Showing posts with label #Parables. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Parables. Show all posts

The Satan Versus Satan Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 July

Mark 3.23-26, Matthew 12.24-30, Luke 11.17-18.

Jesus was in the habit of ignoring Pharisee customs. In part because they aren’t biblical and therefore aren’t necessary (and aren’t sin when you break ’em). In part because too many Pharisees pointed to their customs as proof they were devout… and hoped the customs distracted people from the fact they were breaking the Law just as much as any gentile. It was all hypocrisy—the one thing which really pisses Jesus off.

Pharisees who legitimately tried to follow God, easily recognized Jesus is from God. Pharisees who were only interested in looking devout had the darnedest time trying to prove Jesus isn’t from God: It’s kinda impossible to make such a case when Jesus so obviously has God’s power to cure the sick and throw evil spirits out of people. When Pharisees tried to cure people and do exorcisms, they had such a low success rate, lots of Jews turned to witch doctors instead. In comparison, Jesus looks like he put hardly any effort into it. Sometimes he had to pray real hard, or lay hands on someone more than once, or had to give up because people were so faithless. But most of the time he’d say, “You’re cured,” and they were; or “Get out,” and the critters would scream and flee. He had the Holy Spirit without limit, Jn 3.34 and this almightiness showed.

So Pharisees had nothing. But it looks like the Galilean Pharisees decided to pick the brains of Judean Pharisees, who came up with the explanation, “He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.” Mk 3.22 I explained the backstory of “Beelzebub,” properly Baal Zevúl, in another article. It’s pretty much a euphemism for Satan. Like many a cessationist nowadays, these Judeans claimed Jesus did his thing through the power of the devil. ’Cause God would never work through such people.

In response, Jesus told this parable.

Mark 3.23-26 KWL
23 Jesus, summoning them,
is telling them in parables,
“How can Satan throw out Satan?
24 When a kingdom is divided against itself,
that kingdom can’t stand.
25 When a house is divided against itself,
that house can’t stand.
26 And if Satan rises up against itself and is divided,
it can’t stand. Instead it’s the End.”

The Lost Sheep Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 July

Matthew 18.12-14.

Since I was already discussing parables where Jesus compares his followers to sheep, and portrays himself as the good shepherd, I figured I’d do the Lost Sheep Story. I kinda did already, but I bunched Luke’s version together with the Lost Coin Story, and focused on God seeking and saving the lost. Matthew’s version is a bit different, ’cause it has a different punchline.

Jesus begins this parable with a question which is typically translated like the KJV’s, “What think ye?” Except the verb is singular and third-person, not plural and second-person: Ye is not the subject, but the Greek word τί/ti is. It can be translated “what” or “who,” so that’s what I went with. He’s not really asking for his audience’s thoughts; he wants to see who among them has the sense to realize what he means. If Jesus were only fishing for consensus, his parables wouldn’t mean anything. He’s got a point to them—now see if you can spot it.

Even if he already totally spells out his own point. Hey, sometimes the crowd is just that dense—as you’ll see in a moment.

Matthew 18.12-14 KWL
12 “Who among you thinks?
When a hundred sheep belong to a certain person,
and one of them might wander off,
won’t the person leave the 99 on the hills,
and go to seek the wanderer?
13 When he happens to find it,
amen, I promise you, he rejoices over it—
more so than the 99 who hadn’t wandered.
14 Likewise it’s not the will
laid out by your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be destroyed.”

In Jesus’s day, people didn’t keep their wealth in money, which was harder to come by; but in land and livestock. So how wealthy does that make a person with 100 sheep? Well… not poor. Certainly not rich. Think of an individual lamb like 100 dollars. That’d make his flock worth 10,000 dollars. It’s a decent pile, but it’s not disposable income: You can’t just trade all your sheep for luxuries and comforts. You need to keep those sheep, and keep ’em well-fed and in good health so they’ll make more sheep, and produce good milk and good wool, and you can sell that… if you’re patient and work hard.

And with only 100 sheep, you can’t really afford to lose a lamb or two. A rich person could lose a lamb here and there easily. This guy was gonna have to go look for it himself.

The Good Shepherd Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 July

John 10.11-21.

In the previous bit, Jesus says he’s the sheepfold gate. In this bit, Jesus says he’s the good shepherd.

These passages don’t confuse a lot of people, because most of us have plenty enough brainpower to keep up with the idea of Jesus switching metaphors. “I’m the gate; you don’t go in around me. And I’m the shepherd—a good shepherd, who defends his sheep, unlike people who only start up a church for the power and money and fame, and the instant things get serious or rough, they bail on their church in Seattle, Washington and move to Scottsdale, Arizona, and con another flock into following them.”

…Okay yeah, I’m sounding a tad specific there, like I have a particular guy in mind. Maybe I do. But you could swap in any two cities in the United States—or the planet—and you’ll probably find a bad shepherd fleeing from town to town, hoping to evade accountability so he can get away with yet more evil. There have been bad shepherds throughout history. The people of Jesus’s day no doubt knew a few; maybe some rabbi who stole all his synagogue’s money, or one who slept around, or one who touched the children. Human nature doesn’t change, and ravenous wolves still try to feast on the faithful. So these things still happen.

But Jesus is the good shepherd. Kinda like the LORD is in Psalm 23… and since Jesus is the LORD, it’s totally okay to apply that psalm to him. But let’s deal with today’s passage first.

John 10.11-21 KWL
11 “I’m the good shepherd.
The good shepherd puts down his soul for the sheep.
12 The hireling, being no shepherd—
who isn’t the sheep’s own shepherd
he sees the wolf coming,
and he abandons the sheep and flees.
The wolf snatches and scatters them.
13 Because he’s a hireling!
He doesn’t care about anything about the sheep.
 
14 “I’m the good shepherd.
I know who’s mine,
and who’s mine know me.
15 Just as the Father knows me,
and I know the Father.
16 I have other sheep,
which aren’t from this sheepfold.
It’s necessary for me to lead them as well:
They’ll hear my voice,
and they’ll become one flock, one shepherd.
 
17 “This is why the Father loves me:
I put down my soul,
so I can pick it up again.
18 No one takes it away from me;
instead I put it down by myself.
I have the power to put it down,
and I have the power to pick it up again.
I receive this command from my Father.”
 
19 Again, there became a split among the Judeans
about these words.
20 Many were saying about him, “He has a demon,”
and “He’s raving mad; do you hear him?”
21 Others were saying, “These sayings aren’t demonic;
a demon isn’t able to open blind eyes!”

Jesus says a lot of profound things here, and of course the Judeans’ response was to either say, “Well of course he’s the good shepherd,” or if you’re a bit more closed-minded, “Oh he’s just babbling complete nonsense. Who does he think he is, God or something?”

As you might remember, parables tend to go right over the heads of the closed-minded—not necessarily because they can’t follow what Jesus means by them, but because they have no faith in Jesus. They might totally agree with the metaphor of Jesus’s followers being sheep—but they’re gonna dismiss and ignore the rest. It’s childish rubbish, meant for weak-minded sheeple.

The Sheepfold Gate Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 July

John 10.1-10.

A lot of reference materials claim Jesus only shares parables in the synoptic gospels, and that there are no parables in the gospel of John. Seriously, a lot of them. I grew up hearing it all my life. And it turns out it’s rubbish, because John straight-up states,

John 10.6 KJV
This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.

It’s not a mistranslation either. True, John didn’t use the word παραβολή/paravolí, the word from which we literally get our word “parable.” He used παροιμίαν/parimían, which literally means “nearly like it.” But that’s what a parable is: It’s an analogy. A comparison. Something which is nearly like something else, so you can slip people some wisdom in a memorable format.

