life, come to their senses and by coming to Jesus are turning the corner. They are “dealing more shrewdly with their own generation” by embracing something of who Jesus is and flocking to him in droves. Whereas the “sons of light” are the religious elitists who seem to think they can hold Jesus at arm’s length, judging him self-righteously, not discerning the times and who this Jesus is. The sons of light don’t see their predicament that they too are like the manager wasting his employer’s possessions.

To wrap it up, Jesus tells four stories that explain what he’s up too in eating with “sinners” and defining the perilous position of the religious elitists.
  • ·        Jesus is the searching shepherd and the woman rifling her house looking for what is lost. In Jesus, God the Father is the father who sees these tax collectors and sinners far away, has compassion on them, runs to them receives them, loves, cleans up, clothes, cherishes and celebrates over them.
  • ·        The lost sheep, lost coin, prodigal son, and dishonest manager are the tax collectors and sinners who have come to Jesus to hear him and so are found, who come to themselves and return to the father, who have lately “shaped up”, if you will, realizing that legitimate charges justly hang over their heads and they turn the corner by coming to Jesus. These are they who were dead are alive again, who were lost and now are found!
  • ·        The Pharisees and scribes are the 99 sheep who think they have it all together, the “righteous who need no repentance”; the stubborn son who is left on the front porch in the dark where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, the “sons of light” who are not recognizing the moment and are being raced past by the sinners and tax collectors.

In all of these stories Jesus is not only defending his reason for what he is doing, “receiving and eating with sinners”, but he is also putting the Pharisees and scribes on notice that their situation is precarious and perilous and he is opening the door for them to recognize that they too are lost, outside, and in need of “drawing near to hear” Jesus, just like the tax collectors and sinners.
  • ·        If you have walked away from the Christian Faith, or have never been a Christian, these stories encourage you to come. It’s not too late; “Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, Weak and wounded, sick and sore; Jesus ready stands to save you, Full of pity, love and power” (Trinity Hymnal, rev. ed., Hymn 472).
  • ·        If you feel satisfied and pleased with yourself, that you’ve got it all together, that you’re better than “those people,” whether you are a church-going person or you hold yourself apart from church because it’s full of hypocrites, hear what Jesus is saying to you. You are still out on the porch, in the dark. You are one of the 99 (self-)righteous, one of the “sons of light” who are missing the point and missing the moment. But the doors still stands open for you. You too need to “draw near to hear him” (15.1).
  • ·        The next time you come to the Lord’s Supper, remember Luke 15.1-2, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Think on this statement, relish the fellowship, savor the fact that Jesus knows who you are, knows what you’ve done and said, knows you better than your wife/husband/mom/dad does, and yet has sought you, and in him the Father has had compassion on you, run to you, received you, loved, cleaned up, clothed, cherished and celebrates over you! Cherish the fact that just as you receive the bread and wine so Jesus receives you and eats with you!



Thanks, Mike. That story always puzzled me. – Ash
Dad said…
Amen! This does NOT stink! I enjoy your posts (and have even reposted a few). Keep it up Mike.
Amen. Thank you for posting
S. T. said…
Amen. Love the Supper every week at CtK in Norman! :)

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