Tag Archives: The Parable Driven Life

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.

Enhanced by Zemanta

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

After this (A whore was washing Jesus’ feet with her hair, so he forgave her sin. Coincidentally, a whore letting her hair down in front of a man was euphemistic for sexual union. Sexual union was also euphemized by someone “covering your feet.” Jesus simply ignores the obvious accusations that might result from this, and sees beyond her whoredom.), Jesus went around from one town and village to another, talking up the good news of the God’s Nation. The 12 were with him,  and also some women who had been made whole from hurtful spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalena) who was freed from 7 hurtful conditions by Jesus;  Joanna the wife of Chuza, the top servant of Herod’s property; Susanna; and many others. These women, like Beyonce, had their own money and used it to help Jesus.

While a big group was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable:

“A computer programmer went to work to put the finishing touches on a new program he was working on, one that would revolutionize computing. When he was done, he grabbed 4 computers to try the new program out on. As he inserted the disc on the first compy, the drive wouldn’t even read the disc; when he pulled it out, the drive had scratched the disc so badly it was unusable. On the second computer, the program worked just as expected, but after 10 minutes, the computer crashed because the computer didn’t have enough memory. On the third computer, the program installed fine, but never quite worked right because viruses and malware corrupted it. Still, on the fourth computer, it installed well, had plenty of memory to use, was not hindered by viruses and malware, and found the OS to be the perfect environment for its software. It evolved into a cloud-based app and spread like crazy once it hit the web.

When Jesus said this, he called out, “If your ears work, use them!”

The 12 Hebrew teenagers that followed him everywhere asked him what this parable meant.  He said, “you’ve been given the secrets about God’s Nation, but nobody else gets it, so:
“they can look right at it and not get it,
and hear everything, but remain clueless”
“This is what the parable means; The computer program is what God says. The computer that couldn’t read the disc are the ones who hear, and then the dominant script of the world (Technological Militaristic Therapeutic Consumerism) doesn’t allow them to really engage with it, so they can’t believe it, much less be changed by it. The computer without enough memory are the ones who get all excited about hearing about God, but they are shallow. They will go through the motions for a bit, but don’t ask them to change anything. When things get tough, they bail. The computer with the viruses and malware stands for the ones who might give intellectual consent to my teachings, but as they live their individualistic lives, they get so wrapped up in their own worries, money-makin’, getting laid, playing X-box, World of Warcraft, watching reality TV, watching has-been celebrities pretend to dance, intellectual elitism, campaigning for lesser causes, and they don’t get anywhere. But the computer with the good operating system are the ones with authentic and noble intentions, who hear what God is trying to say, give it serious consideration, and by being willing to change their lives for God, actually make a difference in the world – a big difference.
“Normal people do not place items on top of lamps. Normal people put the lamp is a good spot and let it shine, so that people who come into their houses can see. There is nothing that is hidden that won’t be revealed, and there’s nothing covered up that won’t be uncovered and shown. So think hard about how you respond to what I’m saying. Those who get it, will get even more; those who don’t get it, even what they think they get, won’t hold up after a while”

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

Or How the Kingdom of God is A Bad Business Model

Last week, after meeting with former biblio-blogger Kurk Gayle and Chad, I asked,

After the meeting and much reflection, really, shouldn’t Christians do as Jesus do with their lives? Shouldn’t they recite narratives that are all too familiar to their culture, and but with a Gospel twist? Is not this what Christian witness is all about?

Thus began an attempt by Chad and I to start a Tuesday series on reflecting on how Jesus’s parables can shape and change our lives. Today, I start with my own attempt to grapple with the American church’s favorite parable, the parable of the Talents (a real misnomer in many respects as I will explain in my excursus). I would first like to do a re-telling of the story that brings the parable to life in a contemporary context.

The Parable of the Wicked Senator

The crowd was listening to Jesus of Nazareth, the Anointed One. Because he was near Jerusalem, the blessed city, they expected the Messiah to tell them when and how the kingdom of God was to come, and they wanted it right here and now. So, Jesus said to them,

“An aristocrat travelled to the capitol to network among the statesmen and enter his name on the ballot for Senator.  The next day, he returned to his plantation to check on his sharecroppers.  The oligarch summoned ten of his tenant farmers and gave them ten crops of land for them to raise cotton.  Some of the Negro citizens on the other side of town were outraged; they did not want this man to tell them how to run their lives.  The rich man received word that he had won the election to become a member of the Senate.  Having returned to his property, the Senator-elect summoned his ten tenant farmers to see how well they had done by taking care of the land he had lent them.  The first tenant walked up to the landlord, and said, “Massa, yer one plot of lan’ has yielded enuf cotton to fill ten plots o’ lan’.  The Senator replied, “You are one of the good Negros, I reckon.  Because you have made a profit for me, you shall receive ten farms from that other side of town.”  The second farmer walked softly up to the Senator, with him head down, and said, “Massa, good sir, I have given ye ‘least ‘nuf cotton for five plots of land.”  The ruler said to him, “You shall be given five farms.” A third tenant farmer, who stood defiantly in front of the Senator, said, “Good Sir, I know youse is a harsh man. I was afraid of you so I took this land, and covered it with a blanket. You take what you do not invest, and you reap what you do not sow.  You are a thief.” The Senator answered, “you are judged by your own words, for yes, I am a harsh man, yes I do steal what I do not work for. Why did you not grow cotton in the land I let you borrow? You are one lazy coon!”  To the bystanders, the rich prince said, “Take away this man’s land; I say to you all: to all those who have much, their riches will increase.  But to the ungrateful Negros on the other side of town, as well as this man, bring them here to be lynched right in front of me.”

After Jesus had told them this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

Excursus

Some of you may be wondering, “What is wrong with the traditional interpretation of the Parable of the Talents?” Isn’t it just about Jesus teaching us that we need to use all of our gifts, and that we will be rewarded for doing such?  It would be easy to slip into an approach, but there are many complex issues at work, with the text, and with the picture of God in general in this parable.  As a faithful Protestant Christian, one has to wonder, where is the grace in this story? Is not Sola Gratia one of the top five important doctrines?  If one is to take this story at face-value, and attribute God as the harsh aristocrat/prince (one with royal power) [verse 12] who rewards us for our works/giving us what we deserve, how does this line up with Jesus’s other teachings on God’s providence? (Matthew 5:45)?

If God is traditionally understood as the harsh (severe, exacting, in a favorable/unfavorable manner–the Greek root word for austere) murderous ruler, what does that say about our image of God?  Is one to believe that God abandons humanity in order to passively permit injustice to reign, or is God omnipresent throughout the world, actively confronting evil as God did through Israel and in Christ? How are we to understand God as the Almighty if God has to leave and take royal power from somewhere else? (19:12)  Moreover, in the context of the canon, God in this parable, traditionally understood, functions in a way that contradicts God’s preferred way of being just, i.e., that being the case of forcing usury upon the impoverished (cf. Leviticus 25:35-38 and Deuteronomy 15:7-11).  If we divorce the parable from its historical context, the one in which our Jewish rabbi who was all too familiar with the Hebrew Bible and its dictates, it makes this parable that much easier to hold in cultural captivity (U.S. American corporatist-capitalist logic).

What makes the history of the Western reception of this parable and the up-liftment of usury all that more problematic is that in the Reformation era, the Laws pertaining to the prohibition of interest of loans for the disenfranchised were viewed as ideas not to take literally.  The body of evidence, considering the agrarian nature of the Palestinian economy in the second century B.C.E. as well as Jesus’s Jewish identity lead me to believe that the harsh ruler is none other than Satan/the wicked powers that be itself.  Even if there was an exception to the law that interest was to be taken from Gentiles, perhaps Christ, if the third servant is non-Jewish is inviting equal treatment for the poor of all ethnicities.  But it makes more sense, at least in the literary placement of the parable, where Jesus is close to Jerusalem, and then walking up to Jerusalem, that the third servant is actually the Messiah himself.  Jesus is discussing the kingdom of God (verse 11), and the kingdom of God is accomplished not by anything that human beings can do, but the Triune God alone accomplishes. Jesus exposes the Enemy as a liar, and looses his life because Jesus is the Truth (John 18:38).  Subsequently, in the same chapter, Jesus weeps over his beloved city of Jerusalem,  because they did not recognize God visiting them (19:44).  Jesus the Anointed One, in his death, initiates God’s reign here on earth.

Truth and Peace,

Rod

For further resources on this possible interpretation of the Parable of the Wicked Ruler, please see William Herzog’s Parables as Subversive Speech as well as God is Not religious, nice, one of us an american a capitalist by Brent Laytham