Other bibles have rendered parimían as “figure of speech” (ESV, NASB, NIV, NRSV) or “illustration” (NKJV, NLT). But again: Parables are figures of speech and illustrations. This is a parable. I suspect the translators were hesitant to use “parable” because it’s so widely believed and taught that John contains no parables. I still call rubbish. This is obviously a parable, and you gotta go through some weird logical gymnastics in order to claim it’s not.

It comes up in John 10, right after Jesus cured a blind man in John 9—whereupon the local Pharisees put the newly-cured guy on trial for heresy and excommunicate him. Jesus calls ’em blind. That’s a figure of speech; this next bit is a parable.

John 10.1-10 KWL
1 “Amen amen! I promise you,
one who won’t enter through the sheepfold gate,
but goes over it some other way:
That one is a thief, a looter.
2 One who enters through the gate is the sheep’s shepherd.
3 The gatekeeper opens up for this shepherd.
The sheep hear the shepherd’s voice.
He calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out.
4 Whenever the shepherd drives out his own sheep,
they go in front of him, and the sheep follow him,
because they’ve known his voice.
5 The sheep won’t follow a stranger,
but will flee from him:
They’ve not known the stranger’s voice.”
 
6 Jesus tells them this parable,
and they don’t know what he’s telling them,
7 so again Jesus says, “Amen amen! I promise you,
I’m the sheepfold gate.
8 Everybody who goes over me is a thief and looter.
But the sheep don’t heed them.
9 I’m the gate. When anyone goes through me, they’ll be saved.
They’ll enter and exit, and they’ll find pasture.
10 A thief won’t come in—
unless it’s to steal, murder, and destroy.
I come so they might have life,
and might have superabundance.”

So. At the end of chapter 9 he was speaking of blindness; now he speaks of sheep? But it’s not a total non-sequitur. Blind or not, people oughta be able to identify their master by voice. The sheep don’t need to identify their shepherd by sight: They can hear. And strangers aren’t gonna sound right.

And yeah, Jesus is also the shepherd, and a good shepherd. But that’s actually another analogy, in the next few verses. We’ll get to it; it’s another of the parables in John. Yep, there are a few of ’em. I’ll get to them all. Meanwhile, in today’s passage, Jesus is the sheepfold gate.

The Pharisee and Taxman Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 June

Luke 18.9-14.

Immediately after the Persistent Widow Story, Jesus tells this one. It likewise touches upon prayer… but it’s more about people who consider themselves devout, yet are jerks.

Luke 18.9-14 KWL
9 Jesus also says to certain hearers
who trust in themselves that they’re righteous
—and despise everyone else—this parable:
10 “Two people go up to temple to pray.
One’s a Pharisee, and the other a taxman.
11 The Pharisee, standing off by himself, is praying this:
‘God, thank you that I’m not like every other person!
those greedy, unjust fornicators!
Or even like this taxman!
12 I fast twice a week.
I tithe whatever I get.’
13 The taxman, who’d been standing way back,
didn’t even want to raise his eyes to heaven,
but beat his chest, saying,
‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 I tell you this taxman comes down from temple,
made righteous in his house, along with the other man.
For everyone who raises themselves will be lowered.
And those who lower themselves will be raised.”

Sometimes this is called the Pharisee and Publican story, ’cause “publican” is how the KJV translates τελώνης/telónis, “collector of tolls, customs, or taxes.” But “publican” is an anachronism at this point in history. Yep, it’s history lesson time, kids. Gather round and I’ll tell a story.

Before the Caesars took over, Rome was a republic. Not a democracy; it had democratic parts to it, but it was mostly an oligarchy run by patricians, the Roman nobility. At some uncertain point in their past, the patricians overthrew their king and ran Rome collectively. Every year, patricians elected two consuls to run things; the consuls picked senators, and these senators ruled for life. But senators weren’t permitted to collect taxes, so they hired lower-rank patricians to do it for ’em. These tax-gatherers were from the publicani rank, and over time, publicani became synonymous with taxmen.

The publicans practiced tax farming: Different companies applied for the job of collecting taxes in a certain town or county, by offering the government an advance—say, 𐆖10,000. (The 𐆖 stands for denarii; it’s like our dollar sign.) If they outbid everyone they got the contract—and had to pay the government the 𐆖10,000 advance. Now they had to make it back: Collect rent, charge tolls, demand a percentage of merchants’ profits. They shook everybody down to make back that 𐆖10,000.

And everything they made beyond that 𐆖10,000, they got to keep. So the more unscrupulous the publican, the higher taxes would be, and the richer they got.

Richer, and corrupt. They’d bribe government officials to get their contracts, bribe their way out of trouble if they were charged with over-taxing, and bribe their way out of trouble for any other crimes. When Augustus Caesar took over the senate in 30BC, he tried to eliminate tax farming, figuring it’d lower taxes and reduce bribery. He took it away from the publicans, who switched careers and got into banking and money-lending. He put government officials in charge… but lazy officials who didn’t want this job, simply hired other tax farmers to collect for them.

Since you no longer had to be of publicani rank to be a taxman, any wealthy person could bid for the job, and get it. And that’s what happened in first-century Israel: Rich Jews became tax farmers, and did the Romans’ dirty work for them. Their fellow Jews saw them as traitors—as greedy, exploitative sellouts. Which, to be fair, they totally were.

The Persistent Widow Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 June

Luke 18.1-8.

Last time I wrote about parables, I brought up the Midnight Friend Story. Well… same gospel, same idea, but whole different story. Comes in chapter 18 instead of 11. It’s also called the Unjust Judge, the Importunate Widow, the Persistent Woman, and the Unjust Judge and the Widow. All depends on which of them you wanna emphasize, but since the widow is meant to be our role model, I think the story oughta be named for her.

Luke 18.1-8 KWL
1 Jesus is speaking parabolically to his students
on the necessity of them always praying
and not becoming discouraged,
2 saying, “There’s some judge in some city
with no respect for God, no regard for people.
3 There’s a widow in that city;
she’s coming to him, saying,
‘Prosecute my opponent for me!’
4 For a time, he doesn’t want to.
Afterward, he said to himself,
‘Though I don’t respect God, nor have regard for the people,
5 because this widow keeps bugging me,
I’ll prosecute her opponent for her.
In the end, she may come give me a black eye!’ ”
6 The Master says, “Listen to what this unjust judge says.
7 Might God not prosecute on behalf of his elect,
who cry out to him day and night,
and have patience with them?
8 I tell you he will prosecute for them, quickly.
But at the Son of Man’s coming,
will he then find any faith on the earth?”

Some notes about my translation. The term the widow is using is ἐκδίκησόν με/ekdíkisón me, which the KJV translates “Avenge me.” That’s perhaps too literal of a translation. Ekdikéo means to carry out a punishment, and the word isn’t particular about whether it’s a judge sentencing a criminal, a vigilante murdering a criminal, or someone with a grudge taking out petty revenge upon a neighbor. Since Jesus is talking about a judge, he is talking about some level of due process.

Problem is, Jesus isn’t talking about a righteous judge. In his culture there were two kinds of judges:

  • Jewish judges followed and interpreted the Law, the commands the LORD handed down in the 15th century BC.
  • Roman judges followed and interpreted the laws decreed by the senate and people of Rome.

So when Jesus describes this judge as caring neither about God nor people, he describes a person who ignores the standards for both Jewish and Roman judges. He doesn’t base his rulings on law and legal precedent; he follows his conscience. He’s what we’d call an “activist judge”—the kind of judge people love when he shares their politics, ’cause he’ll rule their way, no matter what the law says! But they soon discover a lawless judge creates a lot of instability in society, no matter how moral these judges might imagine they are.

The Midnight Friend Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 June

Luke 11.5-8.

