Tag Archives: Repentance

The Parable-Driven Life: The Parable of the Shining Pearl (Matthew 13:46-47)

MERCHANDIZING THE GREAT PRICE OF CHRIST’S TWO NATURES

It’s been well over four years since we have continued our Parable-Driven Life series, but like all good things, I want to bring this series back from time to time. I have been inspired by reading excerpts of Clement’s take on the parables. I say in some cases they are brief glimpses, because we don’t have some of the full texts. They are citations from lost works. Unlike many commentaries today, Clement of Alexandria postulated allegorical interpretations of Gospel texts that were Christ-centered. I will quote what we have of his comments on The Parable of the Pearl [of Great Price] found in Matthew 13: 46-47, and then add some commentary on my own.

From Niceta’s Catena on Matthew:

“A pearl, and that pellucid and of purest ray, is Jesus, whom of the lightning flash of Divinity the Virgin bore. For as the pearl, produced in the flesh and the oyster-shell and moisture, appears to be a body moist and transparent, full of light and spirit; so also God the Word, incarnate, is intellectual light, sending his rays, through a body luminous and moist.”

For Clement, Jesus the Messiah is the Picture Perfect Image of YHWH. In The Educator (Pedagogue, Book II, Chapter XIII), Clement spends an excessive amount of time discussing beauty, fashion and the like, but here again he repeats his rendering of The Parable Of The Pearl Of Great Price:

“And the wretched creatures are not ashamed at having bestowed the greatest pains about this little oyster, when they might adorn themselves with the sacred jewel, the Word of God, whom the Scriptures has somewhere called a pearl, the pure and pellucid Jesus, the eye that watches in the flesh,–the transparent Word, by whom the flesh, regenerated by water, becomes precious. For that oyster that is in the water covers the flesh all around, and out of it is produced the pearl.

Now, if I may move on to further excursis, if Christ is the Reign of God, (the pearl), then the merchant who is searching for him must be the Elect, the chosen body of Christ that continues to live lives of repentance, seeking out to involves itself in the life of the Triune God. The illuminous Revelation that is Christ reveals God’s true nature perfectly in the person of Divine Wisdom Enfleshed. The Elect are those persons who are baptized first by water, as a sign of repentance and their accountability to the Body. The merchant is the community of believers who know and realize the Cost of Discipleship [Matthew  13:47 & 19:21 on the Jesus and the Rich Young Man].

What may be a little more interesting is that Clement’s interpretation of this Parable read a lot like early Church Baptismal formulas, and the Nicene Creed (in bold)

A pearl, and that pellucid and of purest ray, is Jesus  |

 JesusChrist, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light,

AND

whom of the lightning flash of Divinity the Virgin bore. For as the pearl, produced in the flesh and the oyster-shell and moisture, appears to be a body moist and transparent, full of light and spirit; so also God the Word, incarnate, is intellectual light, sending his rays, through a body luminous and moist. |

 

he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human. 

And

the transparent Word, by whom the flesh, regenerated by water, becomes precious. For that oyster that is in the water covers the flesh all around, and out of it is produced the pearl. |

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The theology of the Church, then, can never really be separated from its worship praxis.  The neat wall separation that we have created between orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxis  (right practice) should come tumbling down like the walls of Jericho.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

By Rod:

The Parable-Driven Life: The Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:11-28)

The Parable-Driven Life: The Parable(s) the Fig Tree(s) (Judges 9:10-11 and Luke 13:1-9)

 By Chad:

The Parable-Driven Life: The Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-18) 

The Parable-Driven-Life: Lazarus and The wealthy C.E.O. (Luke 16:19-31)

Forgetting September 11th

Taking the U.S. American Existentialist Tradition To Task

Perhaps it was not until my freshman year in undergrad, on a path to self-discovery that began to consider the narcissistic kool-aid the corporate driven media was giving us the U.S. American audience. This was prior to September of that year, where the limits of my budding critique began and ended at Music Television, which I still watched, and still do sometimes, but only for Lupe Fiasco.

