Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Real "First Temple"

The following is a synopsis of some similarities between the Garden of Eden and the Creation, as well as the Tabernacle Temple in the wilderness.

The Garden of Eden was the time, place and space created by God in which man was to encounter Him, and walk with Him and with each other, in unity, on a daily basis.

The environment He created within the Garden of Eden was specifically designed so as to promote and enhance that encounter. In essence, the Garden of Eden was, in fact, the "First Temple."

Genesis 2:15
And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress (Strong's H5647) it and to keep (Strong's H8104) it.

In the Garden, man's responsibilities were to dress the garden - abad, and keep the garden - shemar.

The activities of the Priests and Levites in the Temple are also referred to as abad and shemar (Numbers 8:26, Joshua 22:27, Isaiah 19:21, etc...).

In the Garden, the voice of God was halak (Strong's # 1980) "moving about" (Genesis 3:8).

The same word halak is also used to describe God's presence in the Temple (Leviticus 26:11-12).

On the larger scale, the completion of the Tabernacle prepared by Moses also has a striking resemblance to the description of the completion of the universe:

Genesis 1:31 -- And God saw all that he had made and behold it was very good.
Exodus 39:43 -- Moses saw all the skilled work and behold they had done it; as God had commanded it they had done it.

Genesis 2:1 -- The heavens and earth and all of their array were completed.
Exodus 39:32 -- All the work of the Tabernacle of the Tent meeting was completed.

Genesis 2:2 -- And God completed all the work that He had done.
Exodus 40:33 -- And Moses completed his work.

Genesis 2:3 -- And God blessed
Exodus 39:43 -- And Moses blessed

Genesis 2:3 -- And sanctified it
Exodus 40:9 -- And you shall sanctify it and all its vessels.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Stringing Pearls part 3

"What was God saying by making use of these quotations? To answer this question, You need to know two things: the context from which each passage is drawn and thew way in which the people of that time understood the passage. Both Psalm 2 and Isaiah 2 were understood as powerful messianic prophecies.

In Psalm 2, God makes a royal proclamation announcing his Son, the king of kings who would rule over the whole earth.

But in Isaiah 42, God speaks about his 'servant' (also understood to be the Messiah). Paradoxically, God's Messiah is both a king and a servant. This passage from Isaiah also proclaims that God's Spirit is upon his servant. How fitting since the Father utters these words as the Spirit descends on Jesus in the Jordan River.

The reference "whom I love" is likely drawn from Genesis 22, one of the most poignant scenes in the Old Testament. Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac out of obedience to God. Genesis heightens the drama by emphasizing how precious Isaac is to Abraham, foreshadowing the Father's own feelings for his only Son.

When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, the Father is saying, " Here is my precious son, my Isaac," hinting at the sacrifice he will soon ask of Jesus.

In just three brief quotes from the scriptures, God speaks of Jesus as a king, a servant, and his Son, who will become a sacrifice. When God speaks, he packs a lot into his words! And be sure to notice where these three passages come from: the Torah (Genesis 22), the Prophets (Isaiah 42), and the Psalms (Psalm 2)*. ...God links together words from the three parts of Scripture. By quoting all three, he is proclaiming that the entire scriptures point to Jesus as their fulfillment."

[ *Donna Note: The Jews divide the Old Testament into three parts Torah= The first 5 books of Moses known as The Law (these hold the most weight); the Prophets (in Hebrew, the Neviim) and the Writings (In Hebrew, the Ketuva). These form the acronym for the entire Old Testament The TaNaK (pronounced as tuh-knock).

Matt. 22:40 and many other places have an example of this: "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Whenever Jesus says, "Is it not written?" he is always referring to scriptures. Sometimes when he says, "Ye have heard" as in Matthew 5:43, he is referring to teachings of others such as the Essenes.]

Happy Memorial Day!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Stringing Pearls part 2

"Believe it or not, God himself seems to enjoy "stringing pearls." Do you remember the scene in which Jesus is baptized by his cousin John? Listen how the father spoke from Heaven at Jesus' baptism (Mark1:11) :"You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

At face value, this seems like a simple, though wonderful, affirmation. But it's so much more than that. Did you catch all the references? If not, here they are:

"You are my Son" is from Psalm 2:7: "He said to me, You are my Son; today I have become your Father."

"whom I love" is from Genesis 22:2: "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."

"with you I am well pleased" is from Isaiah 42:1: "Here is my servant , whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom I delight;I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations."