Right after teaching his students the Lord’s prayer, Jesus told the Midnight Friend Story. Yeah, he meant it in context of prayer. Yeah, it’s an odd little story. Odd because the protagonist is so annoying—yet Jesus presents this as if it’s a good thing.

Luke 11.5-8 KWL
5 Jesus tells them, “Who among you has a friend like this?
He’ll go to another friend at midnight,
and might tell him, ‘Friend! Lend me three loaves!
6 Because a friend of mine comes off the road to visit me,
and I have nothing I’ll give him to eat.’
7 From within, this person may say in reply, ‘Don’t put your trouble on me!
The door was already shut, and my children are with me in bed.
I can’t get up to give you a thing.’
8 But I tell you, if he’ll not get up and give it
for the sake of being his friend,
he will indeed get up and give it
because of his rudeness,
and will give him as much as he needs.”

And this is why he tells us to ask, seek, and knock. That part comes immediately afterward.

This parable is phrased a little awkwardly, ’cause Jesus introduces it with “Who among you has a friend?”—and then proceeds to talk about two other guys. It’s not about you and your friend; it’s about two entirely different guys. It’s an awkward transition, and for this reason a number of translators try to insert “you” into the story. Like the NET starting, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight…” Lk 11.5 NET or the NIV’s ending, “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” Lk 11.8 NIV But Jesus actually stops talking about “you” as soon as his one-liner introduction is over. This is why I inserted the words “like this”: He’s talking about the hypothetical friend. Not you. Don’t take it personally—the lesson is for you.

Jesus’s audience knew all about unexpected guests at night. Unlike our culture, it wasn’t at all easy to send word ahead: No phones, texts, emails, telegrams, nor postal service. Yep, no postal service: The way Paul sent letters all over the Roman Empire was to send someone with the letter, to deliver it personally. That person might be the one to unexpectedly show up at your house at 2AM… and need a place to sleep, and probably food.

The Lost Sheep and Lost Coin Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 November

Luke 15.1-10.

Jesus loves sinners. Not just because he loves everybody without discrimination, because God is love, but because he knows the most effective way of getting a sinner to repent is by loving ’em. Show them grace, and they respond with gratitude. Unless of course they’re entitled jerks who think of course they deserve God’s kingdom… like we see in a lot of Christians nowadays, and like we see in the scriptures whenever Pharisees have a problem with Jesus being too liberal with people who deserve hate, scorn, and explusion.

In the gospels, two groups tend to be singled out for Pharisee ire: Taxmen, who were natives of the Galilee and Judea who worked for and with the occupying Romans, and were considered sellouts and traitors and unclean apostates; and “sinners,” by which Pharisees meant irreligious people.

For some reason people tend to naïvely assume everybody in ancient or medieval times was religious. Every Egyptian believed in the Egyptian gods, or every Israelite believed in either the LORD or one of the Baals, or every Roman believed in the Greco-Roman gods, or every medieval European was Catholic or Pagan or, later, Protestant. Nope. Same as now, lots of people consider religion to be unimportant or irrelevant, or were even nontheist—but kept these feelings to themselves, ’cause it’d get ’em in trouble with the religious majority. Even in countries with freedom of religion, people who believe in nothing try to stay under the radar. Just look at all the hypocrites in the Bible Belt, who claim they’re good Christians but vote like racists and social Darwinists and greedy Mammonists.

So when Jesus hung out with taxmen and sinners, it really triggered ’em. “What’s the rabbi doing with pagans? Why’s he going to their homes? Why’s he eating with them? You know they don’t follow our exacting standards for ritual cleanliness; he could be eating bacon for all we know! In fact I’ve never seen him wash his hands…” And so on.

For them, Jesus had two parables. Same punchline, ’cause they’re about the same thing. I don’t know whether in real life he actually told them one right after the other like this, or whether Luke just bunched ’em together in his gospel for convenience. Only literalists think it matters; it does not.

Luke 15.1-10 KWL
1 All the taxmen and sinners were coming near Jesus to hear him,
2 and some Pharisees and scribes were grumbling, saying this:
“This one befriends sinners. And eats with them.”
 
3 Jesus told them this parable, saying,
4 “Any person among you have 100 sheep,
and upon losing one of them,
don’t leave the 99 in the middle of nowhere,
and go after the lost one till you find it?
5 One places the found sheep on one’s shoulders, rejoicing,
6 coming into the house together with friends and neighbors,
telling them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I found my lost sheep!’
7 I tell you this is like the joy in the heavens over one repentant sinner,
rather than over 99 righteous people who didn’t have any need of repentance.
 
8 “Or some woman who has 10 drachmas, when she loses one drachma.
Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house,
and carefully seek till she finds it?
9 On finding it, she gathers her friends and neighbors,
saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I found my lost drachma!’
10 I tell you this is like the joy found among God’s angels
over one repentant sinner.”

The Wedding Party Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 November

Matthew 22.1-14.

This parable has a lot in common with Jesus’s Dinner Party Story in Luke. So much so, many Christians consider them the same story, and teach on them at the same time. They might primarily present it as the Wedding Party Story, and quote some bits of Luke to add some depth; or as the Dinner Party Story, and quote bits of Matthew. Or they’ll say, “Well in Matthew it’s a wedding and in Luke it’s a dinner party… but it’s all the same thing, right? A wedding is just a dinner party to celebrate a wedding. So the differences don’t matter.”

But they do. Because in the Wedding Party Story it’s not just any wedding. The person throwing the party isn’t the groom, as was the custom in first-century middle eastern weddings; in this case it was his father. Who’s the king. And not just a king like our democracies have, who’s really just a rich noble with an extra-fancy title who gets to be on the money and has a few ceremonial government duties. This guy actually rules his country, like a dictator. Like Salman ibn Abdulaziz al-Saud of Arabia. Imagine he threw a wedding party for his son Muhammad… and people behaved this way towards him. Heads would roll. As they do in this story.

Matthew 22.1-14 KWL
1 In reply Jesus again spoke to them parabolically, saying,
2 “Heaven’s kingdom is like a person, a king,
who makes a wedding feast for his son.
3 He sends his slaves to call the called to the wedding feast,
and they’re not willing to come.
4 The king sends other slaves again,
telling them, ‘Tell the called, “Look, my banquet was prepared!
My oxen, and well-fed sacrificial meats, and everything is ready!
Come to the wedding feast now!” ’
5 But the dismissive invitees go away.
One goes to his field, one to his business.
6 The rest seize the king’s slaves, abuse, and kill them.
7 The king is angry. Sending his army,
he destroys those murderers and fires their cities.
8 Then the king tells his slaves, ‘The wedding feast is ready.
The called weren’t worthy.
9 So go to the crossroads and call as many as you find to the wedding feast.
10 Going out, those slaves gather everyone they find on the roads, both evil and good,
and the wedding feast fills with people reclining at table.
11 The king, entering and seeing those reclining at table,
sees a person there not wearing wedding clothing.
12 The king tells him, ‘Fellow, how’d you get in here not wearing wedding clothing?’
The person was struck silent.
13 Then the king told his servants, ‘Bind him feet and hands.
Throw him into the darkness outside.
Weeping and teeth-grinding will be there.’
14 For many are called, and few chosen.”

Christians get confused by this story. In part because Christians who don’t live under monarchies, and especially those who don’t live in the ancient near east, really don’t understand the cultural context. Nor do they understand much of the capricious-sounding behavior of the king, ’cause they presume the king in this story is God. And the son is Jesus, and the wedding banquet is the end of time, and the dismissive invitees and the guy without the wedding clothes are sinners who deserve what they’re getting… and so forth.

Especially do they not understand Jesus’s moral of his story: “For many are called, but few [are] chosen.” Mt 22.14 KJV Wait, how does God call you, yet not choose you? Shouldn’t those be the same thing? Determinists are entirely sure they are, and other scriptures kinda make it sound like they’re one and the same:

Romans 8.29 LEB
29 Because those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers; 30 and those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, He also justified; and those whom He justified, He also glorified.

