Sunday, April 28, 2013

Through the Bible, Week 35 - Parable of Lostness (part one)

Parable of Lostness – Luke 15 (part one)
Jesus has just finished two parables that address the subject of hospitality – how to show it and receive it (14:7-24).  In chapter 15, Jesus is practicing what he preaches and it gets him into trouble with the religious leaders who grumble “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (15:2). 
In response to the hostility Jesus tells another “sideways” story.  It is important that this is one (not three parables).  Luke specifically says Jesus to them “this” parable.  It is one parable with at least three movements.  How can we be sure?  Each movement has a common theme (something is lost), common refrain (something (or someone) was lost and is now found, come rejoice with the finder of the lost) and a common development (the stakes keep getting higher).  The third movement is the climactic one, where the younger son is lost by the Father and ultimately found.  Each of the these movements paint a picture of God the Father who is the one who seeks the lost:  the shepherd, the woman and the Father.  How do the first two movements – a lost sheep and lost coins – function with this larger whole? 
Lost Sheep
Jesus tells a story of a shepherd who loses one in one hundred sheep.  He is a good shepherd so he leaves the ninety and nine to pursue the one lost one.  In a shepherding culture this would not be an unfamiliar sight or story.  Jesus is drawing on both common experience and a strong biblical motif, as the following chart illustrates (based on a chart by Ken Bailey): 
David (Psalm 23)          Jeremiah (Jer.23:1-8)        Ezekiel (Ezek. 34:1-31)    Jesus (Luke 15:4-7)
Bad Shepherd
Bad Shepherd
Bad/Good Shepherd
Lost Sheep
Lost flock
Lost Flock
Lost Sheep
Problem: A sheep is lost
Problem: shepherds destroy & scatter sheep
Problem: shepherds scatter & eat sheep
Problem: shepherd loses a sheep
Good Shepherd: God
Good Shepherd: God + David
Good Shepherd: God + David
Good Shepherd:  Jesus
Incarnation implied
Incarnation promised
Incarnation promised
Incarnation implied
Price paid: bring back
Price paid: Gather, bring back
Price paid: Search for, save, deliver, bring back
Price paid: search for, find, carry back
Repentance: return to God
Restoration: Return to Land
Restoration: Return to Land
Repentance: Return to God
Bad Sheep
Bad Sheep?
Story ends in the house
Story ends in the land
Story ends in the land 
Story ends in the house

A Semitic metaphor for God is set in a classical Jewish story reshaped by Jesus. Jesus is placing himself in the form of God in accordance with Biblical imagery and biblical themes. (BTW, this teaching is another reason, among many, I believe Jesus is the origins of the early Church’s high Christology).  Remember the audience (15: 2).  Jesus is talking to the shepherds of Israel and indirectly blaming them for losing the sheep he is now finding.  They may or may not have gotten that reference.  They are in complete denial about being “bad” shepherds.  They are convinced Jesus is.  So Jesus ups the ante with two more stories. 
Lost Coin
In the first movement something of value is lost: one sheep.  More precisely, one in a hundred sheep is lost.  The contrast between Jesus and Israel’s bad shepherds may or may not have been taken.  So Jesus now moves to something of more value and more rare (a drachma represent a day’s wage and there are only 10).  So we have a coin representing the value of more than one sheep and there are only 10.  The stakes have gone from 1/100 to 1/10.  And by moving from a shepherd as the “God figure” to a woman as the “God figure” Jesus is upping the ante in terms of his metaphorical theology. 
Throughout the Gospels (and especially in Luke), Jesus is elevating the status of women, even calling them to be part of his band of disciples (cf. Luke 8:1-3).  But now he goes farther and uses a woman to play the role of God in his parable of Lostness.  There is much that can be said about this, but in terms of Luke 15 it plays a preparatory role as we prepare to meet God in this third and most important metaphor of “the Father.”   Indeed, according to Jesus’ use of the language, “Father” is more than a metaphor.  And Jesus uses the metaphor of shepherd and woman to expand and re-shape our understanding of how he understands and relates to his (and eventually our) heavenly Father.  Since earthly fathers – even the best of them – are pale echoes of the heavenly father, Jesus must reshape our earthly categories so that we don’t project erroneous understandings upon that nature of God. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Through the Bible, Week 34 - The Good Samaritan

