Chapter 3: Recognition and Response
In speaking in the way of recognition and response, we are intending to cover ground that might be considered under such a rubric as ‘ethics’. But ‘ethics’ is a misleading word, because it carries with it the assumption that there is a Christian ethic as there is a Socratic or humanistic ethic. So far as the teaching of Jesus is concerned, this latter is simply not true. There is nothing in that teaching about standards of conduct or moral judgements, there is only the urgent call to recognize the challenge of the proclamation and to respond to it. To talk about the ‘ethical teaching of Jesus’ is to talk about something that can only be found by a process of abstraction and deduction from the teaching as a whole. While we may sometimes wish to carry out such a process, let us recognize that it is always a process which does violence, to a greater or lesser degree, to the intent of the historical Jesus.
We begin this chapter by continuing the discussion of the parables, and here the artificial nature of our division of the parables becomes immediately apparent. For convenience of presentation, we have made a break between the second and third of the seven groups into which we divided the parables, but this difference is not, in fact, any greater than that between any other two of those groups. But it is the point at which attention is focused more sharply upon man than it has been before, which is the only justification we can offer for our procedure.
Exegesis I • The Great Supper, The Unjust Steward. The Necessity For Decision NOW
The Great Supper: Matt.22.1 -14; Luke 14.16-24; Thomas 64
Matt. 22.1. And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, 3and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come. 4Again he sent other servants, saying, "Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast." 5But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully and killed them. 7The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8Then he said to his servants, "The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find." 10And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11‘But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; 12and he said to him, "Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?" And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, "Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." 14For many are called, but few are chosen.’
Luke 14.16. But he said to him, ‘A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; 17and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, "Come; for all is now ready." 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, "I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused." 19And another said, "I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused." 20And another said, "I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come." 21So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, "Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame." And the servant said, 22Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room." 23And the master said to the servant, "Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet."
Thomas 64. Jesus said: A man had guest-friends, and when he had prepared the dinner, he sent his servant to invite the guest-friends. He went to the first, he said to him: ‘My master invites thee.’ He said ‘I have some claims against some merchants; they will come to me in the evening; I will go and give them my orders. I pray to be excused from the dinner.’ He went to another, he said to him: ‘My master has invited thee.’ He said to him: ‘I have bought a house and they request me for a day. I will have no time.’ He came to another, he said to him: ‘My master invites thee.’ He said to him: ‘My friend is to be married and I am to arrange a dinner; I shall not be able to come. I pray to be excused from the dinner.’ He went to another, he said to him: ‘My master invites thee.’ He said to him: ‘I have bought a farm, I go to collect the rent. I shall not be able to come. I pray to be excused.’ The servant came, he said to his master: ‘Those whom thou hast invited to the dinner have excused themselves.’ The master said to his servant: ‘Go out to the roads, bring those whom thou shalt find, so that they may dine. Tradesmen and merchants [shall] not [enter] the places of my Father.’
As background to this parable, the rabbinical story of the tax collector and the pious student is to be noted, j. Sanh. 6, 23c. (We give a free rendering of the text as printed by O. Dalman, Grammatik des jüdisch-palastinischen Aramäisch und Aramäishe Dialektproben [Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1960], pp. 33f. Cf. T. W. Manson, Sayings of Jesus, p. 297; J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], pp. 178f., 183.)
Two pious men lived together in Ashkelon, devoting themselves to the study of the Law. One of them died and no honour was paid to him at his funeral. Bar Ma‘yon, a tax collector, died and the whole town honoured his funeral. The remaining pious man was deeply disturbed and cried out that the wicked in Israel did not get their deserts. But his dead companion appeared to him in a dream and told him not to despise the ways of God in Israel. He himself had committed one evil deed and hence had suffered dishonour at his funeral, whereas Bar Ma‘yon had committed one good deed and for that had been honoured at his. What evil deed had the pious man committed? On one occasion he had put on his phylacteries in the wrong order. What good deed had the tax collector committed? Once he had given a breakfast for the leading men of the town and they had not come. So he gave orders that the poor were to be invited to eat it, that it should not go to waste. After some days the pious man saw his dead companion walking in the garden of paradise beside fountains of water; and he saw Bar Ma‘yon the tax collector lying on the bank of a river, he was striving to reach the water and he could not.
This story probably originated in Egypt and there are numerous versions of it to be found in the ancient world, including the one in the synoptic tradition: the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Luke 16.19-31.The rabbinical version is interesting as illustrating the doctrine of exact retribution: the one evil deed and the one good deed are cancelled out by the funerals, and then the two inherit their respective rewards. Neither this version nor the one in the synoptic tradition tells us anything about the views of the afterlife held by the rabbis and Jesus respectively; those details are supplied from (?Egyptian) folk material and are simply used to make a point. The further point of interest, and the one with which we are immediately concerned, is the illustration of the act of charity involved in inviting the poor to eat a meal when the invited guests do not turn up.
One last piece of background material to this parable is the saying in Midrash Lamentations Rabbah 4.2: ‘None of them (men of Jerusalem) would attend a banquet unless he was invited twice.’ We are to imagine a situation in which guests are invited to the banquet, signify their acceptance, and then await a second invitation confirming the first one, perhaps giving the specific time. Such custom is implied in a parable of Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai (b. Shab. 153a. J Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], p. 188.) about a king who invited men to a banquet, but did not specify the hour, and later sent messengers to summon them to the feast. Those who were wise had dressed for the occasion and awaited the summons. The foolish were found unready and not admitted to the feast.
