Monday, June 20, 2016

Lazarus and the Rich Man parable (part 5): The Characterization of the Pharisees prior to Luke 16:19-31

After Jesus declares that a person cannot serve God and wealth (16:13), the Pharisees scoff at Jesus (literally in Greek: "turned up their noses"). Their murmuring (15:2) has developed into scorn, and, as Johnson notes, they not only reject Jesus' message, they reject him. This term occurs one other place in Luke: in the passion narrative, where the rulers actively scoff at Jesus while he is on the cross (23:35).

The narrator then reinforces Jesus' labeling of the Pharisees by calling the Pharisees "lovers of money" (φιλάργυροι; 16:14). This rare direct definition of the Pharisees builds upon the theme introduced in Luke 11:39-43 (cf. 14:7-24). Two of the three highest voices of authority, then, accuse the Pharisees of rapacity or avarice, and the trait clings to them like barnacles throughout the rest of Luke. Such polemical language also functions literarily to provide an antithesis to the description of the ideal philosopher or teacher, and φιλάργυροι is a term commonly used in Hellenistic literature in polemics against various philosophers (cf. Halvor Moxnes, The Economy of the Kingdom, 4-9, 147; Robert L. Brawley, Luke-Acts and the Jews: Conflict, Apology, and Conciliation, 86).

As we shall see, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus continues this theme. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the rich man in the parable reflects φιλάργυροι, which, in turn, reflects back on the Lukan Pharisees, since they serve as paradigms of those who behave as the rich man behaves.

Jesus participates in this devastating critique of the Pharisees by accusing them of being "those who justify yourselves before human beings" (16:15). Luke 11:39-44 had previously depicted the connection between the Pharisees' rapacity and their greed for public recognition. Jesus' remark about the Pharisees' greed for public honor, then, almost serves as an apodosis to the narrator's protasis about their love of money. The Pharisees' greed and lust for prominence thus become even more closely intertwined.

Jesus also echoes the Lukan reversal theme: Whatever is exalted among human beings is an abomination (βδέλυγμα) before God (16:15). The narrative aside in Luke 7:30 had commented that the Pharisees had "rejected the purpose of God for themselves." Jesus' words here, though, suggest the converse: God does the rejecting. God rejects what is exalted among human beings, and the Pharisees, at this stage of the narrative, are the paradigm of the type of person— like the rich man in the parable—who improperly and rapaciously grasps after such honor.

The next three verses (16:16-18) seem to be present because of the Pharisees' concern for their interpretation of the law. These verses also help clarify Jesus' relationship to the law, as does the last section of the parable (16:27-31). In addition, Luke 16:14-15 is illuminated by the first section of the parable (16:19-26). Thus the connections between these sayings and the parable itself are more extensive than the mere fact that they are all directed to the Pharisees as the primary audience (in the narrative). These connections between the parable and Luke 16:14-16 are also noted by Talbert in Reading Luke (153-9). The Pharisees, of course, are not the only ones indicted by this parable, but in literary terms, they are the narratees at the hypodiegetic level (the ones to whom the parable is directed by the narrative).

The presentation of the Lukan Pharisees draws attention to their opposition to Jesus' ideological point of view: The Pharisees improperly grasp after material goods and honor. This characterization of the dishonorable social behavior of the Pharisees has direct implications for how we interpret the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.


I will begin my discussion of the parable itself in my next post, one of many posts about the interpretation of the parable in Luke before I start talking about its reception history. In reality, however, in those numerous posts we will be examining in detail one of the earliest extant receptions of a parable from Jesus: that of the author of Luke-Acts.

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