Previous posts in this discussion:
PostAnother Biblical Parable for Today's Divided America (Enrique Torner, USA, 10/25/20 4:06 am)
It is interesting to notice that quoting the Bible gets much more reaction from WAISdom than any other kind of post. As many posts as I have published, this is one of a few to receive so many responses so quickly.
Said that, I appreciate those who replied to my post. I particularly thank David Duggan for his fascinating response: I was unaware that some ancient manuscripts did not include the passage of the adulterous woman. The led me to some digging, and I was surprised to find a Wikipedia article on John 8 that explains the absence of this passage in some ancient manuscripts:
John, you are a great textual interpreter and read my intention perfectly: by quoting this Biblical passage, what I meant to say is that all politicians are corrupt, and that, therefore, they should stop throwing stones at each other, because they are all guilty of sin. Well, we all are, including me! Jesus, in this parable, is teaching two lessons: 1) that the Pharisees were acting hypocritically; and 2) we must forgive everyone and always, no matter what.
What I find the saddest in today's political atmosphere is the intense hatred between party lines that we have here nowadays. Some people are afraid this election might lead to a civil war or a depression like that the one we had in 1929. There are lots of depressed and scared folks all over! I would like people to stop hating each other like it's happening.
Here is another parable to consider: that of the unforgiving servant or slave in Matthew 18:21-35:
Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
"For this reason the kingdom of heaven [a]may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him [b]ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he [c]did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the [d]debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred [e]denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.' So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.' But he was unwilling [f]and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from [g]your heart." (NASB)
I wonder if David Duggan can tell us whether this parable was in all ancient texts!
What I have come to know from experience is that, if you don't forgive somebody, you become a slave of that unforgiving spirit, and that bitterness eats you alive.
Trump is no saint, but neither is Biden. We don't have a third choice, unfortunately, so, no matter the outcome, we'll have to learn to live with whoever is elected. Let's just hope that nothing terrible happens after this election so Tor or other people have to consider leaving this country. Tor seems to be an expert on the economy: I have been keeping an eye on my retirement account for the months, and, after a big loss months ago, it has gone back up and I recovered what I had lost. It even went higher than that, so I was thankful. Lately, it has been fluctuating. I could be retiring, but the uncertainty of the political and economic situation is preventing me from doing so, despite the great incentives for retirement my university is offering. Today I found out that two of my colleagues in the Spanish program will be retiring after this year, and a third one might retire as well. Out of 6, that is a big blow to the program. The administration is saying we may only replace one position. This is not looking good! I really hope doomsday doesn't happen after the election (as Tor and many others are predicting), but if hatred continues like this, anything is possible. So let's please keep it cool for the good of the country and the world, because the whole world is watching us right now.
JE comments: I remember, as a young smarty-pants in Sunday school, pointing out that He commands us to forgive 490 times. Unimpressed, my teacher taught me a profound lesson on textual exegesis: it's a metaphor, meaning we are supposed to forgive as many times as necessary. Thank you, Mrs Deverger!
Ten thousand talents? Using the conversion I presented yesterday, that's U$60 million! This must be another biblical hyperbole. If I were enslaved and sitting on 60 mil, I would have bought my freedom and left town.
Many of Christ's teachings are against hypocrisy. How is it that society never learns?
The Unforgiving Servant: Debt in the Gospels
(David Duggan, USA
10/28/20 3:30 AM)
I appreciate Enrique Torner's approval of my analysis of the pericope adulterae (October 25th), but can offer no insight as to the authenticity of Matthew's parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt 18:21-35). This parable appears only in Matthew's Gospel, but is one of many appearing throughout the synoptics that bear on debt, repayment, investment, and ultimately forgiveness. Without limiting the number, included among these are the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27); the parable of the tenants of the vineyard (Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-18); the parable of the hidden treasure (Matt 13: 44-46); the parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-12); and the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16). Curiously, the Gospel of John has no parables.