They assume all these things are a package deal. If you’re elect, you’re

  • foreknown
  • called
  • justified
  • glorified

and you can’t be one without all the others. Called means chosen.

So what’s going on here? Glad you asked. Let’s get to it.

The king, the kingdom, and God.

Heaven’s kingdom (or God’s kingdom; same thing) is like this king. Jesus says so upfront. He doesn’t say the king represents God; we read that into the story because the king has a son, so we presume these are two persons of the trinity. We read of a wedding feast, and read all the Revelation imagery of the Lamb’s bride Rv 21-22 into it. Basically we add a lot to the text which isn’t actually in it. But the king represents the kingdom. Not God. “Heaven’s kingdom is like a person,” Jesus starts. Got that?

Further, Jesus is the king of God’s kingdom. So don’t go figuring, as many Christians will, “If the king isn’t God, I guess the king would be Jesus, right?” What son of Jesus’s would he be throwing a wedding feast for? Stop trying to find a one-to-one matchup between the fictional characters of the parable, and real-life people. Jesus is talking about an idea here. Let’s let him get to his idea.

This king has a son, who will probably be his successor, the next king. His marriage was a big deal, ’cause such unions were expected to produce children, ensuring the next king would have his own successor. So this marriage feast is about the king’s dynasty; it’s a celebration of the king’s power. It’s a big deal if you attend.

It’s equally a big deal if you don’t attend. It means you defy the king and don’t recognize his power. Maybe you have another king. Maybe you wanna be king. These invited guests who ignored the king, or who murdered the king’s slaves: They were making a political statement, much like this line from Jesus’s New King Story:

Luke 19.14 KJV
But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.

That new king’s response?

Luke 19.27 KJV
But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

Don’t confuse that guy with Jesus either. Jesus was describing the sort of kings his audience was familiar with, not the sort of king he is. The kings of the earth are paranoid and murdery, same as Herod 1, who tried to kill baby Jesus. Our Lord isn’t like that, so don’t confound him with the bad behavior of the kings in his stories.

Like an easily-provoked dictator who freaks out at any hint of disrespect, this king was enraged at these invitees. Yeah, the open rebellion and the death of his slaves was an outrage, but he didn’t just kill the invitees; he fired their cities. He burned everyone in their hometowns to death over the insult. Does God kill the innocent along with the guilty? Abraham knew he absolutely doesn’t, Ge 18.23-25 and you’d think we Christians would know this too. Yet too many Christians nonetheless insist the king in this story represents God, and that he’s pretty darned wrathful… instead of love. Revealing, of course, they don’t know God as well as they claim. Nor Jesus, who reveals God as he truly is.

So if the king’s not God, but he is the kingdom, what’s the parallel here? Is it that God’s kingdom is angry and vengeful and only seeks power? Well… certainly the civic idolaters in Christendom do. But no, the point Jesus is trying to make is in his moral at the end. The rest of the stuff in his story is not gonna have an exact correlation between the activities of God’s kingdom, nor certainly God’s people.

But I will say those people who were invited to the wedding feast, who defied the king and his servants, do have some similarities to antichrists who want nothing to do with Jesus, his teachings, his kingdom, his followers, his God, anything. They still abuse and kill Jesus’s servants in nations where Christianity is a minority. They will receive judgment for it eventually. Meanwhile Jesus still offers ’em chances, much like the king sending his slaves to call ’em to the wedding feast yet again. Food’s ready! You’re still invited.

Open to all… but you gotta be prepared.

Most Christians don’t know how to deal with the underdressed guest at the end, who gets thrown out of the party and into darkness, weeping, and teeth-grinding. Those last three adjectives are commonly used by Christians to describe hell. So this is apparently someone who got into heaven, and shouldn’t have. But he’s been found out, so out he goes.

If you wanna take this parable literally… well, here’s the part where Christians put a pause on literalness and deliberately overlook the implications. Because somebody snuck past God. Somebody got around the heavenly security guards, got into the wedding feast, and was there getting his unbeliever stank all over the banqueting table. Y’know they ate with their hands back then; so here he is getting his dirty unwashed pagan fingers two knuckles deep into the hummus. Probably double-dipping too. So does this mean people could potentially get into heaven who need to get found out and tossed out? What if—yikes—you’re one of those people?

First, relax. Second let’s back up a few verses. In verse 8 the king points out his chosen guests weren’t worthy; in verse 9 he orders his slaves to go get anybody and bring ’em to the feast. Verse 10, they do so, and “gather everyone they find on the roads, both evil and good.” Jesus deliberately said πονηρούς τε καὶ ἀγαθούς/ponirús te ke agathús, “evil—and also good” to point out the slaves definitely brought evil people to this feast. Not necessarily deliberately, but to make the point they weren’t being particular. At all. Everybody was welcome. No prejudice, no discrimination, not even commonsense: Everybody.

Because everybody is welcome in God’s kingdom. Because we don’t get in on goodness. We don’t merit our way in, earn our way in, rack up enough points to get in; we don’t have to be born into the right tribe, caste, class, or country; we don’t have to first get ritually circumcised. Jesus died to save the world, so the world can come in. That’s the point of this, and the Dinner Party Story, opening up their respective celebrations to everybody who will come.

But.

’Cause yeah, there’s a but. One which Christians tend to skip, because we’re so fixated on the awesome message of grace, and how we’re saved by it. And Jesus does teach we’re saved by grace; absolutely everybody is invited to these banquets, remember?

But Jesus does expect that once we’re in—once we’ve become the recipients and beneficiaries of God’s grace, once we’ve been included in his inheritance and are granted God’s kingdom—we live holy lives befitting our new status. We don’t take God’s grace for granted and remain the same dirty sinners we were before. We get fruity. We obey our Lord’s instructions and put on his lifestyle… kinda like putting on your good clothes to attend a wedding.

Years ago some Christian interpreter found out an ancient middle eastern king gave clothes to his people so they could dress more appropriately for a celebration. Hence a number of commentaries claim this was what the king meant by “Fellow, how’d you get in here not wearing wedding clothing?”—as if all middle eastern kings did this. But we’ve no evidence any king but the one did this; it’s a fluke, not a common custom. More likely the guest knew, as everyone knew, you wear your best to a royal function—and he didn’t. He had better, cleaner clothing. As was proven by the fact he “was struck silent”: He didn’t speak up and say, “But master, I’m dirt poor and have no other clothes”—he did, and didn’t wear them. He had no excuse. So out he goes.

When we stand before Jesus at judgment, the Lambs and Kids Story makes it sound like he’s not gonna bother to ask us to explain ourselves, much as we might really want to at that time. (I’m particularly amused by the pathetic excuses Keith Green offered in his song “The Sheep and the Goats”—“Oh Lord, that wasn’t our ministry Lord; we just didn’t feel led, y’know?”) He’s already decided which group we’re in. And if we really accepted his offer of salvation, really trusted him to save us, really acknowledged him as Lord, we’re gonna have tried. Christians who don’t even try, and don’t see why they even should try, aren’t legitimately Christian.

They’re the people who are gonna want to complain to Jesus after he returns—they wanna know why they didn’t get raptured along the rest of the Christians. (Assuming they even acknowledge he’s really Jesus. ’Cause if they didn’t get raptured, they’re gonna presume it couldn’t really be the rapture.) They’re gonna make such a stink, he’ll kinda have to have them cuffed, feet and hands, and thrown outside—where it’s dark, and where they’ll rage at him because they think he owes them something. Based on what? Their own prideful egos. Nothing more.

