Your Friday Firestorm #21

And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.

(Luke 16:9)



  1. Matthew 10:16

    “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”

    But I don’t see any reference to squirrels.

  2. Mark, I’m anticipating a lively response.

  3. Be friends with your capitalist neighbors.

  4. So Jesus knows sarcasm, right? I think the interpretation comes in verse 13:

    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.

  5. Jesus and sarcasm, eh? And yet there are other interpretations here, I think.

  6. Steve, there are always other interpretations, right? But in this case, they’re all pretty unlikely, I think, given the immediately following set of statements.

  7. I see this as a reminder that if we have true integrity, it is represented in both our secular lives as well as our spiritual lives. If we are not honest in our worldly business dealings, then how are we to be trusted in the realm of church callings & responsibilities?

    That’s how I have long read this particular passage in context.

  8. Jesus said “love everyone, treat them, kindly too.” When your heart is filled with love, others will love you. Though your motivation shouldn’t really be only to ensure you are loved by others, I think it is just a natural by-product.

    Capitalism is of satan.

  9. anothernonymous says:

    The modern application is obvious: buy sin stocks.

  10. Capitalism is not much more than private property rights and enforcement of contracts. Which of those should we get rid of first?

  11. I find the rest of it much more bizzare.

  12. Capitalism is not much more than private property rights and enforcement of contracts. Which of those should we get rid of first?

    Both. Immediately.

  13. kevinf, if you read the whole passage, it’s actually one in which Jesus praises a dishonest man. So this can’t really be about integrity in our economic lives, can it?

  14. 12 – and replace with what?

  15. StillConfused says:

    Is Patrick serious? (#12) I surely hope not.

  16. A: If you pay me $100 a month, I will compensate you for your loss if your house burns down.

    B: Sounds good. Where do I sign?

    years later: house burns down

    B: Would you please send me a check for my loss?

    A: No dice.

    What then?

  17. JNS,

    Couldn’t get that one by you, I guess. No, as I read it, he had been slothful in his duties as steward, got called on it, and did some finagling to get his master some return, but also bought off his creditors by forgiving some of their debts.

    The key for me is in verse 10:

    10 He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.

    We should also note that it is his “lord”, not the Lord, who commends him in the parable. Kind of saying that nothing commends his service with his master as much as his manner of leaving.

    But verse in 10, the Lord does say that if we are not faithful in the least of things, how can we be expected to be faithful in important things?

  18. 16- Cuba, Soviet Union, to name two sterling examples.

  19. Here’s the whole story in a better translation than the KJV (the NRSV, in particular):

    Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 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.”

    kevinf, it seems clear, when reading the whole passage, that the property manager isn’t renegotiating debts to make sure his master got some value in return. Instead, he’s forgiving part of those debts without permission so that the debtors will be friendly to him when he’s homeless. So it’s pure, selfish dishonesty.

    But the interpretive passage after the parable makes explicit that the wealth was dishonestly used, and that what we’re to do is to be honest regardless of whether we are dealing with material wealth or spiritual wealth. The final sentence suggests that honesty with respect to material wealth involves not serving it. So the firestorm passage here is just the last line in a sarcastic parable that teaches us how not to behave.

  20. Jacob M., My impression was that we were discussing economic theories, not pointing to extreme examples of where a particular approach has failed.

    Using your logic, 90% of Latin American countries are demonstrable evidence that Capitalism sucks.

  21. J. Nelson-Seawright –

    How aboutthis?

  22. 21 – Only if you conclude that the problem with Latin American countries is tied to the fundamental theories of capitalism. I’m not as convinced, but it would take too long to explain why.

    By the way, I’m not the biggest fan of big business, or anything like that. I think the problems of the world have much more to do with human selfishness, which can happen in any economic theory when you put it into practice. No matter what type of government or economic system you have, evil tends to prosper.

  23. JNS,

    The NSRV, that’s harsh. Much more negative than the KJV. Talmage’s take is closer to what I had read into it previously, and I suspect that is where I had gotten my sense of the scripture.

    In the parable, his master (lord) does commend him, even though it is at his expense. The Lord (Jesus) does appear to be using hyperbole at best if not outright sarcasm. No endorsement of the dishonest practice is expressed or implied, and past results are no indication of future performance.