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Stringing Pearls Part 1

"It is difficult to overestimate the love that the rabbis had for their Bible. On a good day, they would link text after text after text.... This was called "stringing pearls"--bringing together passages from different places in scripture. in order to explore their great truths. [Donna note: In our day, this process is known as using rhetorical links.]

This is how Jesus taught as well. Listen to the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12. These passages are thick with references to Isaiah and the Psalms.

Blessed are the poor in spirit...
Blessed are those who mourn...
Blessed are the meek...

Each of these passages would have reminded the crowd of passages in the Bible in which God had promised to rescue his faithful followers. Jesus was pulling together various scriptures to make one major point: that God is faithful. He cares for us and will bless us if we seek him even when life is painful."


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The "Four Types" Parables

[I really appreciate it when someone tells me about a great book in an subject area I'm interested in. I've thought about an author that many of you would certainly enjoy and this week, I'm going to share some excerpts from one of her books. The author is Lois Tverberg and she co-authored Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus. Enjoy!]

"Consider the following rabbinic parable:

There are four types among those who sit in the presence of the rabbis: the sponge, the funnel, the strainer, and the sieve. "The sponge," which soaks up everything. "The funnel," which takes in at this end and lets out at the other. "The strainer," which lets out the wine and retains the dregs. "The sieve," which removes the chaff and retains the fine flour.

This is what's called a "four types" parable, where four kinds of people are compared in their way of living. It reminds us of Jesus' parable in Luke 8:4-11 about the seed that fell in four places: the rock, the path, the thorns, and the good soil. Each parable focuses on how various people respond to God's word.

In the above parable, the rabbi is saying, contrary to our preconceptions, that the best disciple is not "the sponge" who retains absolutely everything, but "the sieve" who sifts through the teaching to retain what is best. What great advice for Christians!

It reminds us that we are not called to be parrots, unquestioningly repeating whatever we learn from a favorite teacher. Instead we are to exercise wisdom and discernment, continually asking questions, weighing answers, seeking understanding, and grounding our beliefs within the context of God's word...."

Page 31

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Surprising Poor

Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. Rev. 3:17-18

The Christians at Laodicea had developed some false hopes and shaky reliances. They felt that they were so rich and secure that they wanted for nothing.

That would be an easy mistake for them. They had a gold refinery there, and were proud of the quality of their gold. They also made woolen cloth that was pretty high quality—it bleached almost white. And they made an ointment for the eyes there, and exported it to other towns. The local economy flourished.

But Jesus warns them that they are poor—a surprising thing to say in a city that refined gold. And they are blind—with all that eye ointment. And they who made cloth were naked.

Instead of trusting in their human resources, those ancient Saints were taught that their spiritual wholeness depended on following the Savior’s counsel to submit to the refiner’s fire that they might have the true riches of eternal life, receive sacred ordinances, and gain their spiritual sight.

Monday, May 23, 2011

"I wish that you were cold or hot"

"I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth"
Rev. 3:15-16

It is thought that the Laodiceans were being criticized for their neutrality or lack of zeal (hence "lukewarm"). Based on this understanding, the pejorative term Laodicean is used in the English language to refer to those neutral or indifferent in matters of faith.

However, some scholars have suggested that this metaphor has been drawn from the water supply of the city, which was lukewarm, in contrast to the hot springs at nearby Hierapolis and the pure water of Colossae (Barclay). The archaeology shows Laodicea had an aqueduct that probably carried water from hot mineral springs some five miles south, which would have become tepid before entering the city

The imagery of the Laodicean aqueduct suggests not that "hot" is good and "cold" is bad, but that both hot and cold water are useful, whereas lukewarm water is useless.

Barclay, William, Letters to the Seven Churches, Edinburgh, 1957 (reprinted 2001).

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Judgement Adapted to Their Prejudices

The Plague Of Lice.— Exodus 8:16.

"The Egyptians were of meticulously clean habits, and this infliction must have been to them an extreme annoyance. They were careful to keep all infested with lice out of their temples. Their priests were clad in linen garments, and every precaution was adopted to keep themselves free from such vermin.

Bryant says, " The Egyptians affected great external purity; and were very nice both in their persons and clothing-bathing and making ablutions continually. Uncommon care was taken not to harbor any vermin. They were particularly solicitous of the head, thinking it would be a great profanation of the temple which they entered, if any animalculse of this sort were concealed in their person or garments."