Matthew regularly points out, in both the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’s parables, Jesus expects a lot of his followers. He’s saved us so that we needn’t worry about sin and death, and can solely concentrate on following him, without worrying we might slip up and lose our salvation. We’re not gonna lose it; apostasy means you deliberately quit, not unintentionally do something which cancels out God’s grace. But if we never even begin to follow Jesus, never develop any sort of relationship with him, never heed the Spirit… you’re not yet Christian. You never even got started putting together your wedding-appropriate clothes. It’s gonna make you stand out at the wedding like a man in a dog costume at a dog show.

So repent!

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The Murderous Vineyard Workers Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 November

Mark 12.1-11, Matthew 21.33-46, Luke 20.9-19.

Most Christians think of Pharisees as the bad guys in the gospels, ’cause of how often Pharisees objected to Jesus, Jesus objected to them right back, and how Pharisees conspired with others to get Jesus killed.

Thing is, that’s only some Pharisees. Just like how the gospel of John showed Jesus getting opposed by “the Judeans” (KJV “the Jews”) —it wasn’t all Judeans, but some Judeans. He got along just fine with Nicodemus, Lazarus and his sisters, the guy who lent him the room for Passover, and lots of other Judeans; and he got just as much pushback from his fellow Galileans! Likewise not all Pharisees objected to Jesus. Ever notice how Jesus frequently taught in synagogue? Synagogues were a Pharisee thing; nobody but Pharisees had synagogues. Those Pharisees accepted Jesus. Likewise all the Pharisees who followed him (though sometimes poorly) after he was raptured, and became the Christians of the early church.

And the Pharisees weren’t the only bad guys. There were the Sadducees, Judea’s ruling class. In the Galilee there were the Herodians, the people who were perfectly happy to keep the Herod family in power, usually because it benefited them personally. And of course there were the Romans, who eventually killed Jesus.

When Jesus tells this story, it’s not just to Pharisees. It’s to members of the Judean senate: “The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders” Mk 11.27 who ran Jerusalem and Judea under the Romans’ occupation, whose job was to keep the peace lest the Romans kill them all. They considered Jesus a disruption, and Jesus considered them… well, what he calls them in this story.

He compares ’em to vineyard farmers who are utterly rebelling against their boss. Because the vineyard, they figured, was theirs. And the fruit was theirs. And the boss was never gonna return to deal with them, so they were free to run things however they liked, with no consequences. You know, pretty much like our elected officials run things now, despite the people who elect ’em.

Mark 12.1-11 KWL
1 Jesus began to tell the Pharisees parabolically,
“A person plants a vineyard, puts a wall round it,
digs out a winepress trough, builds a watchtower,
gives it to farmers, and goes abroad.
2 In time he sends a slave to the farmers,
so he might get fruit from the vineyard from the farmers.
3 Taking the slave, the farmers beat him,
and send him away with nothing.
4 Again, the master sends another slave to them;
they punch that slave in the head and insult him.
5 The master sends another; that one they kill.
He sends many others; some they beat, some they kill.
6 The master has one beloved son, and sends him to them last,
saying this: ‘The farmers will respect my son.’
7 These farmers tell themselves this: ‘This is the heir!
Come! If we kill him, we’ll be the heirs!’
8 Taking the son, they kill him
and throw him out of the vineyard.
9 So what will the master do with the vineyard?
He’ll come and wipe out the farmers, and give the vineyard to others.
10 Didn’t you read this writing?—
‘A stone which the housebuilders reject:
This is made into the cornerstone.
11 This is made by the Lord,
and to our eyes, this is amazing.’ ” Ps 118.22-23
12 The senators were looking to have Jesus stopped,
yet were afraid of the crowd.
For they knew the parable he told is about them.
Abandoning him, they left.

In all three synoptic gospels, the story comes right after the senators challenge Jesus in temple by asking him who sent him, and Jesus challenges ’em right back by asking them whether John the baptist came from God. Mk 11.27-33, Mk 21.23-27, Lk 20.1-8 They pretend to not know the answer; Jesus knows they totally do, ’cause they’re dirty hypocrites. They’re the same sort of hypocrites who killed the prophets, and in five days they were gonna sentence Jesus to death too, and have the Romans crucify him—thus fulfilling that part of the parable. The rest, where the boss wiped out the farmers, would be fulfilled in 37 years.

The Watchful Slaves Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 November

Luke 12.35-40, Matthew 24.42-44.

This is another parable about Jesus’s second coming, sometimes called the parable of the watchful servants. Frequently it gets mixed up with Jesus’s Wise and Stupid Slaves Story in Matthew, or the Watchful Doorman Story (found in all the synoptic gospels, and actually comes next in Luke), because some of the ideas and verses overlap. Other times people chop off verses 39-40 because they’d rather make a separate story of them.

Unlike the other gospels, this one includes the idea—consistent with Jesus’s character, as demonstrated when he washed his students’ feet—that in God’s kingdom, the master serves the students.

Jesus tells his students this right after he tells ’em to save up treasure in heaven.

Luke 12.35-40 KWL
35 “Be people dressed for work, with your lanterns burning.
36 Like you’re people waiting for your master once he leaves the wedding feast,
so when he arrives and knocks, they can immediately open the door for him.
37 Those slaves are awesome: The master will find them staying up for him.
Amen, I promise you the master will dress himself for work,
and he’ll sit them down, and help serve them.
38 If he comes in the second or third watch [9PM-3AM]
and finds them up, they’re awesome.
39 Realize this: If the homeowner knew what hour the thief shows up,
he’d never be able to break into his house.
40 Be ready!
For the Son of Man comes at the hour you don’t expect.”

The Five Stupid Teenagers Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 October

Matthew 25.1-13.

The Five Stupid Teenagers Story is also called the parable of the virgins, of the maidens, of the bridesmaids; of the wise and foolish virgins, or of the 10 virgins. Usually they’re called virgins ’cause that’s traditionally how people have translated παρθένοις/parthénis: A girl, or unmarried woman, and women back then used to marry mighty young. Like as soon as they attained legal adulthood, so 13 years old. Since they were unmarried, the usual assumption is in that culture they’d be virgins, which is a reasonable assumption. But parthénos was sometimes used in Greek literature to describe young women who weren’t virgins, like in the plays of Sophocles and Aristophanes.

Maiden is alternately used to describe them, but maiden historically means the same thing as virgin. And in either case I’m not sure Jesus’s point had anything to do with their virginity nor marital status. More like with their youth. You know how some kids can be wise and clever, and some kinda dense and foolish? And how some kids can sometimes be one and sometimes the other? So, that.

So my translation focuses on their age as well: These are young teenagers, old enough to be responsible for themselves, but not all of ’em were necessarily mature enough. Kinda like Jesus’s own students. Kinda like newbie Christians.

Like all Jesus’s parables, this story’s about his kingdom, and since it’s part of his Olivet Discourse he’s talking about his second coming. Unlike dark Christian interpretations which are all about doom, tribulation, death, and hellfire, Jesus’s parables are about encouragement: He’s not returning to destroy the world, but save it. Get ready to join his entourage! Otherwise you’ll miss out on the fun parts.

We don’t know when Jesus is returning, and he instructs his kids more than once to stay awake and be prepared. This is one of those times. Dark Christians insist it’s about missing the rapture and going to hell. But the stakes are nowhere near that high in Jesus’s story.

