It’s a PARABLE ! Part Two

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The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

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. . . . –Matthew 18

Part One (link) sought to show how our American minds can be derailed by details: “How do we account for this huge debt?” But the “shock and awe” of 10,000 Talents in Jesus’ day serves to grab the attention of Jesus’ listeners.

If we stay on track with this parable, we come to the clear lesson at the end: “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.”

In our day when self-centered therapeutic forgiveness bumps Christ-centered Biblical forgiveness off of the tracks, we need to clearly look at the context.

Leading up to this parable, Jesus teaches about sin and forgiveness. Verse 15, If your brother sins against you,go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother…”

This prompts Peter’s question in verse 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?”

Which leads into this parable of the unforgiving servant.

A parallel teaching in Luke 17 brings clarity to what we, in our day, often miss about Jesus’ instruction:

Verse 3f, So watch what you do!If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in one day, and each time he comes to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

It is this plea for mercy, the repentance, that is often left out of this picture by confused Christians in our depraved world. As Jesus clearly teaches, repentance precedes forgiveness, both ours before God, and our brother’s before us.

And whether seven times or seventy times, the forgiveness is unlimited, BUT not unconditional. Jesus: “…if he repents.” (If he does not, we are commanded to take additional steps to regain our brother.)

Also, take note that Jesus is teaching about relationships between ‘brothers,’ between fellow Christians. When it comes to enemies, Jesus never says anything about forgiveness. He says to love them. And that love may lead to their repentance.

This topic of forgiveness has become more confused among many Christians than today’s confusion about love. 

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We need Christian disciples (i.e. learners) who will go back to the Bible and be taught the basics, and then disciple others. For a fuller discussion of this topic which focuses on the Text and draws on the best of key evangelical resources, see Chapter Three of: lovecover

(link to reviews,  details, kindle, nook, etc., ebook $3) “…an excellent piece…one that many Christians need to hear”–R.C. Sproul 

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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

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Of Lawyers, Language, and Learning

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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).

A Mustard Seed

During Lent, I began reading the Gospel of Mark. The beginning chapters brought to mind an old, distorted view of Holy Scripture that 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. He tells us at the start (Mark 4:30) that this is a parable. 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).