After the tragedy of 9/11, my sense of what was critical and of the critical was heightened. I had to learned what made Christianity unique all over again. I had to learn the Christian tradition I wanted to be a part of. My response, like the Stanley Hauerwases and Brian McLarens of the world, was to hope that every Christian accept my radical form of pacifism, and in that way, the world would begin to look more peaceful. In the words of Brother Dan, sometimes words are not enough. It means we need action, but what type of action? And yes, dependence on a higher power is needed, but, Trevin Wax, what type of divinity are we talking about? Contra Mr. Wax, the theodicy question has been a driving force in theology since the aftermath of the Holocaust; unfortunately, he is about four decades behind. Before Jurgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God, there was Kazoh Kitmori’s The Pain of God in the 1950s, which was I think, banned by the Barthian and ever silent on racial segregation National Council of Churches at that time.

There was some hope in the struggle against consumerism in the months after September 11th, with U.S. Americans refusing to buy objects for the sake of buying, for it was not the things that we have that make us happy. But that all changed in late October, with the return of credit card commercials and politicians begging the American consumer to get the economy back on track; purchasing was patriotic. Pretty soon, the next year, politicians lost their jobs, not simply because of their performance, but because they were labelled as “not patriotic enough; even the patriotism of a Congressman who was a war veteran did not withstand this form of nationalistic worship. Love of country is not the fundamental problem; the problem is nationalism turns love of neighbor into the affirmation of the self over everything and anything at all costs. Christian communities began to reflect this trend, in the name of more heretic head-hunting, attacking the best of biblical scholars and making them the scape goat in order affirm the tradition, whether it be inerrancy, plenary inspiration, or women’s subordination.

As I have made disagreement with Paul Tillich known, faith for him was overcoming that which got in the way that would seek to prevent self-affirmation. This dialectical/oppositional form of thinking was in no way revolutionary; in fact, this way of understanding religion has been with American civil religion since the beginning. There had to be others by-passed in the self-actualization and creation of the U.S. American nation-state, for this is the very way of every nation-state. Whether is it Palestine seeking to overcome its Israeli enemies through the performance of liberal democratic values such as self-determination, or any other country.

I guess what I am saying is this: being self-affirming is not enough. We need to be constantly self-critical, turning our judgments on ourselves inwardly so that we may be also open to fellowship with others. The trend in politics and religion after October 2001 is to shut ourselves from any critique in the desperate attempt for normalcy, for the status quo, for the stable world-order as it is. In the Christian tradition, it is Yeshua the Messiah who begins the ultimate call for self-reflection and criticism, in his sermons on repentance. He sermons are not just for the sake of being “anti-Pharisee” or “anti-Roman.” In the end, Christ Jesus calls all of us into dialogue with YHWH, the One True God of Israel, the Creator of the world. The Messianic protest against idolatry, first practiced by Hebrew prophets such as Gideon and Moses, is not merely iconoclasm; the destruction of these objects which were outside of us are calls to look at search inwardly for the wrongs that we are all complicitly participating in.

But this notion of penance is not a one-and-done deal, that happens after the greatest tragedy our country has ever experienced. This means that the changing of our hearts and souls and minds are ever geared towards lament and humility even in times of prosperity.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”–Jesus the Messiah, Mark 1:15 NRSV

The Parable-Driven Life: The Parable(s) of the Fig Tree(s) Judges 9:10-11 & Luke 13:1-9

JUDGING THE HEBREW BIBLE INTO THE NEW TESTAMENT

Judges 9:1-15: The Reign Forest

A young general, (whose name meant my father is monarch), who was son of a man nicknamed ‘Byelobog Will Defend Himself’, stood before the political elites of a farm town in Eastern Europe and asked, “Is it not better to have one military dictator over you rather than all seventy of my half-brothers? Let us covenant together since we are from the same village.”  The townspeople received word about what was the general wanted to happen from their town leaders.  Seventy Euros were taken out of the village’s large famous cathedral in order to hire hitmen to got with the general to take out the seventy.  The seventy brothers were gathered together, taken into a dark forest, where subsequently, each were shot in the back of the head twice and buried in a very old ditch.  Fortunately, the youngest son, whose name means “May God Complete,” was able to escape, and like his father before him, mastered the art of hiding.