Matthew 25.1-13 KWL
1 “Then heaven’s kingdom will be like 10 teenagers
who come out to meet the husband, bringing their own lamps.
2 Five of them are morons, and five wise,
3 for the morons who bring their lamps don’t bring oil with them.
4 The wise teens bring oil in flasks, with their lamps.
5 During the husband’s delay, all the teens fall asleep, and sleep.
6 In the middle of the night, a loud voice came:
‘Look, the husband! Come to meet him!’
7 Then all those teenagers rise and get their own lamps ready—
8 and the morons tell the wise teens, ‘Give us some of your oil,
because our lamps are out.’
9 In reply the wise teens were saying, ‘Likely there’s not enough for us and you.
Instead go to the oil-sellers and buy your own!’
10 And as they went away to buy, the husband comes,
and those who were ready, enter the marriage feast with him.
He closes the door.
11 Later, the remaining teenagers also come to the door,
saying, ‘Sir, sir, open it for us.’
12 In reply the husband says, ‘Amen, I promise you, I don’t know you.’
13 So be awake—because you don’t know the day nor the hour.”

The Dives and Lazarus Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 October

Luke 16.19-31.

This story is often called the story of the rich man and Lazarus—or Lazarus and the rich man, depending on who oughta come first, and since it’s not really about Lazarus, stands to reason the rich man should come first. Traditionally this man’s been called Dives (usually pronounced 'daɪ.viz instead of like the verb) ’cause that’s what he’s called in verse 19 in the Vulgate; dives is Latin for “rich.” So I’m gonna call him Dives; it saves time.

Every once in a while some literalist insists this isn’t actually a parable. This is the only story where Jesus gives someone a name, so they figure it must mean something. So they claim Jesus was straight-up talking about an actual pauper named Lazarus. Some of ’em even claim this Lazarus is Jesus’s friend Lazarus of Bethany, whom Jesus later raised from the dead Jn 11.1-44 —and this is how Lazarus died. It’s a theory which makes no sense, because Lazarus’s family asked Jesus to come cure him; they didn’t just dump Lazarus at the door of the local idle rich guy, hoping he might uncharacteristically do something.

On the other extreme, we have people who insist this story is entirely fiction. Primarily because they have very different beliefs about the afterlife. This, they insist, is not what happens after people die: We go to heaven. Or hell. We’re immediately resurrected and live in New Jerusalem from now on, or we live in some glorified spiritual form while we wait for our resurrection, or we get to become angels like Mormons believe, or we otherwise become powerful guardian spirits like Daoists believe.

In some cases they’re dispensationalists who claim maybe this used to be the way the afterlife worked, but not anymore. There’s a popular Christian myth called “the harrowing of hell”: Before Jesus died to atone for our sins, it seems God saved nobody by his grace, and therefore nobody but the very best people could get into paradise. (Just Abraham, and a few others who were as good as Lazarus.) Nobody else had good enough karma, so they were forced to wait in hell till Jesus died. Once he died, he went to hell—but with keys, to unlock the place. He stepped on the devil Belial’s neck, freed all the Old Testament saints, and took ’em with him to heaven. And now, nobody experiences anything like Jesus describes in this story. We go to heaven.

Considering that God isn’t limited by time whatsoever, it makes no sense that he can’t apply Jesus’s then-future atonement to the ancients’ sins. Especially since their sins didn’t hinder him with having relationships with them before they died. Nah; both the literalists and the myth-believers have it wrong. This is a parable. Lazarus isn’t a literal guy. But this is, loosely, what the afterlife looks like. Then, and now.

And it’s a warning to those of us who are wealthy, but don’t bother to use our wealth to further God’s kingdom. If all we care about is our own comforts, we may not experience any such comfort in the afterlife. Billionaires beware.

Luke 16.19-31 KWL
19 “Somebody is wealthy.
He’s wearing purple and white linen, partying daily, in luxury.
20 Some pauper named Lazarus was thrown out by his gate,
covered in open sores, 21 desiring to be fed
with whatever fell from the plutocrat’s table,
but the dogs which came are licking his sores.
22 The pauper comes to die,
to be carried off by the angels to Abraham’s fold.
The plutocrat also dies and is entombed.
23 In the afterlife, the plutocrat lifts up his eyes—
he’s getting tortured in the pit—and sees Abraham far away,
and Lazarus in his folds.
24 Calling out, the plutocrat says, ‘Father Abraham!
Have mercy on me, and send Lazarus,
so he might dip his fingertip in water, and might cool my tongue,
because I suffer great pain in these flames!’
25 Abraham says, ‘Child, remember: You received your good things in your life,
and Lazarus likewise received evil.
Now, here, he is assisted—and you suffer.
26 In all this space between us and you,
a large gap was fixed so those who want to come to you from here, can’t.
Nor can they pass from there to us.’
27 The plutocrat says, ‘Then I ask you, father,
might you send Lazarus to my father’s house?
28 For I have five siblings—so Lazarus might urge them,
lest they also come to this place in the pit.’
29 Abraham says, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. Heed them.’
30 The plutocrat says, ‘No, father Abraham!
But if anyone comes back from the dead to them, they’ll repent!’
31 Abraham tells him, ‘If they don’t heed Moses and the Prophets,
neither will they be convinced when someone rises from the dead.’ ”

The Shrewd Butler Story. And mammon.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 October

Luke 16.1-9.

As you know, Jesus said you can’t be a slave to both God and Mammon, Mt 6.24 and as a result people tend to think of Mammon as a person. It’s not really. Whenever Jesus and the Pharisees spoke about mammon, they meant money, and they were speaking of it negatively. Exactly like we do whenever we describe money as “lucre.” Nobody ever talks about clean lucre; it’s always filthy lucre; it’s always money used wrong, used for evil.

Same deal with mammon, which is why I translated τῷ ἀδίκῳ μαμωνᾷ/to adíko mamoná (KJV “the unrighteous mammon”) as “filthy lucre.” You come across lucre in this story, it means mammon. Got it? Good.

Jesus tells this story right after the Prodigal Son Story, Lk 15.11-32 if that context helps: A man squandered all his money, and when he came home his father threw him an expensive party; and his brother objected to the wastefulness (or to use old-timey English, the prodigality) of both the wasteful man and his extravagant father. And since we’re on the topic of wastefulness…

Luke 16.1-9 KWL
1 Jesus also told his students, “There’s a certain plutocrat who had a butler.
This plutocrat accused him of wasting his possessions.
2 Calling the butler, the plutocrat told him, ‘Why do I hear this about you?
Turn over your books, for you can’t run the house.’
3 The butler told himself, ‘What can I do?—my boss is taking the house-running from me.
I’m not strong enough to dig; I’m ashamed to beg.
4 I know what I’ll do—so when I’m fired from being butler,
other plutocrats will take me into their houses.’
5 Calling each one of his boss’s debtors, the butler told the first, ‘How much do you owe my boss?’
6 The debtor said, ‘A hundred jars olive oil.’
The butler told him, ‘Take the receipt, sit, and quickly write fifty.’
7 Then the butler told another, ‘And you: How much do you owe?’
The debtor said, ‘A hundred cors [37,000 liters] grain.’
The butler said, ‘Take the receipt and write eighty.’
8 The butler’s boss praised the impropriety, for the butler acted shrewdly,
for the children of this age are more shrewd than the children of light of the same generation.
9 I tell you, make yourselves friends with your filthy lucre,
so when it runs out, they might take you into their great houses.”

This story really weirds out Christians, because most of us cannot for the life of us understand how Jesus could make the butler the hero of this story, and point to his example as one to follow. Didn’t the guy just totally rip off his boss? He was gonna get fired for squandering money; he turns right around and squanders more money in order to suck up to his boss’s creditors; and his boss is actually pleased with this behavior. What the what?

It makes more sense once it finally sinks in Jesus isn’t a Mammonist… and we largely kinda are.

What’s the proper place of money?

What’s money for? Duh; it’s so you can buy things. Money can be traded for goods and services. This isn’t just Economics 101; kids learn this as soon as they watch their parents buy stuff. “So that’s what those shiny discs are for; no wonder Mom gets upset when I swallow ’em.”

