When I was a little child I loved playing the game Chutes and Ladders. When I was a seminary student I learned about new game called hooks and echoes. The idea is to look at and listen to a text of scripture long enough to hear any echoes and see any allusions that hook onto other texts. By doing this, one can enjoy more of the sights and sounds of the living and active word of God.
Here’s an example of what I mean.
While listening to and looking at Luke 16, I started to see and hear allusions to 2 Samuel 12 and Psalm 51.
Curiously, Luke inserts Jesus’s teaching about marriage, adultery, and remarriage right before launching into the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:18). Why? At first it seems out of place. However, after a few more looks, one begins to recognize the striking similarities between Luke 16:18-31 and 2 Samuel 12. In light of that, the placement of that teaching makes much more sense.
Let me show you what I mean.
The story Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus reads like the parable Nathan told King David after the king committed adultery with Uriah’s wife. Both stories mention a rich man and a poor man, both mention eating, and both mention mercy and pity.
Nathan’s parable was a creative retelling of the real life story of King David and Uriah. David was the rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and ate and drank extravagantly (2 Sam. 11:8, 13; cp Luke 16:19). Uriah was the poor man who slept in the doorway of the king’s house (2 Sam. 11:8; cp Luke 16:19).
The rich man mistreated and oppressed the poor man to death. David took Uriah’s one and only sheep (wife) and then gave him hell on earth until he perished in war. (2 Sam. 11:13-17)
After Uriah died, David was tormented in his soul and lived in anguish and grief for many years. David received many good things in his lifetime, but Uriah received many evil things. After Uriah died, he was comforted by the Lord, but David was tormented by him. The Lord made his life a living hell (2 Sam. 12:15-31).
Other similarities between Luke 16:18-31 and Psalm 51 (which David composed after Nathan exposed his sinful heart) emerge as well.
In Luke 16, the rich man said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me” (16:24). In Psalm 51, King David sang, “Have mercy on me O God” (51:1).
Jesus charged the Pharisees with having sinful hearts for seeking to justify themselves before men. (Luke 16:15) In Psalm 51 David prayed that God would justify himself and create in David a clean heart and a new spirit (51:4, 10).
In Luke 16, the rich man asks the Father for a drop of water to cool his tongue in the midst of his anguish. (16:24) In Psalm 51, King David (the rich man) prays,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise. (51:14-15)
Also, in Luke 16, the rich man begs the Father to send someone to warn his sinful brothers about judgment and the place of torment — and convince them to repent and return to the Lord. (16:27-31) In Psalm 51, King David hopes God will send him on mission to teach transgressors the word of God and convert sinners to the way of the Lord (51:13).
Finally, Jesus’s story in Luke 16 depicts the mysteries of life after death and mentions resurrection from the dead (16:31). David speaks of the same mysteries after the death of his baby boy (12:23).
Circling back to Jesus’s teaching about marriage, adultery, and remarriage in Luke 16, the Pharisees are David-like adulterers, and yet, unlike David, they are unrepentant. They ridicule the truth and do not delight in God’s law from the heart (Luke 16:14, 15, 18 cp Psalm 51:6, 10).
The Pharisees — who loved money (16:14) — are the rich man and the tax collectors and sinners — whom Jesus welcomed (Luke 15:1-2) — are the poor man.
In consequence, instead of a pleasing burnt offering taking their place at the altar of sacrifice (Psalm 51:16, 17, 19), they will become unpleasing burnt offerings, suffering in the flames in the place of torment — just like the rich man in the story (Luke 16:23-24).
Admittedly, this approach to reading the scriptures is more art than science. Although it is far more serious than any child’s game, it is quite fun to play — especially if you allow yourself to become like a child. Try it for yourself.