The Macro-setting of this parable is the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, in and around Samaria (Luke 9-19).  The micro-setting is Jesus being questioned by a legal scholar about Torah (10:25-37).  It was the job of legal scholars - "lawyers" - to test the knowledge of itinerant rabbis to see if they were faithful to the Bible.  Jesus passes each of these tests and with each "pass" our trust in him deepens.  
This particular episode is of paramount importance because Jesus goes to the heart of the Torah as defined by “neighbor love” (Lev 19:18, 34 and Deut. 6:5) and then exegetes another story which illustrates a normative form of “neighbor love” which Jesus then uses to define “neighbor” in the most generous terms (2 Chronicles 28:5-15).  These interpretative moves happen in two sets of dialogues.  To see how the parable functions as an answer to the second series of questions and as an elucidation of the first series of questions in the larger dialogue, it is helpful to chart the dialogue between Jesus and his theological interlocutor.  
First Dialogue:  And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying,
 “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Lawyer: Question 1
He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
Jesus: Question 2
And he answered “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Lawyer: Answer to 2
And he said to him, “you have answered right; do this, and you shall live.”
Jesus: Answer to 1

Second Dialogue: He, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus,
“And who is my neighbor?”
Lawyer: Question 3
Jesus replied, “A certain main went down from Jerusalem to Jericho…” Which of these three became a neighbor?”
Jesus: Question 4 (in the form of a parable - a metaphorical & theological "retelling" of 2 Chronicles 28:5-15)
Lawyer: “The one who showed him mercy.”
Lawyer: Answer to 4
Jesus said: “You go and do likewise.”
Jesus: Answer to 3

It is important to see this parable as part of a larger dialogue whereby the lawyer seeks to figure out what he must “do” in order to inherit eternal life.  The question of who is “one’s neighbor” is subsidiary to the prior question of eternal life, but an answer to the later informs the former.  Yet, because the lawyer is seeking to “justify himself” (for apparently not doing this command), Jesus answers the follow up question indirectly in the form of a parable.   The parable itself is an exposition of an OT story about neighborliness.  According to Leviticus 19, which the lawyer quotes, a neighbor is either an Israelite or resident alien.  But the story of 2 Chronicles 28 expands our understanding of neighbor by showing how the Jews’ ancient enemies (and half brothers) the Samaritans treated them with mercy…even providing intimate details of putting them on donkeys and transporting them to Jericho to be cared for.  Jesus takes a significant (but largely forgotten) episode in Israel’s history and brings it into immediate consciousness in the form of this parable.  This lawyer should be glad his definition of neighborliness was not what his ancestors received.  The ancestors to the Samaritans were not busy “defining” neighbor but rather acted as a neighbor - with mercy – to their estranged brother Israelite to the south of them.  

There are several reasons this parable works so well at answering the lawyer's questions beyond its arresting allusion to this foundational story of neighborliness.  One way people identified kinship in a highly stratified society was through dress and speech.  If you were a northerner, you often would dress different and talk with an accent.  But in this story, Jesus has rendered the man beaten, unconscious, and left naked.  The usual identification markers - accent and dress -  are eliminated.  The question “who is my neighbor” is no longer relevant in this instance.  One must find other criteria for neighborliness – and Jesus offers another through his subversive retelling of the original Good Samaritan story in 2 Chronicles 28.  By way of Jesus teaching, the new criterion is “showing mercy” to those in need and his concluding comment is for the lawyer to “do likewise.” 
This is an example of metaphorical theology.  Jesus is telling his interlocutor that the path way to eternal life is paved by mercy – God’s mercy to us first of all and then our reciprocation of mercy to those in need.  This is not only a theme in Luke’s gospel (cf. 1:50, 72) but also Paul’s (1 Cor 7:25 and Eph 2:4) and Peter’s (1 Peter 2:10).  Mercy is the wellspring of grace and the precondition to receiving grace. For the condemned grace is experienced as mercy.  God's grace is every where but the unmerciful don't see it and don't receive it. Mercy is the antidote to this delusion.  "Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy" (Matt 5:7). 

The parable of the Good Samaritan is the first parable told in Jesus’ Samaritan travelogue.  Because it addresses the wellspring of salvation (“what must I do to inherit eternal life”) as well as corrects a misunderstanding of ministry to outsiders and deviants (“who is my neighbor?”) this parable is programmatic of his Samaritan ministry, not merely ad hoc.  That is, as he makes his journey to Jerusalem we will see Jesus expanding the normal definition of "neighbor" and thus extending the parameters of "hospitality" as practiced by fellow Jews.   We will see him engaging, befriending and practicing hospitality with the most unlikely of characters - tax collectors, lepers, and the like.  

