Luke Overlooked

Dr. Luke shows special concern for the poor, the oppressed, and the plight of women. He alone carefully checks out the facts with Elizabeth and Mary concerning the birth of their sons, John the Baptist and Jesus (Luke 1:26-58).

He alone reports concerning the women who followed Jesus and supported him out of their own means (Luke 8:3). He alone reports of the poor man Lazarus who eventually rests in Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:19-31). He alone calls attention to the poor widow’s two small copper coins donated to the temple treasury (Luke 21:2).

But overlooked is Luke’s parallel concern for the indulgence of the rich. Only Luke relates Jesus’ parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21). In Acts Luke first presents Herod in his royal robes. The next moment the splendid monarch lies dead before his aweing audience because he glorified himself and failed to give God the glory (Acts 12:21-23).

One overlooked phrase in Luke’s gospel underscores his (and Jesus’) repulsion at the indulgence of the rich. In contrast with the rugged dress of John the Baptist, the rich live splendidly. “Behold!” says Jesus as he calls for the special attention of his hearers. “Those who wear expensive clothing and indulge in luxury” live in palaces (Luke 7:25 NIV). Other translations render the same phrase as referring to those who “ dress luxuriously and live sumptuously" (NAB) or those who are “gorgeously appareled” (KJV). Matthew’s parallel account refers simply to those who wear “soft” clothing (Matt. 11:8). But Luke underscores the self-indulgence of these people.

The point, of course, is not to roundly condemn the rich. Abraham had a personal militia of 318 men trained in his household. Job was the wealthiest man in the east, and twice as wealthy after his recovery. Solomon and Joseph of Arimathea were both wealthy people. Luke’s point is not to condemn the rich for being rich, but to underscore the sin of self-indulgence often manifested among the rich. Dressing luxuriously and living sumptuously in self-indulgence fails to reckon with the final accounts that God the Judge will require of all people, whether rich or poor.

Returning to the culture of wealth in the USA after 27 years of living in the midst of genuine poverty in sub-Saharan Africa cannot fail to alert the conscience of the sin of self-indulgence. Luke’s particular warnings of the dangers of self-indulgence must not be overlooked. These warnings must always be conscientiously considered alongside his special observations regarding the plight of the poor.