Money’s a resource. Need stuff? Money helps you buy it. Need food, clothes, shelter, transportation, electricity, internet? Money. Does the government need to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare? Money; your money, ’cause the rich always seem to create loopholes so it’s never their money. Everything runs on money.

So we need money. How much? Enough to cover the bills, really. A little extra so we can afford to be generous and help the needy, and a little extra to sock away in case of unexpected problems.

But that’s not a mindset our culture encourages. We’re told we oughta have enough money so we can afford anything we want. So we can buy anything our hearts desire. So we can live in comfort, if not luxury. So we need never work for money again. We’re told we ought to want to be rich… and if we don’t want that, there’s gotta be something dangerously wrong with us. If you don’t wanna be rich, you must be a Marxist or something.

Why this sudden pivot to a fearful extreme? Duh; spiritual warfare. Tempters don’t want you to think. They want you to freak out at anything which threatens their grip on you. Right now they got us by our desires for wealth, comfort, and power. Take those desires away, and they got nothing.

Hence Paul’s warning about the love of money. 1Ti 6.10 The worship of money, materialism and Mammonism, gets people to lose all sense of money’s proper place. It becomes their meaning of life: Get money, and get more. Then blow most of it on luxuries—at the expense of your bills, your emergency funds, and especially the needy. Heck, the needy should be earning their own money. How dare they ask for mine?

Does God’s kingdom run on money? Nope; that’d be grace. Although you’d never know it to hear some churches, ’cause they’re constantly begging for money. But either that’s because their members aren’t generous, or because their leaders are greedy. In other words, they’ve been infested with Mammonism. It’s when money takes priority over grace.

And our interpretations of the bible likewise get infested with Mammonism. It’s why people read this story and don’t understand what Jesus is teaching. So they skip it, and teach on his other stories. Or they tackle it, and come up with gobbledygook.

We gotta begin by understanding the proper place of money in Jesus’s mind. It’s a resource. Is it the only resource we have? Of course not; we have the Holy Spirit’s power, which is how Jesus could make bread out of nothing. Having him cure you is way cheaper than American healthcare. Money is finite, but God’s power is infinite; it’s the dynamo of the universe. He wants us to depend on that, on the Spirit, not money. If anything money’s a workaround; a way to respond to the Spirit’s “No” with “Fine; I’ll buy it myself.”

Gotta wonder how many churches are following the money instead of the Spirit… but I expect that’d take another article.

Nope, this isn’t embezzlement.

When a πλούσιος/plúsios (plutocrat; KJV “rich man”) put an οἰκονόμος/ikonómos (house-runner, or butler; KJV “steward”) in charge of his estate, the butler really was in charge of the estate. He didn’t have to run anything past his boss; he effectively was the boss. He had the boss’s signet ring. He could order anything in his boss’s name. His boss’s money was his money; his boss’s property was his property; they were totally interchangeable.

Well, so long that the boss was pleased with his administration. At the top of this story, the boss had decided to fire his butler, ’cause he felt his estate had been squandered. Jesus doesn’t say why and how, and we needn’t speculate because it doesn’t matter. What matters is how the butler decided to act.

While the butler was still in charge, before he handed over the paperwork, he quickly had his boss’s debtors come over, and he forgave part of their debts. Many interpreters claim this was theft or embezzlement on the butler’s part; how dare he change the receipts? But the butler had the authority to do exactly as he did: He was in charge of his boss’s money, and he was authorized to forgive debts if he so chose. Really he could’ve forgiven the entire debt if he wanted… and if he had, maybe Mammonists wouldn’t struggle so much with this story. “Why, he forgave debts like God forgives debts. How generous.” Instead he only forgave the debtors in part… so people now get hung up on the financial loss.

Why’d the butler do this? He said it himself: “Other plutocrats will take me into their houses.” Lk 16.4 He did this to set himself up for a future job. He expected other wealthy families to hear of this, and hire him because he lowered the debtors’ bills. Hire him knowing he might do this with their money too.

If you’re fixated on money, this story makes less and less sense as we go. Forgiving his debtors pleased his boss? Forgiving debtors might please future bosses? Aren’t these plutocrats trying to make money?—how on earth is this butler of any value to them? How would this behavior curry favor? Why is the boss pleased with his behavior?

I’ve heard one interpretation which claimed the debtors couldn’t afford to pay that much oil and grain at that time, so the butler lowered the bills till they could pay it—and now the boss had oil and grain, whereas if the amounts remained as high as they were, the boss would never get paid back. Kinda like when banks forgive the interest on certain debts so they can get something instead of nothing. Yeah, that’s a clever spin on the idea, but if that were so, Jesus would’ve said so. He didn’t.

The reality is the boss was impressed with something more valuable than money: His butler’s shrewdness.

To Mammonists, nothing’s more valuable than money. If it’s not gonna make ’em money right away, or in the long run, it’s not a worthwhile investment. But the plutocrat in this story isn’t a Mammonist, and Jesus isn’t a Mammonist. They recognize wisdom’s more important than money—and no, not just because wisdom can make you money. Wisdom’s not just a means to an end.

But money is. The butler used money to make the debtors appreciate him. Wise plutocrats, who were used to the Roman Empire’s tendency to use money to grease the wheels of leaders, judges, officials, taxmen, everyone, would immediately realize here’s a man who knows when to make money, and when to buy favor. In an empire where there’s really no such thing as civil rights, favor make all the difference between life and death.

“The children of this age are more shrewd than the children of light of the same generation,” Jesus pointed out. Lk 16.8 Worldly people know how to work the system. Less-worldly people get so hung up on their principles, they sometimes lose sight of what’s really important. Like favor with others. If people like you, they’re less likely to line you up against the wall and shoot you when the revolution comes. If you have favor with pagans, it’s way easier to share Jesus with them.

Whereas if you’re a jerk about it, or prioritize your mammon over everything else… well, so much for God’s kingdom.

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The Bigger Barns Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 October

Luke 12.13-21.

People wanna be rich.

Which I get. I’ve never been rich. My parents are retired and comfortable, but that’s only because their investments paid off: They didn’t have that kind of money while I was growing up. So I experienced food stamps, school lunch subsidies, thrift stores, buses, and free-clinic healthcare. I’ve been poor as an adult too. Not homeless; I nearly got that far. But I definitely learned how to get by on $5 a month. If that.

Poverty sucks. And not just because, in a thousand little ways, American society is no help at getting people out of poverty. Really, you can only save money when you have money—when you can afford to buy in bulk, or get the higher-level plan which happens to offer deep discounts, or afford the $100 shoes which last two years instead of the $10 shoes which last a month. (Well, three months with duct tape.)

Our culture’s popular myth is “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,” but y’notice most of the people who say that, don’t have boots and have no idea this is an ironic saying. Tell them your financial woes and they just shrug, “Work harder.” Or “Work smarter, not harder.” As if that bit of advice solves all our problems. When I was poor, my problem was if I worked smarter, I’d’ve figured out how to finish my work in half the time… so my boss would’ve cut my hours. Yep, that’s why most people and businesses don’t work smarter: No incentive!

Anyway, between being poor, and not being poor, I absolutely prefer not being poor. It’s nice to be able to look at one’s checking account and be pleasantly surprised. It’s nice to be able to give to charity out of one’s abundance.

But too many people don’t wanna merely be comfortable; they wanna be rich.

They wanna have so much money, they can afford anything their hearts covet. And they covet a lot of ridiculously expensive things. Stuff I look at and go, “Seriously?”—but yeah, they seriously want that. I don’t get it… but then again if they saw how many books are on my Kindle, they’d probably look at me funny too. To each their own, I suppose.

In some cases it’s not even about the stuff they covet. They just want the wealth. They want the power to do whatever they please. They’ll figure out later what it is they please; they’ll waste a lot of money trying to find it. But the point of all the wealth is they can afford to waste money.