    Perhaps the message is that we’re all slackers, much more concerned about our worldly status than our eternal status. But I’m more inclined to a benevolent socialism than Marxism. :)

  24. The only thing really wrong with Marxism is the advocacy of violent overthrow of existing arrangements. Get rid of that, and one is not really talking Marxism anymore, but more likely some sort of democratic welfare state on steroids, i.e. plain vanilla state socialism. There are plenty of examples in Europe.

  25. 25 – with their incredibly high unemployment rates, particularly for foreigners. Still not good examples.

  26. Eric Russell says:

    St. Luke was a cowboy.

  27. Patrick and others:

    Although it seems clear that Jesus Christ wishes each of us to care about the welfare of our fellow humans and to strive for a society that provides for the less fortunate, it seems a stretch to say that the principles of private property or contract law should be abolished. I find it doubtful that Jesus taught any such thing or that it would be a wise course of action. All experience with such experiments have ended in failure because the abolition of private property and contract does not compliment human nature or the nature of a world in which we live by the sweat of our brow. It seems that a more constructive approach is to explore ways in which to utilize and regulate the capitalist system such that private property and contract are preserved while at the same time providing for those who are suffering.

    I have previously given some thought at ABEV as to whether notions of private property are in the Bible or are biblical (watch for the threadjack comment by ed enochs). I’d be interested in people’s views on my thoughts over at ABEV but my belief so far is that God is not against private property rights or contract law.

  28. er, in # 28 that should be “complement human nature” not “compliment human nature”.

  29. Jacob M. #22, yeah, Talmage picked up a common apologetic for this verse at the time. But it doesn’t really fit the passage. In particular, Talmage assumes that the manager had the right to arbitrarily reduce the debts in question. The passage actually emphasizes the furtiveness of these transactions — ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty’ — implying that the transaction is illicit. So the manager’s actions are fundamentally dishonest, pace Talmage, and there’s no charity to praise here. Moreover, in the better translation, it seems that Christ is condemning dishonesty and service of wealth, not praising shrewdness.

    kevinf, I agree: this is sarcasm, pure and simple.

  30. I think irony might be a better word for it.

  31. Sounds like Luke was selling insurance.

  32. The previous chapter in Luke ends with the parable of the Prodigal son. There is nothing to indicate that this is a different sermon (though it definitely could be.) If it’s not a different sermon, what does it point to? The parable of the Prodigal son (and the lost sheep and coin), were given as a response to the Pharisees’ complaining about the prostitutes, tax collectors, and other homeless bums that Jesus hung out with. This elucidates kevinf’s point about us being slackers in our relationships to others.

  33. I had a longer argument that I cut down for #33. Oops. I do think there is a connection between the two parables, but I can’t seem to get the words down on the computer. Help me out, if you can.

  34. JNS (#6),

    But in this case, they’re all pretty unlikely, I think, given the immediately following set of statements.

    Why are you trying to force consistency into the text? Why not just assume Jesus contradicts himself within a few verses? Seriously.

  35. And Jacob J shows that sarcasm is not lost on him.

    Marxism without violent overthrow is anarchism, properly understood, a completely voluntary communal living arrangement with no central government. It was tried briefly in Spain and there are those who claim that it made the nation states of Europe so nervous that it was the “real” motivation behind World War One. It may or may not have anything to do with the scripture, but I think its a fascinating history.

  36. StillConfused says:

    I don’t understand the anti-capitalism tone here. What do you that are promoting anti-capitalism do for a living? The reason that I am asking is because I haven’t heard anti-capitalism speak since college days… but then again, I work with business owners.

