We now move into a discussion on Jesus’ parables in Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, by Kenneth E. Bailey. The main purpose of this book is to take a fresh look at the Gospels in the context of Middle Eastern culture. After the introduction to the section, Bailey looks at 11 of Jesus’ parables. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. This is a book I would highly recommend that you add to your library.
Bailey concludes the book with a long section on parables. He sees parables as doing more than "explaining theology." He sees them as "creating theology." Each parable was a "house" that provided "several windows to look out at the world." Our task is to figure out what Jesus wanted his original listeners to understand from the parable as we place it in the context of Jesus' life and witness.
Jesus was a metaphorical theologian. That is, his primary method of creating meaning was through metaphor, simile, parable and dramatic action rather than through logic and reasoning. He created meaning like a dramatist and a poet rather than like a philosopher. Parables Introduction, 279
The Bible for Christians is not just the Word of God. Rather, it is the Word of God spoken through people in history. Those people and that history cannot be ignored without missing the speaker or writer’s intentions and creating our own substitutes for them. Historical interpretation is the key to unlocking the vault that contains the gold of theological meaning. Parables Introduction, 281
Simply stated, our task is to stand at the back of the audience around Jesus and listen to what he is saying to them. Only through that discipline can we discover what he is saying to any age, including our own. Authentic simplicity can be found the other side of complexity. Parables Introduction, 283
Bailey begins the section on parables with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It is set in the middle of a dialog between Jesus and a hostile Jewish law expert. Bailey's point is that the two questions the lawyer asks are bad questions. One does not do something to inherit something. Eternal life is a gift from God to His children. Secondly the correct question is not, "who is my neighbor," but, "To whom can I be a neighbor." Jesus answers this one with, "to whoever is in need around you." Ultimately Jesus is the Good Samaritan who provided for our need, with great sacrifice, on the cross.
Love that fails to give money as charity or as alms is common in the world, but heartfelt love that is free from the seeking of praise or honor and which is willing to endure distress, suffering and loss, in the path of good works, such as is set forth in this parable, is extraordinarily rare. (Quoting Ibn al-Tayyib), Luke 10.25.37, 295
The lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” is not answered. Instead, Jesus reflects on the larger question, “To whom must I become a neighbor?” The answer being: Anyone in need. At great cost, the Samaritan became a neighbor to the wounded man. The neighbor is the Samaritan, not the wounded man. Luke 10.25.37, 296
On hearing the story the lawyer has a chance to see that he cannot justify himself (that is, earn eternal life), because what he is challenged to do is beyond his capacity. At the same time he and all readers of the parable, since its creation, are given a noble ethical model to imitate. Luke 10.25.37, 297
The Parable of the Rich Fool, Luke 12.13-21
In this parable Jesus shows the folly of thinking that your possessions belong to you, instead of to God. We are all accountable to God for every penny we spend. So even though the petitioners request to Jesus may have been just, Jesus rebukes him for the greedy attitude by which he sought justice. Life is not about making ourselves comfortable, but about service to God and others.
If we acknowledge the God of the Bible, we are committed to struggle for justice in society. Justice means giving to each his due. Our problem, as seen in the light of the gospel, is that each of us overestimates what is due him compared with what is due to his neighbor. If I do not acknowledge a justice which judges the justice for which I fight, I am an agent, not of justice, but of lawless tyranny. Luke 12.13-21, 301
Ambrose, the fourth-century Latin theologian, astutely observes, “The things that we cannot take away with us are not ours.… Compassion alone follows us.” Augustine, of North Africa, Ambrose’s student, writes, “He did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns.” Luke 12.13-21, 304
A naked cry for justice, unqualified by any self-criticism, is not heeded by Jesus...Jesus is concerned for needs, not simply earnings. Here a self-centered cry for justice is understood by Jesus to be a symptom of a sickness. He refuses to answer the cry but rather strives to heal the condition that produced the cry. Luke 12.13-21, 307