And not work. Or at least not work hard. They wanna stumble into tons of money by doing something easy. The older folks I know keep trying to play the lottery, or hope to get lucky at the casino. The younger folks largely realize that’s foolish… so they’re trying really hard to become YouTube celebrities and Instagram influencers. Hey, some folks make millions of dollars doing that, and it doesn’t look all that hard to do. It certainly seems easier than serving unruly customers or cleaning bathrooms.

Again, I get it. Coveting wealth is a pretty common phenomenon. Especially in a culture which doesn’t believe status is a fixed thing—where you’re born into a caste, and can’t help but stay in it forever. We know too many examples of people who were born poor and became rich. (And vice versa.) The potential exists—even though it’s mighty hard to stumble into the thing which makes one rich.

But Jesus warns us against coveting wealth like that.

For many reasons… though you’ll quickly notice today’s parable actually doesn’t get into Jesus’s reasons. It’s really just his reminder that life is more important than wealth. Here y’go.

Luke 12.13-21 KWL
13 Someone in the crowd tells Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me!”
14 Jesus tells him, “Mister, who appointed me to be judge or arbiter over you two?”
15 Jesus tells the crowd, “Watch and guard yourselves from every obsession with wealth:
One’s life doesn’t ‘begin’ once they have a superabundance.”
16 Jesus tells a parable to the crowd, saying,
“Some rich person’s land was very productive,
17 and he was musing to himself, saying, ‘What could I do?—
I don’t have anywhere to collect my produce.’
18 He says, ‘I’ll do this. I’ll tear down my silos, and build bigger.
I’ll gather all the grain there, and my goods.
19 I’ll tell my soul, “Soul, you have many goods stored up for many years.
Retire! Eat! Drink! Rejoice!” ’
20 God tells him, ‘Look dumbass, this night they’re demanding your soul from you!
What happens to what you prepare?’
21 This is the way of those who store up treasure for themselves,
and aren’t wealthy in God.”

The Two Sons Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 September

Matthew 18.28-32.

In the context of this story, Jesus was teaching in temple, and some of the head priests and elders—in other words, people who sat on the Judean senate—came to challenge him.

Matthew 18.23 KJV
23B …and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?

“These things” being when he entered Jerusalem on a donkey like a Messiah, the miracles and healings and exorcisms he performed, and of course his teachings—like he was doing right then. Jesus countered them by asking where they thought John the baptist’s authority came from—and since they didn’t care to answer that one, Jesus saw no point in giving them a straight answer. Mt 18.24-27 Instead he resorted to parables.

As I’ve said many times before, parables are about God’s kingdom. That includes the parables Jesus had for the senators. When Jesus returns to inaugurate his kingdom, every other government is getting overthrown. Every other government. He’s not gonna tell Americans, “You did such a good job with your Constitution, I’m keeping it; only I’m gonna be president now.” Civic idolaters are pretty sure Jesus will do something like that, but you can see how ridiculous it sounds.

And the main reason they’re getting overthrown is expressed in parables like these. God had put them in power, or let them take power; and the purpose of their position was to be just but merciful, Mc 6.8 and defend the needy. Jm 1.27 Instead, same as people have always done, they’re unjust, unmerciful, defend their friends, and their only real goal is to cling to power like a barnacle to a ship.

Jesus began with the Two Sons Story.

Matthew 21.28-32 KWL
28 “What do you senators think of this?—A person has two children.
Going to the first, he says, ‘Child, go today; work in the vineyard.’
29 In reply the child says, ‘I don’t want to.’
Later, repenting, he goes.
30 Going to the other child, the father says the same thing.
In reply the child says, ‘I hear you, sir!’—and doesn’t go.
31 Which of the two does the father’s will?”
The senators say, “The first.”
Jesus told them, “Amen! I promise you the taxmen and whores are ahead of you in God’s kingdom:
32 John the baptist comes to you with the right way.
You don’t believe him. The taxmen and whores believe him.
You who saw him, never repented later into believing him.”

Notice Jesus brings up John the baptist twice: When he asked the senators where John’s authority came from, Mt 21.24 and when he critiqued them for not listening to him. Mt 21.32 See, Jesus did most of his preaching in his home province, the Galilee. Other than his thrice-a-year visits to Jerusalem for the festivals, that’s where he was, and where he ministered. But John was in Judea. Had been for years. (Admittedly we don’t know how many, but it’s not unreasonable to figure a decade.) The senators even sent people to check him out, Jn 1.19 but never heeded him, and he called them out for it. Jesus had plenty of complementary things to say about John, but most Sadducees and Pharisees never did accept those statements, nor John.

The Unforgiving Debtor Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 September

Matthew 18.23-35.

Mammonists are fond of saying Jesus teaches about money more often than a surprising number of subjects. More often than heaven and hell combined!

And that part’s true, ’cause Jesus teaches very little about heaven and hell. (Unless you think “the kingdom of heaven” actually means heaven. You’d be wrong.) His lessons are primarily about following God now, not the afterlife, nor after the world ends. Jesus teaches most subjects more than heaven and hell combined.

Though Jesus brings up money a lot, not all his lessons are actually about money. Money’s in them. Much like wheat and vineyards are in a number of his parables: They’re not about wheat and winegrapes, but about his kingdom. He uses them to make a point. They’re MacGuffins—a movie term for the valuable object which motivates the characters and drives the story. What the MacGuffin is, doesn’t matter; you can often swap it out for something else. In fact Jesus does just that when he speaks of a treasure in a field or a valuable pearl: Heaven’s kingdom is like any valuable thing which makes a betting person go all-in.

And in this parable, money’s the MacGuffin, but it could be anything people might owe. Like “You promised me a car; where’s the car?” or “You promised to take us to Disneyland; when’re we going?” or “You said you’d spend Saturday with the family instead of at work; are you gonna break your promise?” Or we’re in their karmic debt because we wronged them, or at their mercy because they can have us prosecuted. Money’s a simple concept though—although the amount of money Jesus refers to is kinda huge.

Two slaves. (I remind you slavery in ancient Israel usually had to do with indebtedness.) One owes 10,000 talents; the other 100 denarii. I also remind you ancient money’s value fluctuated wildly, but figuring silver at 75 cents a gram, the 10,000 talents (330,000 kilos or 750,000 pounds silver) is worth $247,500,000; and the 100 denarii only comes out to $342.75. So one’s an impossible debt, and the other really isn’t.

Now that you have these values in your head, check out Jesus’s parable.

Matthew 18.23-35 KWL
23 “This is why heaven’s kingdom is like a person,
a king who wants to review his instructions to his slaves.
24 Beginning his first review, he’s brought a debtor owing 10,000 talents.
25 The debtor doesn’t have anything to pay him back.
The master orders him to be sold—
and his wife, and his children, and all he has—to pay him back.
26 So the slave, falling down to worship the king, says,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back everything!’
27 Moved by this slave, the master frees him and forgives his debt.
28 On the way out, this slave finds one of his fellow slaves, who owes him 100 denarii.
Seizing him, he chokes him, saying, ‘Pay me back what you owe!’
29 So, falling down to worship, his fellow slave begs him, saying,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back!’
30 The slave doesn’t want to hear it,
but throws him away into debtors’ prison till he can pay back the debt.
31 Seeing this happen, the other fellow slaves are greatly upset.
and go to tell the master himself everything that happened.
32 Then summoning the slave, his master told him, ‘You evil slave!
I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.
33 Do you not also have to be merciful to your fellow slave, like I showed you mercy?’
34 His enraged master turned him over to the torturers,
till he could pay back all the debt.
35 This is also how your heavenly Father will do for you,
unless you forgive each of your family members with all your heart.”