Friday, April 19, 2013

Statement of the Truro Vestry

Statement of the Truro Vestry
On the Virginia Supreme Court Ruling of April 18, 2013 

Read it here. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Cosmology of Marriage

For all missionally committed orthodox Christians in the West, Rod Dreher has written the money quote of the decade:

They are fighting the culture war moralistically, not cosmologically. They have not only lost the culture, but unless they understand the nature of the fight and change their strategy to fight cosmologically, within a few generations they may also lose their religion.

You can find the rest of the article here:

What Dreher has written is nothing less than one of the most succinct and perceptive descriptions of American culture as well as important clues to the apologetic behind Truro's missionary strategy.  To "fight cosmologically" requires a way of reading scripture that puts a premium on how we live as "male and female in his image."  This embodied scriptural community is precisely what we are building through our alliance with Don Renzo Bonetti and St Joseph of Bovolone, Italy. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Through the Bible: Week 33 - Why Jesus Went Through Samaria

Jesus Between Galilee and Jerusalem (Luke 9-19)

In between Jesus’ Galilean Torah-Synagogue centered ministry (part one of Luke’s Gospel) and his Judean/Jerusalem Temple centered ministry (part three), there is a long travel narrative that contains a lot of material that is unique to Luke (part two, 9:51-19:44).  This narrative unfolds in and around the region of Samaria.  The region and its history is a crucial sub-text to the stories one finds in Luke’s travelogue.  The narrative frames the embedded stories (cp. 9:51-56 and 17:11-19), providing clues to understanding them.  The narrative is critical to our discipleship because the issues addressed are perennial problems for disciples of Jesus.  Most of our lives are lived between Galilee and Jerusalem, the liminal space between initial and final salvation. This narrative teaches us how to live in this space, theologically described as sanctification.
Samaria and the Samaritans had a long and checkered history with Israel, dating from the schism of the Northern Kingdom.  After Samaria's conquest the Assyrians intentionally mixed the region with pagans and paganism.  Despite sending priests to help rehabilitate the Jewish faith, the result was a form of syncretistic Judaism where the people “feared God but served idols” (cf. 2 Kings 17:24-41).  Over time Samaritans redefined three pillars of Jewish faith and practice, having their own version of the Torah, their own Temple and their own Territory.  In other words, Samaritans were “Jewish heretics:” doctrinally, ethically and ethnically deviant. 
If Samaria was not always enemy territory, it was decidedly unfriendly territory.  Thus, most Galilean Jews would not travel through it on their way to Jerusalem but take the more circuitous route along the Transjordan valley.  However, Jesus “had to go” through it (compare Luke 9:51-54 with John 4:4).  It was not a geographical but rather a theological necessity.  What Jesus has to teach his disciples requires an immersion in Samaria.  As introduction to this narrative and its many brilliant parables and sayings of Jesus, it is helpful to identify keys themes and parallels.   Some of the crucial themes and emphases are:
1.       Journey – Jesus is “to go”, “going,” to Jerusalem, etc ((:51, 52, 53, 56, etc).  This parallels other travel narratives of scripture such as the wilderness wanderings of Israel and the wilderness journeys of David between being a shepherd then a King.  In each instance, God’s people are undergoing a transformation of their imaginations, a liberation of their wills and affections, as they learn the deeper meanings and costs of following God in the establishment of his reign. 
2.       Resolve – Jesus is determined to go Jerusalem (9:51-56). Jesus “sets his face” to Jerusalem, much as the suffering servant of Isaiah (50:7), not despite what is going to happen there but because of what will happen there.  When the disciples ask Jesus to fight his opponents, he continues to “set his face” to Jerusalem as if to say “this is the way I fight.” 
3.       Role of disciple – Jesus disciple are sent ahead and often miss the point of Jesus mission.  We see this at the beginning with James and John’s response to the Samaritan village that refuses Jesus (9;51-56) but also when Jesus plain meaning appears to hard to obey (17:1-6).  This is not Discipleship 101 and there are important parallels between Jesus disciples and John the Baptist.  Even the best of us “don’t get” Jesus.
4.       Rejection of Jesus – is a recurring motif, stated at the beginning (9:58) and echoing the beginning of his ministry in Nazareth (4:28).  Part of this rejection has to do with Jesus' compassion for socially marginal and/or theologically deviant peoples.
5.       Jesus' preferred way of reaching these people and training his disciples is through the indirect approach of parables.  This study will closely examine 3-4 parables and prophetic acts and conclude with Jesus' direct engagement of a Samaritan woman in John’s Gospel.

Jesus is a metaphorical theologian of the highest order, re-minting the narrative of Israel around his own person and mission.  We will read closely a few episodes of these narrative theologies and see that some of Jesus' best teaching was done with disciples as they journeyed in and among the heretics of Samaria.