The hypothetical rich man of Luke 16 must have been a landowner, as were virtually all wealthy persons in ancient times. As such, his income would have been mostly seasonal, although his revenues would be prudently diversified. A typical portfolio of holdings might include farms, orchards, vineyards, townhouses, tenements, workshops and/or commissioned contracts. At some times he may also have been collecting interest on some number of small personal loans, most likely to wealthy friends or even to the town itself.
So in reading Luke 16, just to begin with, we must understand that something like this is what would have been typical.
Even more than diversified holdings, the wealthy stayed wealthy by nurturing profitable relationships. Yes, rent fees can stay up when crops are down. Yes, produce, livestock and grain are not often going to have equally bad years. But diverse circumstances aren't always a hedge against worsening circumstances. The best insurance against all possible ill fortune was being able to call in some favors from a collection of wealthy friends.
One wealthy friend having a good year might decide to pay back their loans in full. If you’re also having a good year, forgiving some of their interest amounts to another investment. Perhaps when you have a bad year they’ll remember your kindness and loan some of their wealth to you.
Common folks don’t understand this kind of long term personal account keeping. Common folks rely solely on masters and kin. The middle class (including career educators today - or, in the ancient world, merchants) don’t understand this. Middle class folks are self made individualists.
Understanding the mindset of the wealthy requires growing up wealthy, spending time with or studying them. Wealthy people invest primarily in one another. That’s the best strategy in their ‘world’ – which, in ancient times, was a much smaller percent of the population, but one that shared the same mindset as the wealthy today.
So – to sum up so far – there are two major factors involved in sustaining and growing significant wealth. A rich man relies on (1) diversified holdings and (2) nurturing profitable relationships. But within that second category, the next level of value – just beneath doing and owing favors for wealthy friends – was employing reliable managers.
Thus, the first key to understanding Luke 16 is that the rich man desperately needed a competent manager. We will see in more detail why this mattered so much, in the next post.
To be continued…
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