The priests, says Herodotus, are shaved, both as to their heads and bodies, every third day, to prevent any louse or any other detestable creature being found upon them when they are performing their duty to the gods.

The same is mentioned by another author, who adds, that "all wool was considered as foul, and from a perishable animal; but flax is the product of the immortal earth, affords a delicate and pure covering, and is not liable to harbor insects."

We may hence see what an abhorrence the Egyptians showed towards this sort of vermin, and what care was taken by the priests to guard against them. The judgments, therefore, inflicted by the hands of Moses were adapted to their prejudices. It was, consequently, not only most distressing to the people in general, but was no small odium to the most sacred order in Egypt , that they were overrun with these filthy and detestable vermin."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Forty Stripes Save One

Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 2 Cor. 11: 24.

To explain this singular custom of inflicting " forty stripes save one " a few words from Moses may be quoted.

" And it shall be, if the wicked man (brought to the judges for trial) be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain number. Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed; lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother shall seem vile unto thee. " Deut. 25:2, 3.

On this subject, as on most others, the Jews refined, and affected great concern. And lest they should accidentally inflict more than forty stripes, they resolved to stop short at thirty-nine.

And to insure exactitude both ways they invented a scourge of thirteen thongs, and with this instrument the culprit was struck three times. By this ingenious method the law's demands were met, and the prisoner was secured against excessive punishment. This explains the nature and details of Paul's punishment.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Baldness Between The Eyes.

Ye [are] the children of the LORD your God: ye shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead. Deut.14:1

In our day when men are quick to have their unibrows waxed, this ancient perception of attractiveness might not be easily understood without some background.

Ancient Orientals admired eyebrows that met over the nose, presenting the appearance of a bow; and where nature denied them this ornament, they imitated it by artificial paint. This was removed in case of mourning, and the hair growing there naturally was plucked, in order to disfigure the face.

This is sometimes done now, and it appears that it was also done in ancient times; for Moses forbade the Hebrews to "make any baldness between their eyes for the dead."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Refinement from Tribulation

And not only [so], but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; Romans 5:3

Our word " tribulation " is derived from the Latin tribulum— a wheat drag/sled, consisting of a heavy piece of wood, armed underneath with pieces of iron or sharp flints, which is drawn over the grain by a yoke of oxen,—either the driver or a heavy weight being placed upon it,—for the purpose of separating the grain from the husk and cutting the straw.

As the tribulum was also used for separating beans from the pods enclosing them, it had to be adapted in its construction and weight to the kind of pods over which it was passed; so that, in any case, it might break the husks without crushing the seeds.

Thus a divinely appointed tribulation, God's tribulum, is intended to separate the evil without injury to the good. Wherefore "we glory in tribulation also." It builds our character.

Monday, May 16, 2011

God Accepteth No Man's Person.

But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:).... Galations 2:6

The idea here desired to be conveyed is evidently that God takes no account of the mere appearance, or outside, of a man; He looks through these to the heart, and judges what the man really is in principles and disposition.

The force of the contrast, however, is more vividly brought out by observing the origin of the word person. It comes from the Latin word persona, a face or mask; and is evidently made from per-sono, to sound through ; conveying the idea of the sound of the voice coming through the open space left for the mouth in the masks of the actors in the ancient plays ; and suggests at once the word, impersonate, i.e.. to take a character not our own.

Thus we get the idea conveyed in the passage above, that God looks behind the mask which we may assume, and at what is underneath, knowing and judging our real characters while others judge only by our outside appearance.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Death of Herod Agrippa

I think it is interesting to read historical accounts that affirm the New Testament. It gives us, in Paul Harvey's words, "The rest of the story." Josephus helps to flesh out the account given in Acts 12: 19-23 which is given after the Josephus account below.

From Josephus:

Now when Agrippa had reigned three years over all Judea, he came to the city Caesarea [...] There he exhibited shows in honor of the emperor [...] On the second day of the festival, Herod put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a truly wonderful texture, and came into the theater early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment was illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun's rays upon it. It shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him. At that moment, his flatterers cried out [...] that he was a god; and they added, 'Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature.'

Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery. But as he presently afterward looked up, he saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and he fell into the deepest sorrow. A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner.

He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, 'I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death. But I am bound to accept of what Providence allots, as it pleases God; for we have by no means lived ill, but in a splendid and happy manner.'