The general became leader of the military junta over the entire nation.  When the lone survivor, Joe was his name, heard this, he climbed a mountain and confronted the dictator with a parable:

“There was a group of trees who had determined for themselves that they wanted a king.  The olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine; all three refused for they did not want to rule over any other tree, but to produce fruit to honor and please both the gods and the humans alike.  The trees’ offer was accepted by a black berrybush, whose wood is only good for burning in fires. The trees anointed the bramble; yet, after three years, the entire forest was burned down.”

[three years later, God apparently stirs up the people of the village revolt against the tyrant]

Luke 13:1-9: Jesus Warns that everyone, High and Low, Must Repent!

The cruel Italian mobster Pilate had a reputation for despising local religious traditions, and he struck fear into the Irish population. There were a few in the crowd with Jesus, a fellow Mick. He had heard that Pilate had executed some Irishmen and women in cold blood as they were praying. Jesus asked them, “Were these Irish people any worse of sinners than all other Irish?  Did they deserve this treatment?  No, I tell you, but unless all of you repent, you will perish as they did. Or those who we killed with the World Trade Center fell—do you think they were worse offenders than anyone living in any other part of New York?” No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will surely suffer as they did.”  Then, Jesus told them this parable:

“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and when it came time, he tried to find fruit, but could not. So, he said to the gardener, “Look here!  For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and it has yielded none.  Cut it down!  But the gardener answered softly, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it; if it bears fruit, it was worth the wait. If not, I will destroy it as you asked.  The owner of the vineyard agreed.”

Excursus

 

The traditional Christian understanding of Luke 13:1-9 would have us believe that Jesus is using the parable as a polemic against the nation of Israel.

It suggests, that because Israel, in a scant few instances, is referred to as a plant, abacadraba, Jesus preaching repentance (although the call is futile since Christianity ends up superseding Judaism) to only the people of Judah and Israel.  However, the understanding of the imagery of fig trees in the Hebrew Bible (and Septuagint for that matter) do not really point to Israel as a nation, but rather could be associated with the righteousness/wretchedness of the ruling classes in Israel.  For example, in Zechariah LXX 3:9-10 as I have argued here, as well as Micah 4:1-5 (as Walter Brueggeman argues) there is an implicit critique of the false prosperity during the reign of the monarchs (which happens at the expense of the oppressed).  Eschatologically speaking, the notion that everyone will have her/his own vine and fig tree is a dream of universal shalom; in terms of Christology, Christ fulfills the visions of the prophets in passages such as John 1:48 (Jesus talking and summoning others underneath a fig tree).

Given the fact that figs/fig trees have far more instance of prominence when Scripture discusses the royal lines, I must reject the traditional interpretation of this parable.  In addition to leaning towards anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, normal readings of this passage also let someone off the hook for his actions: Pilate.  Verse 1 clearly says that Pilate murders worships while they are giving devotion to God.  Do not the Ten Commandments matter in our reading of the New Testament?

I argue, given a reading of Judges (along with the rest of the First Testament) into the New Testament, that Jesus is more of a Gideon/Jotham-like figure.  Christ Jesus’ prophetic call to repentance is part of his office as Judge (normally not talked about in churches).  Both stories have tyrannical political leaders over-stepping their God-given authority.  They are repressive, and unrepentant, as well as useless as unfruitful trees.  The language in the Judges 9 passage suggests that Abimelech is not exerting royal power, but military power.  He rules by coercion over others, much like Pilate as he exacts arbitrary terror over his subjects.  Jesus, in his subversive use of parabolic language, is suggesting that Pilate as well as his subjects are in need of repentance, or they shall all be chopped down.  Jesus, as usual, has precedent in the Hebrew Bible, just as it was YHWH’s desire for Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar to turn away from idolatry and injustice, so too did the Triune God want Caesar and the Roman Empire to change their wicked ways.  As for the identity of the gardener, who is usually ignored in the parable, my thoughts are it is the Church, standing in the tradition of intercessors such as Moses whose relationship with God is so strong that he can influence God to have mercy on a nation.

To see similar account of figs and fig trees, see Walter Brueggeman’s A Social Reading of the Old Testament.

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