  37. I’m confused…are the squirrels stewards, a divorcing couple, or arguing over property rights? :-)

  38. Squirrels, Marxism, bickering couple, property rights. All we’re missing is the moose.

  39. Thanks, Johnf. Brigham Young did not deed his property to a United Order, arguing no one else could manage his property as well as he. Most of us can manage our own property better than anyone else–and without sacrificing a reasonable chance of aiding our fellows and saving our souls.
    Hats off to you, Steve, for a difficult verse which makes no sense out of context and only a little more in context. Interesting you chose v. 9. Many interpret the Parable of the Unjust Steward to end w/ v. 8, creating a very practical, worldly solution and see 9-13 or 9 alone and then 10-13 as a later addition to make sense of the parable. Potentially misrepresenting continued employment, the steward renegotiates the contracts. Such contracts came in two basic forms, in Palestine the renter agreed to pay X to the master, adding a portion in kind for the steward either on the bill and known to the master or under the table, but still in the normal course of business, and not on the bill. It appears that the original agreements were unfair to the master. The renegotiated agreements may have partially or totally omitted the steward’s share, perhaps righting his obligations to the master and gaining him favor at the same time. Then the master can appear to commend him for his prudence in v. 8. But perhaps he’s still not right with the master and seeks only a new job. We aren’t told and that makes it tough to find the moral. Many think v. 9 does not relate to the parable. Is it really saying we must adopt the ways of the world? Or does it say we must share the mammon to gain a place in heaven? What are the “mammon of unrighteousness?” Are all riches unrighteous or only those acquired unjustly? Is Christ saying to make friends in the world so that when things get rough, they will help you? I leave some questions, but I interpret it with 10-13 and read that riches are to be shared with friends if we are to get to heaven and that we must prove trustworthy with the small things, the mammon, and especially with the things that are not our own, if we are to be trusted with the bigger things eventually.

  40. Molly, mostly I posted it because the majority of my friends are wealthy sinners.

  41. So socialists and marxists are comparable to cockroaches. . . .

  42. Doc,

    I wasn’t being sarcastic. I recently made an argument nearly identical to #6 relative to Moroni 7:40-42 and JNS’s response was that the Mormon contradicts himself in the space of three verses. I am wondering why a different hermeneutic applies here.

  43. #25 Mark and #36, Anarchist roam the land, and yes many of us are mormon. Anarchism and Mormonism are very similar in many aspects.

  44. Anarchists have more faith in me than I do.

  45. Steve Evans says:

    Josh, the firestorms aren’t an advertising bulletin board.

  46. I Apologize then Steve. I’ve seen links here to discussions and ideas on other blogs before. Wasn’t aware of the faux pas. Just thought some would be interested given the mention of political philosophies including anarchism which is widely misunderstood and misaligned. it won’t occur again.


    good point. Im not sure I like the alternative of a negative image of others either though.

  47. kevinf,

    If you’ve got keys to the wayback machine, I know where you can find one…

  48. tosh, no keys; just a decoder ring.

  49. My video is better.

    The intent of the story in v. 1-13 is to convey the idea contained in v. 10-12, namely that one is to be faithful is both material and spiritual things. If one cannot be faithful in material things, then one cannot be faithful in spiritual things.

    An underlying theme of the parable is that the worldly heathen are more wise in their use of material things than natural Israel, the Pharisees in specific per v. 14-15, has been in their use of spiritual things, cf. v. 8, cp. 14:26-33.

    Verse 9 is difficult to understand. The KJV phrases it as a statement, as do many other modern translations. However, the Concordant Literal NT phrases it as a question, and it reads best as such:

    And am I saying to you, Make for yourselves friends with the mammon of injustice, that, whenever it may be defaulting, they should be receiving you into the eonian tabernacle?

    Jesus is including an explanatory rhetorical question to make it clear he is drawing a contrast between the sons of the world and the supposed sons of light in v. 8. His is not telling the sons of light that they should be following a materialistic lifestyle. Jesus provides the answer to this rhetorical question in v. 15 when he attacks the Pharisees for their worldliness, which is an abomination to God. The Pharisees pretend to be sons of light, but are in fact worshipers of mammon per v. 10-11, are are therefore unwise.

  50. Kevin Barney says:

    A few notes to the passage that may be of interest:

    The word mammon is a Graecized form of either Hebrew mamon or Aramaic mamona’, neither of which appears in the OT, but both of which appear in Qumran literature and later targums. It probably derives from the root ‘mn, “be firm,” which becomes that in which one puts one’s trust, which leads to a semantic shift to “money, possessions.”

    The KJV has a second person plural, “when ye fail” (IE “when you die”), under the influence of the Vulgate. This is certainly wrong; it should be third person singular, “when it gives out,” meaning when the money runs out.