After he said this, his pain was become violent. Accordingly he was carried into the palace, and the rumor went abroad that he would certainly die in a little time. But the multitude presently sat in sackcloth, with their wives and children, after the law of their country, and besought God for the king's recovery. All places were also full of mourning and lamentation. Now the king rested in a high chamber, and as he saw them below lying prostrate on the ground, he could not himself forbear weeping. And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and in the seventh year of his reign.

[Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 19.343-350]

Here is the same story in the Bible:

Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there a while. He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. Having secured the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king's country for their food supply.

On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, "This is the voice of a god, not of a man." Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. Acts 12:19-23 NIV

Thursday, May 12, 2011

An Early Tradition Connected With James' Death

And he (Herod) killed James the brother of John with the sword. Acts 12:2

Clement of Alexandria narrates that the man who accused James before the judges became so affected by the martyr's constancy, that he too immediately embraced Christianity; and, along with James, was condemned to be beheaded.

As they went to execution, the new convert asked forgiveness of the Apostle, who deliberated a little with himself as to whether he should treat him as a brother or not; but, after a short pause, he embraced him, and said, "Peace be with you;" after which their heads were struck off.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Highway For the Lord

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
Isaiah 40:3-4

This passage, of which the force may not at once strike the reader, is well illustrated by a description which Diodorus Siculus gives of a march of Semiramis, Queen of Persia.

" marching towards Ecbatana she came to a mountain called Zarkeum. which, extending many furlongs, and being full of craggy precipices and deep hollows, could not be passed without taking a long and circuitous route. Being desirous, therefore, of leaving an immortal monument of herself, as well as to make a shorter way, she ordered the precipices to be cut down, and the hollow places to be filled up with earth; and, at a great expense, she made a plain open road, which to this day is called the road of Semiramis.

Afterwards she made a progress through Persia and all her other dominions in Asia, and wherever she came she ordered the mountains and craggy rocks to be cut down, and at a vast expense made the ways level and plain. On the other hand, in low places she raised mounds."

Something similar to this may possibly have been known to the prophet, and from it his imagery appears to be borrowed.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Pursuing Father Part 12

13. The father’s response. For a fourth time, the father goes beyond what a traditional patriarch would do. For the second time in the same day, he is willing to offer a costly demonstration of unexpected love. Only this time it is to a lawkeeper rather than a lawbreaker. Amazing grace holds true for both sons.

Culturally, the father is expected to proceed with the banquet and ignore the public insult. He can deal with the older son later. But no! In painful public humiliation, the father goes down and out to find yet one more lost sheep/coin/son.

14. The older son’s response. The younger son “accepted” to be found. He was overwhelmed by the costly love freely offered to him. The older son, in contrast, seems unimpressed. Instead, he mercilessly attacks both his father and his brother in public. The father is expected finally to explode and order a thrashing for the public insults. For a fifth time, patriarchy is transcended.

This is not a remarkable father. Rather it is a symbol for God. As Henri Nouwen has written regarding this parable, “This is the portrayal of God, whose goodness, love, forgiveness, care, joy and compassion have no limits at all. Jesus presents God’s generosity by using all the imagery that his culture provides, while constantly transforming it” (The Return of the Prodigal). If the older son accepts the love now offered to him, he will be obliged to treat the Prodigal with the same loving acceptance with which the father welcomed the pig herder. The older son will need to be “conformed to the image” of that compassionate father who comes to both kinds of sinners in the form of a suffering servant, offering undeserved, costly love. Is he willing? We are not told. By this point the audience is on the stage and must decide for itself.

[I hope this was as insightful for you as it was for me.]

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Pursuing Father Part 11

12. The older son’s anger. If the banquet were a straightforward celebration of the Prodigal’s safe return, the older son would enter the hall immediately. It would mean that the Prodigal’s position in the family has not yet been determined. The older son would be very anxious that his point of view be represented when the family discusses the matter. Of course, they are all (publicly) glad the Prodigal is home and in good health. It would be churlish not to rejoice at his safe arrival. But the young boy tells the older brother that it’s all over! Their father has already reconciled the Prodigal son–and has done so without the Prodigal paying for his sins! This is why the older son is angry. He is so angry he takes the radical step of breaking his relationship with his father.

For a son to be present and to refuse participation in such a banquet is an unspeakable public insult to the father. A cultural equivalent might be the case of a son in the West who has a heated public shouting match with his father in the middle of a wedding banquet after a large family wedding. A shouting match is not unthinkable–but not in public at such a banquet. The older son’s rejection of his father’s reconciliation with the Prodigal leads that same older son to break his relationship with the father who achieved it.


