Mustard: The Smallest of Seeds?

An old, American, distorted view of Holy Scripture can cause confusion for some. This is another failure to understand context. This troubles some modern, technical minds. We all find it hard to make the paradigm shift to appreciate the Semitic mind.

The problem: “a mustard seed which…is smaller than all seeds on earth…”

This tiny seed is less than half the size of a poppy seed. Still, a botanist or flower gardener can show us smaller seeds, but that is entirely irrelevant. Jesus is not speaking as a botanist. Mark tells us at the start (Mark 4:2) that these are parables, here. In parables we find hyperbole, e.g. the camel (or rope?) that cannot pass through the eye of a sewing needle [forget the ‘urban legend’ of the gate] but may be swallowed instead of a gnat!

Understanding context keeps us from focusing on gnats.

For the technical mind, “all” must mean “all.” But for the literary mind of the writer, it is a device to convey the point, as in the opening of Mark: “Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him [John] and were all baptized…”

No one thinks that if we had the exact census numbers for Judea and Jerusalem of that day, that they would equal the number of all those  who went out to hear John or the number of baptisms.

Back to the mustard seed, this extended simile, a parable, makes a vivid point. And the Jewish proverb (Plummer), “Small as a mustard-seed,” is used by Jesus in comparison with the resulting bush to emphasize “the sheer miracle of the growth of the Kingdom” (Albright).

30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.–Mark 4 ESV

Teachings_of_Jesus_5_of_40._parable_of_the_mustard_seed._Jan_Luyken_etching._Bowyer_Bible-thumbnail2

Advertisements

It’s a PARABLE !

paul_bunyun_w640 (1)

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents25 But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.

unmerciful-servant1

28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.–Matthew 18

Have you ever heard a tall tale, or an outlandish story to which you exclaimed, “WHAT???”

That would have been the reaction to the outlandish debt on hearing Jesus’ parable. In our day of trillions of dollars of debt, we are numb to such amounts. But in Jesus’ day, 10,000 Talents would elicit shock and awe! (For perspective, Josephus tells us that Herod Antipas’ take of the taxes for all of Galilee and Perea was 200 Talents.)

This is what a parable does. It grabs the listener’s attention. In a noted commentary on Matthew, my asterisks alongside details which attempt to provide a rational explanation for that debt are keyed to a note I wrote at the bottom: “It’s a PARABLE!”

On the other hand, W. F. Albright gives us only one detail, and that puts it in stark perspective: 1 Talent = 6,000 Denarii. In Jesus’ day, one denarius was the day’s wage for a common laborer—that makes the debt equal to 60 million days worth of wages!

And then Albright simply says, “The lesson of the parable is clear enough…”

We are in no position to repay our debt to God or to ever be able to work off that debt. We can only beg for mercy. And in the face of our outlandish debt which has been forgiven, it is equally outlandish that we servants should spurn God’s mercy by demanding the full payment of a pittance owed to us by any fellow servants as we close our ears to their pleas for forgiveness.

the-parable-of-the-unforgiving-servant

Notes for Further Study

Pay attention to the preceding verses that set the context: Going to a brother who has sinned.

Note the context of Peter’s question: a “brother”–a fellow Christian

Be Aware of the way “forgiveness” has been distorted by our therapeutic culture. Christianity Today, in an editorial of a decade ago, noted that such basics have undergone a metamorphosis which distorts their biblical sense.

Just as “love” is used to excuse any immorality, so, too, “forgiveness.”

We need a Back To Basics move in our churches. Many Christians have accepted the world’s re-definition of basics like love and forgiveness.  And it is a sad state of affairs that there is so little teaching on this in the churches amidst the confusion. [There is no Reformation.]

 

A Yoke?

Farming-With-Oxen

28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”–Yeshua (Matthew 11)

Firstly, we are long past the day when we can assume that everyone knows what a “yoke” is, especially regarding children.

As pictured, a yoke is a crafted piece of wood, used (as we would a harness for horses) for beasts of burden (oxen, etc.) to pull a cart or plow. (The carpenters Joseph and Jesus may have made such an everyday item in Nazareth.) A young ox would learn to plow by yoking it with an experienced ox.

The second obstruction to learning, in our evangelical memory verse world, is that we keep hearing verse 28, “Come unto me, all you who are weary…I will give you rest,” quoted all by its lonesome.