    There is a tendency for English readers to read “they may receive you” and take the antecedent to “they” as the “friends” earlier in the v. But in fact the third person plural is indefinite and is used as a substitute for a passive, “you may be received [into heaven].”

    The “everlasting habitations” in Greek is literally “everlasting tents.”

  51. #10

    Capitalism is not much more than private property rights and enforcement of contracts. Which of those should we get rid of first?

    Huh? Whuh?

    Capitalism is far more than mere private property rights and enforcement of contracts. We see those in the old testament.

  52. Loyd’s absolutely right. Capitalism is much more than property rights and contracts. You can have both of those without a system that commoditizes human life, the environment, the future, birth, death, and everything else — which is capitalism.

  53. Who does the commenting here on the left side-bar? The note about Julie’s post as “lowering the righteous hammer” is not only a judgment on the post, but demeaning. Come on guys — get a hold of whoever does the editorial commenting on this blog. Do it fast and knock of that kind of crap.

  54. Steve Evans says:

    Blake, I feel moved to reprove you betimes with sharpness. Calling someone’s post “lowering a righteous hammer” isn’t demeaning, unless you’re interpreting it with some sort of fantasy lens that I cannot control. In other words, you’re wrong. I am trying not to take offense at your mouthing off about a blog where you are neither an admin nor a permablogger, but it’s difficult work.

  55. On a less Steve Evans’y note (I love you, Steve!) — Blake, our links always convey some kind of comment on the linked content. Otherwise why bother with the links? You disagree with the comment in this link. Fine. It’s not your opinion. But why are differences in opinion “demeaning”?

  56. Guys: Did I guess the perp? The comment conveys the message to me that Julie is being self-righteous. If you missed that, then I guess I must have had a different first grade teacher than you. Oh, and Steve, let me see. I guess those of you who are admins or permabloggers are … what? Immuune from questioning? I like fund comments on posts … is really do. But I also like Julie and I saw it and see it as a judgment that isn’t justified and is a bit too far below the belt for my tastes.

    On a bit lit Steve Evans’y note … I like what you guys what for the most part. I’m glad you do it. I wonder why anyone would take the time to blog on such an ephemeral media. But for here’s a Bud for all that you do.

  57. The comment conveys the message to me that Julie is being self-righteous.

    Here’s one vote against your first grade teacher. I thought it was funny and not demeaning. I love the sideblog here. It’s one of my favorite parts of the blog. The best part of BCC is that it goes out of it’s way to be not only Mormon, but funny. And it succeeds. That’s a rare and beautiful thing. Cherish it Blake.

  58. Steve Evans says:

    Blake, the interpretation/judgment is all your imagining, I promise. Enjoying the Bud, however.

  59. Blake,

    I love what you have written elsewhere (assuming you are the same Blake whom I just finished praising on this blog’s venerable step-brother), but I have to agree with MCQ on this one – with a twist. I actually read it as an endorsement of Julie’s post – righteously squashing something with a proper hammer. It’s all perspective, after all is said and done – so maybe first grade teachers are as diverse as we Mormons.

  60. I wish #61 had posted before #60.

  61. StillConfused says:

    I love capitalism. Even with its downfalls, or perceived downfalls, I love capitalism. I love a system that rewards hard work and extra effort. I think our system here in the US could use more capitalism — a tax system that doesn’t punish extra effort; a legal system that is actually good for the environment etc. I think capitalism is a great thing!

  62. This passage in Luke seems clear to me. Verses 1-7 give the story of a man who uses his master’s property (i.e., something that doesn’t belong to him) in order to secure his future. The future he is concerned with is a place to stay when he is out of work. The future that Jesus and his audience are concerned with is acceptance into God’s kingdom.

    Looking at Matthew 6 where we are given the dichotomy between God and mammon, we are told to lay up treasure in heaven (belonging in the “God” category) rather than treasure on earth (the “mammon” category). In Mt. 25, we are taught that those who serve others in real and meaningful ways (feed, clothe, house, etc.) go to heaven and those who don’t go to hell (parable of the sheep and goats). It doesn’t seem a far stretch, as a Mormon, to suppose that the treasure referred to in Matthew 6 may, in part at least, be relationships with others built through service. We do like the idea of eternal relationships and sociality.