I have no insight into the mind of the Word Incarnate why He taught in parables and why three of his four evangelists included these in their Gospels, and the last did not. Parables, like allegories, are susceptible to endless re-interpretation, and perhaps Jesus recognized that His followers needed continuously to examine the texts against not only their contexts, but also the context of their present time. Think for instance of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). In 1st Century CE, Jesus' hearers would have understood this to be an accusation against the Temple authorities who condemned Samaritans for having intermarried with Gentiles after the Assyrian (Hittite) empire had seized the northern kingdom (Israel) and exiled its inhabitants (2 Kings 15:29). That is implicit in the depiction of the priest and the Levite passing by the injured man on the road to Jericho. A leading New Testament scholar, Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt (improbable, I agree) offers an "originalist" interpretation of these parables: how were they understood at the time of their utterance. More recently, people have seen the Samaritan as sort of a proto-Christ, an outcast who steps into humanity to heal their wounds. Dr. Martin Luther King suggested this interpretation in his "I've been to the Mountaintop" sermon delivered the day before his death.
To understand the several parables involving debt, repayment and forgiveness, we may need to dive into how ancient Judea handled land ownership and farming. Of the five parables which address relations between the wealthy and the working poor (the hidden treasure parable contains no human interaction), two involved a monarch (the unforgiving servant, and the talents [Luke; Matthew describes him only as a person with property going on a journey]), two involve a landowner (the rented vineyard and the workers in the vineyard), and one involves a rich man (the shrewd manager; the source of his master's wealth is not revealed but the context suggests that he dealt in agricultural commodities). Exodus (22:25) and Leviticus (25:35) both prohibit the lending of money to the poor at interest, yet no agricultural economy can exist without advancing funds at planting time, hoping that the harvest is successful with the lender receiving more than the equivalent value of the debt in the product at time of harvest. Put simply, this is interest by another name. And because the priestly tribe of Levi owned no land (Joshua 13:14), the Temple authorities had no way to exact income from the farming masses. Depending on voluntary offerings was not a long-term way of funding the Temple.
Except. Every seven years, debts were to be forgiven (Deut 15:1-2), but that applied only to the original creditor. In that seventh year, the Temple Levites took over the notes and then tried to collect them in the eighth year. In each of the two versions of the parable of the talents ("minas" in Luke, a lesser unit of measurement), the pledger goes away for a while (Matthew says "for a long time"), and in each one of the servants returns with only that which with he was entrusted. In each, the fearful servant says that the pledger was a "hard man" who reaped where he had not sown. And in each, the pledger takes the original asset and gives it to the servant who had earned the most: "For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have even what he has will be taken from him." (Matt 25:29) And in each, the pledger asks why the "wicked and slothful" servant had not put the money on deposit with the bankers and earned interest. Only in Matthew is the fearful, wicked, slothful servant thrown into the darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The conventional reading of this parable is that we servants of God have a duty to use our talents to further God's kingdom. God as the king or owner going on the journey (i.e., absent from our present condition like an impersonal God leaving us to our devices) is the pledger of these talents to our use; our talents are our gifts, and if we bury our gifts we are not being faithful servants of our divine benefactor. But that is far too simple. How could Jesus condone the lending at interest as a way of returning more than had been entrusted, when lending at interest was forbidden to observant Jews? How could the Lord of mercy and forgiveness counsel taking the fearful servant's talent and giving it to one who already had an abundance? If this parable is a prefigurement of life at the end times, how does this square with the "reversal of fortune" between rich and poor suggested in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31)? We must be missing something.
A recent interpretation that I find compelling completely upsets the conventional reading. The pledger of the talents is not God the Father, but the Temple authorities who bestowed franchises (money-changing, selling animals to be sacrificed) on those deemed worthy. In contravention of the forgiveness of debt in seven years, they exacted repayment with more as an incentive to reward the franchisees. This is the way the world works. Nothing exceptional there. But the servant returning only that which he was entrusted is penalized, thrown into the place of darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth, commonly understood to be sheol. That is Jesus who received the punishment of the Cross for having challenged the Temple authorities and descends to hell. This parable's appearance in both Matthew and Luke immediately before Jesus' triumphal entry on Palm Sunday gives theological support for this conclusion: knowing of his impending death, Jesus skillfully masked his accusation of a system of falsehood by the Temple priests. His listeners may have grasped His purpose, but there was enough fog around the narrative that He could not be nailed simply because of it.
That is why we still read parables and why they are important to our faith.
JE comments: The "talents" parable always puzzled me, as it seems to be a Divine endorsement of aggressive investment, a sort of Gordon Gekko avant la lettre. David, can you elaborate on this new interpretation? Is it actually a defense of the meek servant--or more precisely, a condemnation of usury and the wickedness of the Temple authorities? I hope I didn't misread the above.