Friday, November 11, 2016

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes–Parables of Jesus #3

38d2ea28-d0b8-4953-b962-1b9a41648f0b_1.521799f19899b1e8b6f68e4eef180b97This is the third of four discussions 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. Here we will look at three more parables from the Gospel of Luke. 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.

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector Luke 18.9-14

Bailey sees this parable as a "brilliant update" of the prophetic sermon in Isaiah 66. The point is that righteousness (right standing with God in relationship) is a gift that is only received through God providing atonement to which the response is worship and striving to live a life pleasing to the God who graciously accepts us. Thus, self-righteousness is the most dangerous barrier to real righteousness before God.

In the popular mind, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is a simple story about prayer. One man prays an arrogant prayer and is blamed for his attitudes. The other prays humbly and is praised for so doing. Too often the unconscious response becomes, Thank God, we’re not like that Pharisee! But such a reaction demonstrates that we are indeed like him! 343

Going down from the temple, the Pharisee is downgraded from “the Pharisee” and is referred to dismissively, as “that one.” One man goes to the temple for worship confident that his pious achievements guarantee his status as one of the righteous. The tax collector, who feels that the lamb could not possibly have atoned for his sins, is the one whom Jesus pronounces justified/accepted in God’s presence. Luke 18.9-14, 349–350

Sin for Jesus is not primarily a broken law but a broken relationship. The tax collector yearns to accept the gift of God’s justification, while the Pharisee feels he has already earned it. Luke 18.9-14, 350

The Parable of the Compassionate Employer Matthew 20.1-16

The emphasis in this parable is on the owner of the vineyard, who represents God. It presents God as a compassionate master who gets involved in the lives of needy people and helps them to become what they need to become. The master comes to hire throughout the day because he cares for the dignity of the men who want to work and do not get hired. He pays a full days wage to all the workers because he is generous. The workers who view the relationship as contractual are angry at this generosity. Again the challenge to us is to be thankful for God's grace rather than seeing God's blessings as earned.

This parable presents the overpaid, not the underpaid. The story focuses on an equation filled with amazing grace, which is resented by those who feel that they have earned their way to more.  Matthew 20.1-16, 360

The master’s compassionate response is a model for all. He finds a way to respect the dignity of the workers, encourages rather than short-circuits their self-reliance and sees that their basic needs are met. He offers a hand up not a handout, and he tries deliberately to educate the entire workforce in these matters. Matthew 20.1-16, 362

Against the expectations of his class, the master in this parable does not remain aloof. His compassion leads him to go to the hurting himself and thereby incarnate his deep concern as he demonstrates costly love to the “poor.” Jesus is describing his own ministry. Bethlehem and Jerusalem join hands. Incarnation and atonement kiss each other. Self-giving takes on the form of offers of costly love. Matthew 20.1-16, 363

The Parable of the Serving Master Luke 12.35-38

Bailey sees the point of this parable as God, the master, graciously shares with his faithful and obedient servants from the luxurious food served at His kingdom banquet. It is very unlike the way a master in the culture would have acted and it goes against the popular view of God. The picture of the slaves reclining and the master serving is the picture of a loving gracious God who "washes the feet" of His people. If the character of God is to be a servant, how much more should we be focused on service. 

Servants/slaves who have lamps lit, robes duly belted and are awake, eagerly expecting the arrival of the master, are already filled with the blessing of God and are a blessed presence in the household. The way they act is an expression of who they are, not an attempt to earn something they do not have. Luke 12.35, 372

This is where the slave ceases to be a slave and becomes a partner in love and a partner in glory. This is where those who are loved sit at the table of the one who loves. This is where one who loves is girded with glory and he sits and feeds them from his own body and gives them to drink from his cup. This is the fulfillment of a true promise given by the savior as a covenant which he resolutely took upon himself when he said, “I will not eat from this Passover meal except in the kingdom.” This is where he shares with us his joy and his glory. The Christ fulfills this when he wills and chooses, and it is his pleasure to complete this in a sacramental mystery with those who stay awake, those whom the world has rejected and repudiated. Luke 12.35-38, 373

In the parable the messianic wedding banquet is in progress. Our Master will leave that banquet and return to us at the time of his choosing. We expectantly await his coming. He will bring a portion of the banquet with him and serve it to us himself. Participation in this drama, that began with the ministry of Jesus and stretches to our death and to the eschaton, creates meaning and identity. This is who we are. Luke 12.35-38, 377

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