Friday, May 6, 2011

The Pursuing Father Part 10

We have yet the older son’s interpretation to consider, which he offers after
the father tries to reconcile this son to himself. He says, “You killed the
fatted calf for him!” This claim is the exact opposite of what the little boy has
just told the older son. It is also the opposite of the father’s own declared
purpose for the banquet. Noting that the older son contradicts the two previous
interpretations of the banquet, the listener must choose between them. Is the
banquet in honor of the Prodigal or in honor of the father? Is it a celebration
of the Prodigal’s successful efforts at reaching home (on his own), or is it
rather a celebration of the success of the father’s costly efforts at creating
shalom? Will the guests congratulate the Prodigal or the father?

It is my 40-year perception that generally modern readers of the parable do
not even discern these contrasts or observe that there is a choice to be made.
The banquet foreshadows [the Sacrament]. Surely we know that Jesus is the hero of
that sacred banquet and that sinners are not the center of attention.

The older brother’s self-righteousness becomes a pair of colored glasses through which he
sees the world. All he can understand is that the Prodigal lost the money and
that he has been reconciled to their father without having first returned the
money. In short, grace has been offered and accepted rather than the requirements
of law demanded and fulfilled by the sinner. The older son’s interpretation
represents the view of many, then and now.

But the father’s view of the banquet (supported by the young boy’s speech) is the mind of Jesus. For many, grace is not only amazing–it is also unbelievable! How could it be true? After all, you
get what you pay for, don’t you?


Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Pursuing Father Part 9

11. The meaning of the banquet. The banquet in the parable has three interpretations. The first is offered by the father, the second by a little boy in the courtyard of the home, and the third by the older son. The first two are in harmony with each other. The third is in sharp contrast to the first two. Contemporary readers usually only recall the third. All three interpretations must be examined.

Once reconciliation is assured, the father orders a banquet. He says, “Let us eat and celebrate; for [now comes his reason] this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” The father does not say, “He was lost and has come home.” Instead, we read, “He was lost and is found.” So who found him? The father did! Where did he find him? At the edge of the village! Thus, in the father’s perceptions, the Prodigal was still lost and dead at the edge of the village.

Even as the shepherd was obliged to go forth and pay a high price to find his sheep, and the good woman sought diligently to find her coin, even so the father went down and out in a costly demonstration of unexpected love to find and resurrect his son. The banquet is a celebration of the success of that finding and that resurrection.

Now for the little boy’s interpretation. The older son comes in from the field and on hearing the music calls to a pais. This Greek word can mean three things. The first is “son,” which does not fit this text. The second is “servant,” which also does not fit, because all the servants are busy in the house serving the huge banquet. The third option is “young boy.” Middle Eastern Syriac and Arabic versions have always chosen this third alternative.

As the older son approaches his family home in the center of the village, he naturally meets a crowd of young boys who are not old enough to recline with the elders at the banquet, but are outside the house dancing in tune to the music and enjoying the occasion in their own boisterous manner. The young lad assumes the role of the chorus in a Greek drama. (We now know that there was a large Greek theater in Sepphoris, four miles from Nazareth.)

The little boy tells the listener/reader the truth about what is happening in the story. The older son asks him what the party is all about and the lad says (as I would translate it), “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because (now comes the second interpretation) he (the father) received him (the Prodigal) with peace!” The word I translate here as “peace” is the Greek word hugaino. This means “in good health,” and from it we have the English word hygiene. But in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint), this same Greek word appears 14 times, and without exception it translates the Hebrew word shalom or peace.

When a first-century Jew used the word hugaino, he or she mentally translated the Hebrew word shalom, which includes “good health” but means so very much more. I am confident that Jesus used the word shalom in the story.

The point is that the banquet is in celebration of the father’s successful efforts at creating reconciliation–shalom–and the community has come to participate in that celebration. Rather than a qetsatsah ceremony of rejection, they are participating in the joy of a restoration achieved by the father at great cost. Thus the young boy confirms the father’s interpretation. For both, the banquet is a celebration of the success of the father’s efforts at reconciling his son.