Jesus gives us three charges: “Come…Take…Learn…”

The Zeitgeist impels us to attempt to grasp the benefit, “rest,” without the process, “take” and “learn.” As is common, we see the chiasmus, put simply, an A-B-B’-A’ structure.*

A–The invitation offers “rest”

B– This has a condition: taking Jesus’ “yoke” involves learning and obedience

B’--”…learn of me”

A’--”…rest”

You do not get the “rest” of A/A’ without B/B’. The key is Jesus, coming to him, taking his yoke of instruction and learning from him, that is, being a true disciple.

“To be a follower of Jesus is to be a disciple and therefore a learner.”–Leon Morris

“Disciple” and “learn” are cognates in Greek.

In the Old Testament background, “Jeremiah describes [apostate (see 5:5f)] Israel’s true relationship with Yahweh as a yoke which the wayward shake off (Jer. 2:20; 5:5).” [DNTT] This yoke which they discarded was the “knowledge of Yahweh and his law” (Torah).

Yoke is a “well-known metaphor for obedience.” Though Israel has thrown off the yoke of Yahweh for the yoke of captivity, Jeremiah ends in a future promise. “Yahweh says, ‘Once again…I will satisfy the weary ones…‘” (ch. 31).

That ultimate satisfaction comes in Christ to those who accept his invitation to come and learn from him.

*cf. Matthew, Gundry for more detailed analysis.

The Holy Conjunction

Broken chain

“And”

…One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” –Matthew 22

In my lifetime, I have been blessed to hear or learn under several noted Christian teachers. The one lesson, which has made the most difference, is centered on the word “and.” D. Elton Trueblood called this “the holy conjunction.” He emphasized this in key areas like Christ’s humanity and divinity; roots and fruits; the inner life of devotion and the outer life of service.

From the beginning of the Church, there were always those who failed in the struggle to hold these key essentials together. We see this in John’s first epistle. The church to which he wrote had divided. Under the strong influence of the spirit of the times, some Christians rejected the idea that the Messiah came in flesh and blood. They saw the world through dualistic lenses: In its essence, matter (e.g. flesh; that which is created) was evil; spirit was good.

One such contemporary of John’s was Cerinthus who distinguished between Jesus, the man of flesh and blood, and the Christ, the spiritual being who, he claimed, descended upon Jesus at his baptism and departed before the crucifixion. Cerinthus’ dualistic view did not allow suffering for spiritual beings….

When Jesus was asked which was the foremost commandment, he replied, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

“…And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’”(Matt. 22:37, 39).

Again, we have the holy conjunction–“and.” To claim to love God but to not love our neighbor, or to try to get around Jesus description of a neighbor as illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan, is to enter into a sort of heresy.

First John states it thus: “He who says, ‘I know him’ and does not keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him…

“He who says he is in the light [divine], and hates his brother [flesh], is in the darkness until now” (2:4, 9). (Keep in mind the dualistic view of those like Cerinthus.)

Love of God and love of neighbor make up the whole counsel of God, so that Jesus said, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40).

We need to keep alert here and heed a warning: while “and” holds together different aspects within Christian teaching, we need to beware that it can become the “unholy conjunction” when we try to combine Christian and non-Christian worldviews. C. S. Lewis illustrated this through the mouth of his diabolical character, Screwtape. In Letter XXV to his underling demon, Screwtape advises Wormwood about his strategy which he has devised against Christians:

What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And.” You know—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must Be Christians, let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.

The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart—an endless source of heresies.2

From Introduction to Love, Prayer, and Forgiveness: When Basics Become Heresies

Fr. Ted’s Blog: Parable of the Sower

sower

“A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path, and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold.”

As he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Fr. Ted’s Blog Post Here

 

 

Of Lawyers, Language, and Learning

jesus-questioned-by-lawyer04

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Luke 10 ESV

From the Kings James Version till today’s English Standard Version, the common translation of “lawyer” has been used for nomikos (“according to the law” Kittel). In King James’ day, Christians understood what that meant. Today, most Christians are clueless. We must not neglect the details.

Other versions, like the NIV, have helped some with “expert in the law.” But the unknown in most minds today, is ‘to what does “law” [nomos] refer?’ “It normally denotes the Pentateuch.”–Kittel

Thus, Jesus’ interrogator was one “learned in the Law” of Moses. Then, we come to two of the major characters of the parable, the priest and the Levite. We are, now, set up for the shock (in Jesus’ day) of the despised Samaritan (LINK).

Two Swords: Enough

Share the Road to the Cross

TextsInContext

Here is a blazing example of what happens when Christians pay little attention to context in the Bible. I have seen several forum discussions in the last months where Christians said, ‘…but Jesus told his disciples to buy swords.”

Luke 22

35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough” [ESV].

First…

View original post 331 more words