Humph. This is usually the term associated with a person getting upset at what has been said or done to them. It is usually at this point that the person who is upset will turn their back, cross their arms and stick their nose up, trying to look as dignified as possible. Take that picture and apply it to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. This is exactly what happens in Luke 16.14. Jesus drops the bomb in v.13: “You cannot serve both God and money.” It is a simple statement of reality – God must rank first and have unrivaled devotion. Otherwise, he is not really God of your life. Luke tells us that the Pharisees overhear this and that they, being “lovers of money,” began to ridicule Jesus for what they heard. Literally, the Greek says they turned their noses up in derision at Jesus. “Humph!” You can almost hear their exasperation.
Ridicule and Reply
Jesus doesn’t leave them to pout and point fingers; he answers their ridicule head on. Note this: not all ridiculers need to be addressed, but there are some who need to be straightened up. And Jesus does this. Now when you read his response in v.15, perhaps you wonder, “Where is the love, Jesus?” Or “Aren’t you being a little judgmental, Jesus?” The answer is that in every sinngle word there is love. It takes incredible love to even speak the truth to someone. Boldness, yes, but love as well. If you really love someone, it will be that love that will stimulate you to tell them truth about their current situation. And this is what Jesus does.
He tells them first that they are seeking justification for their attitudes and actions from the wrong place. The Pharisees sought to be justified in the eyes of men, rather than God. And even if they were getting away with this kind of behavior, God knew what was within them. Here is the omniscience of God; he knows even our very soul, the thoughts we have. He knew the greed in the hearts of these Pharisees; he knows the moral filth we may hide in our hearts. No one should think that anyone is going to escape the judgment of God, even yourself. God will not be mocked by men. He knows who is on the throne of every human heart. Consider how terrifying this would be to the Pharisees.
But also, Jesus says that in the eyes of God, what men exalt is an abomination. This is especially true when men try to exalt themselves. Think of the Tower of Babel. Man wanted to be tops and God had taken a back seat. Because of this, God confused their langauge and their abomination came to a grinding halt. Jesus is driving at the heart of matter (as he always does) which is the heart of men. Men have the wrong priorities and purposes. We need to reevaluate ourselves constantly to ensure that our purposes are in line with the purposes of God in everything. God knows all our hearts – are they right with Him?
Law and Prophets
In v.16, Jesus explains that the Old Testament (The Law and the Prophets) was “until John.” The Greek has no verb here and therefore one must be supplied. The New English Bible (NEB) explains why it inserts “in force” in this verse: “The transitional nature of this verse, however, seems to call for something more like “in effect” (NRSV) or, as used here, “in force.” Further, Greek generally can omit one of two kinds of verbs – either the equative verb or one that is already mentioned in the preceding context.” Hence, the verse reads, “The Law and the prophets were in force until John.” I think this is a fair translation based on the explanation, especially when you consider the rest of the verse: “Since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached.” With the announcement of the kingdom, the old law is nigh unto passing away. Indeed, this is how the Hebrew presents the old covenant (see Hebrews 8.13) – it is “ready to vanish away.” So there is a changing of the guard, so to speak, as the kingdom begins to take root in the hearts of men and the Law and the prophets begins to vanish away.
Jesus says, “Everyone forces his way into it.” People were hungry for this good news, having been subject to the oppressive burden of the Pharisees. But as Jesus has said elsewhere in parables there is room for all (see 14.15-24). Unfortunately too many have to come to view the good news of the kingdom as, well, just news. Too many have a “ho-hum” approach to the kingdom and their spiritual passion wanes. Even in the kingdom there are those who view the kingdom too flipantly. It still is good news! Everyone ought to still be pressing their way into the kingdom.
Jesus explains the gravity of his teaching on the kingdom in v.17: “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.” While Jesus is speaking, some there may hear him and think the Law was over and done with. In fact, Jesus clears up the situation by saying the Law will be fulfilled to the smallest stroke of a pen (Gk. mian keraian, one point). This is the “tittle” of the KJV (Tittle actually comes from the Latin, though). Moffat translates this as “comma.” In fact, it is just a small mark in the Hebrew and/or Greek language. But altering even that tiny mark is equated with tearing apart the galaxy. It is easier for the universe to cease to exist than for the Law to “become void.”
Divorce and Remarriage
And as soon as Jesus finishes this discourse over the Law with the Pharisees, he picks up a discussion on divorce and remarriage. What!? Where did this come from, Jesus? Well, I think this is more of an illustration of what he has been talking about. Jesus is pointing to a point of interpretation of the Law that seems to have been a common perception in Jesus’ time. And what a point to bring up! He shows them how severely mistaken they are in their understanding of divorce. The Pharisees had a low view of marriage and a “ho-hum” attitude of divorce. Jesus teaches us that marriage was to be a life-long commitment and that divorce was merely a provision for hard hearts (see Matt 19.1-9). Here in Luke 16.18, Jesus shows them just how intense the Law is – a man divorcing his wife and remarrying is adultery. See the Jews thought a woman divorcing her husband was adultery and a man divorcing was no big deal. Jesus says the man is just as guilty. He is showing the Pharisees that they are way off when it comes to the Law. Whether it is divorce or money, they are off. Jesus is trying to get them to view the Law even as God views the Law whether it is on an issue like money or marriage.
Much more about divorce and remarriage could be said, but that is for another time. The point of this statement in this context is to point out the lax views of the Pharisees when it comes to the Law. They had literally justified their actions using the Law of God. How often do we do the same? We use the Word of God to justify our vices and actions. We twist Scripture so terribly that it becomes nothing more than a mangled mess resembling nothing like its original meaning. We jump through theological hoops to get to where want to be. We are all guilty of doing this. It is a time for renewed honesty. Not just any honesty, but biblical honesty. Scripture says what it says. We either accept it or we don’t. When we don’t, that is when we get in trouble. It is the same offense the Pharisees were guilty of.