The language of the young boy, “He received him. . . .” (and plans to eat with him), reminds the listener of the Pharisees’ complaint, “This fellow [Jesus] welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The young boy’s speech confirms that the father has clearly evolved into a symbol for Jesus. Jesus receives sinners and eats with them. In this parable, the father does the same.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Pursuing Father Part 8

10. Christology. As the father comes down and out to reconcile his son, he becomes a symbol of God in Christ. “Father,” a symbol for God, ever so quietly evolves into a symbol for Jesus. The same shift occurs in the story of the Good Shepherd. At three points in the Old Testament, God is a good shepherd who goes after his lost sheep (Ps. 23:3; Jer. 23:1-8; Ezek. 34). Jesus retells that classical story and introduces himself into it as its hero.

The Pharisees complain, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus replies with this story, which in effect says, “Indeed, I do eat with sinners. But it is much worse than you imagine! I not only eat with them, I run down the road, shower them with kisses, and drag them in that I might eat with them!” Jesus is clearly talking about himself. By the end of the story, the father does what Jesus does. A famous eleventh-century Syriac scholar in Baghdad, Abdallah Ibn al-Tayyib, identified the father in his self-giving love on the road as a symbol for Jesus.

The great New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias made the same identification this century. I call this “hermeneutical Christology.” That is, Jesus takes a known symbol for God and quietly transforms it into a symbol for himself.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Pursuing Father Part 7

9. The father acts like a mother. In the parable, a traditional oriental patriarch would be expected to sit in grand isolation in the house to hear what the wayward boy might have to say for himself. The mother could run down the road and shower the boy with kisses. A 1,000-year-old, finely tuned sacred tradition is available to Jesus. The prophets called God “Father” and partially described that father in female terms. This language affirmed the personhood and the unity of God for all believers, male and female.

In the Old Testament, God is already presented as a father who also acts with the tender compassion of a mother (Deut. 32:18; Ps. 131; Isa. 42:14, 66:13). The Dead Sea Scrolls describe God with the same imagery. More than 200 times Jesus calls God “Father,” and in John’s gospel, we find that the believer must be “born from above.” In 1 John, the believer is “born of God.” That is, God “gives birth” in the New Testament even as he does in the Old (Deut. 32:18). In this parable, too, the father appears on the road, demonstrating the tender compassion of a mother.


Monday, May 2, 2011

The Pursuing Father Part 6

8. The point of turning. The Prodigal steels his nerves for his humiliating entrance into the village. He remembers the qetsatsah ceremony and braces himself to endure its shame. The painful interview with his father will not be any easier. His one hope is that his “humble speech” will touch his father’s heart and that he will win his father’s backing for the training he needs to become a wage earner. The Prodigal is expected to return with generous gifts for the family. Not only does the Prodigal return home empty-handed, he returns in failure after insulting his family and the village at departure. This painful road back is endured for one reason: he is hungry. The bottom line is, “I am dying of hunger!”

But what of his father? The father knows his son will fail. He waits day after day, staring down the crowded village street to the road in the distance along which his son disappeared with arrogance and high hopes. The father realizes full well how his son will be welcomed in the village when he returns in failure. Thus, the father also prepares a plan: to reach the boy before the boy reaches the village. The father knows that if he is able to achieve reconciliation with his son in public, no one in the village will treat the Prodigal badly. No one will dare suggest that the qetsatsah ceremony must be enacted.

The father sees him “while he was still far off.” The “great distance” is more spiritual than it is physical. If the Prodigal thinks he can earn money and with it solve the problem of their relationship, he is yet very far away! The language is borrowed from Isaiah 57:19, where God affirms peace to those who are “far off” and peace to those who are “near.” This is precisely what the father sets out to do. Through a great, dramatic action, he will offer peace to the one who is far off and then concentrate on creating peace with the one who is near (the older brother).

And so, for the third time, the father breaks the mold of Middle Eastern patriarchy. He takes the bottom edge of his long robes in his hand and runs to welcome his pig-herding son. He falls on his neck and kisses him before hearing his prepared speech! The father does not demonstrate love in response to his son’s confession. Rather, out of his own compassion he empties himself, assumes the form of a servant, and runs to reconcile his estranged son.

Traditional Middle Easterners, wearing long robes, do not run in public. To do so is deeply humiliating. This father runs. The boy is totally surprised. Overwhelmed, he can only offer the first part of his prepared speech, which now takes on a new meaning. He declares that he has sinned and that he is unworthy to be called a son. He admits (by omitting the third phrase) that he has no bright ideas for mending their relationship. He is no longer “working” his father for additional advantages. The father does not “interrupt” his younger son. Instead, the Prodigal changes his mind, and in a moment of genuine repentance, accepts to be found.