    Returning to Luke 16, where we just heard the story of the man who used another’s goods to secure his future, couldn’t the phrase “make friends for yourselves from/out of the mammon of unrighteousness” mean to use the goods we have in this life (actually belonging to God and not us) to build relationships through meaningful service as described in Mt. 25? This, then, would secure a place for us in the “eternal dwellings/tents” (my translations).

    That is, despite the immorality of the manager, couldn’t Jesus be using the example of someone using the wealth of another to make friends to secure a bright future in order to teach us that we need to use the wealth of this world (which, again, belongs to God and not to us) in order to build eternal relationships or “treasure in heaven”? We in this life have no option but to use the property of another, as nothing we have is ours.

    If this interpretation makes sense so far, then the rest of the passage should make perfect sense – especially to LDS.

    “The one faithful in the least thing [i.e. the wealth of this world during this life] is also faithful in that which is great [i.e. the wealth of eternal life and godhood].”

    I’ll give you the rest from the NRSV:

    “If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?

    “And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you that which is your own?”

    I think LDS are peculiarly well situated to understand what “true riches” and “that which is your own” mean in a way that any who does not have anything like our concept of exaltation can’t. It is the everything promised to us in the oath and covenant of the priesthood in section 84.

    Yes, the manager is dishonest, but Jesus may just be teaching us something through him – use what God is lending you for now in order to create eternal friends and secure a place in the celestial kingdom. It’s another look at the same idea taught in the parable of the talents (also in Matthew 25).

    I don’t see anything in this passage about Marxism, capitalism or any other isms. It seems to be about using God’s wealth to make friends (by serving them) now so that we can have true wealth in the eternities including those relationships and everything else that will be given to us as our own.

  63. In the words of Lorne Greene,

    “Forgive me, Mr. President, but they hate us with every fiber of their existence. We love freedom, we love independence, to feel, to question, to resist oppression. To them, it’s an alien way of existing they will never accept.”

  64. Steve Evans says:

    I’ve heard those words before somewhere, Ronan.

  65. The whisperings of the numinous no doubt, young Steve.

  66. Loyd (#53),

    The Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines capitalism as:

    an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, esp. as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.

    By that standard, it sure sounds the prevailing economy in the Old Testament would be considered a form of capitalism if it were practiced today.

  67. I would also add that one thing getting lost in this private property discussion is that within many socialist societies there is a form of private property. It is characterized as usufruct property. In essence you are entitled to the use of the land you live on, improve, etc. This is Adam Smith. The real problem is this jump to allowing individuals to own more than they use (this all gets at that means of production problem that can lead to exploitation). This is where the capitalist problem arises in part.

    As to the relevant scripture, as others have said it seems that Jesus is saying avoid mammon because its like fire and will corrupt you. Remember its about 1 out of 16 verses in the gospels address the poor or money. Not to mention Jesus beginning his ministry by announcing a year of jubilee (Luke 4, acceptable year of the Lord)

    Mark D,

    year of jubilee, no usury, release of debts, injunction to lend even to those who cant repay, etc. would you say those fit in your OT capitalist model?

  68. Joshua M. (#69),

    I said “form of capitalism”. Bankruptcy law is the contemporary form of “release of debts”. We have a large welfare state and tax deductions for private charity. Nonetheless I think the United States is safely within the bounds of a capitalist economy.

  69. I have to agree with #64, and I’d like to thank him for giving me something new to think about, the idea that we exemplify the unjust steward here on earth, in a manner of speaking.

    I’ve always taken the verse to mean that the lord (not Jesus) was commending the steward for preparing for his future, since he was certain to be thrown out. Jesus wanted to contrast how readily the sons of men prepare for their future (the only one they know of) than we do with ours. They are wiser in their generation than the children of light. The children of light know of an eternal future, but how well do we prepare for it in comparison to the sons of men? Work like the devil.

    I then took the “make friends” line to indicate that we should make wise use of our temporal blessings, because they are transitory, but the blessings we accrue from their wise use, will be there forever, to receive us into our everlasting habitations.

%d bloggers like this: