Empathy and grace: parables

Pharisee-n-Tax Collector3A Parable of Reversal? I tell you, the latter [tax collector] went home justified. We might object to God forgiving the tax collector. He doesn’t actually confess any sins. He makes no statement of repentance. He doesn’t offer to change his life. He doesn’t make any reparations for his sins (as the tax collector Zacchaeus does). This appears to be very cheap grace. This parable probably should not be understood as an example story, but is it simply a story of reversal, as the final saying indicates. If the Pharisee is viewed as a villain and the tax collector a hero, besides the historical inaccuracies, the parable loses its power. They have only received what they deserved. There is no need for the reversal in this last verse. Continue reading

Empathy and grace: tax collector

Pharisee-n-Tax Collector3The Tax Collector. 13 But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’

Consider what Luke has already recorded about Jesus vis-a-vis “sinners”

  • “I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.” (Luke 5:32)
  • …there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” (Luke 15:7)

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Empathy and grace: Pharisee

Pharisee-n-Tax Collector3The Righteous Who Despise. He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.(Luke 15:9)

The use of exoutheneo – “to despise” (v.9) raises an interesting question about who are the self-righteous people who are despising others in Luke’s time. Is this parable directed against Pharisees and others outside the community of believers who despise those inside the church? In Luke’s other uses of the word, it refers to those who despised or rejected Jesus (Luke 23:11; Acts 4:11). With this understanding, it might be easier for (self-righteous) Christians to assume that the problem is with “those people out there,” but not with “us”. Continue reading

Empathy and grace: what is right

Pharisee-n-Tax Collector3We hear this parable differently that the first century listener.  We know how the parable ends and we also know how Luke has been describing the Pharisees, thus even at the words one was a Pharisee we know how this will end. Won’t it be that the Pharisee will represent the one who trusts himself and his own righteousness rather than God and the one who judges others and holds them in contempt? But lets consider how the first century listener might have heard this narrative.

These two parables are connected linguistically by a number of words with the Greek root –dik– = generally referring to “what is right”. Continue reading

Empathy and grace: context

Pharisee-n-Tax Collector39 He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. 10 “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ 13 But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

This gospel follows the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge (18:1-8).  While the common thread is certainly prayer, there are other aspects which binds together these two narrative. One of Luke’s ongoing themes is the inclusivity of the Gospel. In these two parables, prayers are answered by God for a (saintly and probably poor) widow and the sinful (and probably rich) male tax collector. Luke continues to demonstrate that the Reign of God is open to all – a message of keen importance to his Gentile audience. Continue reading

The Faith

01_Persistent_WidowI am partial to the Gospel according to Luke. I think his writing is good at telling the story and leaving room for the hearer to work though the implications of it all.  Some of the most memorable parables – the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, Lazarus and the Rich Man, and more are all unique to Luke’s gospel. Also, Luke is particular about his choice of words and phrases – the small nuances of language find their place in his telling of Jesus’ story.

Today we have one of those small curiosities of language: But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? (Luke 18:8).  What the Greek actually says is not “find faith” but “find the faith.” It is the only place in all of Luke’s gospel he uses this phrase.  In fact, it is the only place in all the New Testament. Maybe it’s nothing, but then again, as he often does, maybe Luke is trying to tell us something in this small parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge. Continue reading

Pray without ceasing: Jesus

pray-without-ceasing7 Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? 8 I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Jesus comments make clear the intended parallels: from an unjust judge to God; from the widow to God’s elect.  The term “his chosen ones” (hoi eklektoi), used in Luke-Acts only here, echoes texts such as Isa. 42:1; 43:20; 65:9, 15, 22; Ps. 105:6, 43 (cf. Sir. 47:22), which use the term “chosen” in a context that emphasizes election to serve Yahweh (also refers to Deut. 4:37; 7:7; 1 Chron. 16:13; Ps. 77:31; 88:3). Continue reading

Pray without ceasing: widow

pray-without-ceasingIn the ancient near-east (ANE) widows had no intrinsic standing within the community. Further the court system in ANE was a world of men – woman were not considered stable witnesses and often has no rights of inheritance. It was typical for a woman’s case to represented by one of her kinsmen.  In this parable the widow seems to lack kinsmen and resources (for a bribe), and thus pursues the case herself. As even this parable makes clear, in the tradition of Israel a widow is the ultimate state of vulnerability, deprivation and need. Continue reading

Pray without ceasing: judge

pray-without-ceasing2 “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. 3 And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ 4 For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, 5 because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’”

More literal translation: There was a certain judge in a certain town. Echo of previous passages – a certain rich man who experienced an abundant harvest or a certain rich man (fool) who lived in purple garments and fine linens but never gave heed to poor Lazarus.  Continue reading

Pray without ceasing: parables

pray-without-ceasingJesus’ parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary (v.1) stands as a climax for the longer section on faithfulness at the coming of the Son of Man (17:20-18:8). Read against the horizon of 17:22-37, Jesus’ teaching is particularly oriented toward the necessity of steadfast, hopeful faith in the midst of trials. Continue reading