When we turn to the three versions of the parable we can see that each evangelist has adapted the basic tradition to make it a vehicle for his particular message. Matthew and Luke have both understood the story as having reference to the missionary situation of the Church, and in particular to the situation created by the success of the Gentile mission. Matthew has heavily allegorized the story, making the feast giver a king (= God) and the feast a marriage feast (= the life of the age to come), in accordance with the regular Jewish use of these symbols. He has also made the servants and their fate represent the servants of God and the Jewish treatment of them, and the destruction of the city is certainly a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans interpreted as the judgement of God upon the Jews, all in accordance with early Christian apologetic. Finally, he has added a version of the rabbinical parable of the unprepared guests, referred to above, to make the whole an allegory of the mixed state of the Church and the sorting-out process of the future judgement of God, a theme characteristic of his gospel (allegories of weeds of the field, 13.24-30, 36-43, dragnet, 13.47-50, sheep and goats, 25.31-33). Luke has introduced allegory in connection with the servant who is sent out three times, to the original guests ( = Jews), to the poor, etc., within the city (= outcasts among the Jews) and to travelers on the highways outside the city (= Gentiles). Thus, the story becomes an allegory of the ministry of Jesus to Jews and outcasts among the Jews, the theme of Luke’s gospel, and of the ministry of the Church first to Jews and then to Gentiles, the theme of Acts.
The version of the parable in Thomas is of extraordinary interest in that it seems to be both completely independent of either of the canonical versions and also more primitive than they are, except in one single respect: the excuses. The feast giver is a man (= Luke; Matthew: king) and the feast is a supper (deipnon; Luke: great supper, deipnon mega; Matthew: marriage feast, gamos). Only one servant is sent out to the guests (= Luke; Matthew: servants) and he only once (= Luke; Matthew allegorizes heavily). The guests give four excuses (Luke three; Matthew has no specific excuses); this part of the story is more elaborate than the canonical versions and the excuses are different. There is no allegory at all in the Thomas version, and the point is made by a generalizing conclusion which reflects gnostic contempt for the material world and those engaged in its business. It is hard to resist the conclusion that this version is nearer to the teaching of Jesus than either of the others. It does not reflect the situation of the Church, nor, except for the generalizing conclusion, is it at all concerned with anything specifically gnostic. Except for the excuses, it is in all respects the simplest and least developed version, and stories grow and develop in the telling and retelling.
We are to imagine, then, a story about a man who gave a supper and invited his guests. As the time drew near he sent out his servant the second time to the guests, who had previously signified their willingness to attend, but now all begin to make excuses; for one reason or another not one of them can come. What will the host do? Mindful of the merit and charity of almsgiving, he will send his Servant out to invite the poor of that place to his supper, as did the tax collector, Bar Ma‘yon.
The point of this story lies in the relationship between the guests and the host, which is analogous to that between the Jews and God. The Jew cannot simply assume, on the strength of this relationship, that he will automatically ‘sit at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of God’; to this end he must also respond to the challenge of the hour, the Now of the ministry of Jesus and his proclamation. If he fails to respond to this challenge, then he may find that others have taken the place he had assumed was his. But the emphasis is not upon these others, despite the interpretation of the story in the tradition, it is upon the original guests and their ultimate failure to accept the invitation.
The Unjust Steward: Luke 16.1-9
1He also sad to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a steward, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 2And he called him and said to him, "What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward." 3And the steward said to himself, "What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do, so that people may receive me into their houses when I am put out of the stewardship." 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, "How much do you owe my master?" 6He said "A hundred measures of oil." And he said to him, "Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty." 7Then he said to another, "And how much do you owe?" He said, "A hundred measures of wheat." He said to him, "Take your bill, and write eighty." 8The master commended the dishonest steward for his prudence; for the sons of this world are wiser in their own generation than the sons of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.
Here we have no other version to help us reconstruct the original form of the parable, but the task is not difficult, since the tradition has sought to make the parable edifying by means of additions at the conclusion rather than by allegorizing the story itself. Probably it was felt that no touching up of the story itself could make such a wholly disreputable character edifying!
The concluding verses, 8 and 9, reflect a series of attempts to use the parable in Christian teaching or exhortation. Verse 8a, ‘The master commended the dishonest servant for his prudence’, is the first, and the ‘master’ here must be Jesus; it cannot be the rich man of the story. We have here the words of some early Christian teacher, and they are next expanded by the addition of the reference to the sons of this world and the sons of light, the latter term now abundantly illustrated from the Qumran texts. Verse 9 offers a quite different attempt to make sense of the story. Following Jeremias, (J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], p. 46.) we understand the subject of the verb ‘to receive’ to be God and the saying as an attempt to use the steward as an example of prudence: he used the money to help others and for this reason God will accept him, almsgiving being a strong intercessor. This, we would argue, is a further attempt to use the story in Christian exhortation.
Leaving vv. 8 and 9 out of consideration, we have a parable, the force and vigor of which can best be appreciated by translating it into a modern idiom. We suggest: the parable of the Labour Racketeer.
‘There was a certain labour racketeer who had grown rich on sweetheart contracts and illegal use of the union pension fund. One day he found that the FBI was tailing him and he began to suspect that there was no escape for him. So what did he do? Carefully, he put a large sum of money away where no one could touch it and then faced trial. He was duly convicted and after he had exhausted all his rights to appeal, he finally served a sentence in the Atlanta Federal penitentiary. Having served his time, he took his money and moved to Miami Beach, where he lived happily ever after.’
The point of the story is that we have here a man in crisis. True, he is a peculiarly disreputable man (was there an actual case known by Jesus and his hearers or were unjust stewards as well known in that society as labour racketeers are in our own?), but he is a man of decision: faced with a crisis, he acted decisively. Again, we are back to the point of the crisis of the men confronted by Jesus, his ministry and proclamation, and the necessity for decision now.
Exegesis 2. The Labourers in the Vineyard, the Two Sons, the Children in the Market Place, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Danger of Preconceived Ideas Blinding One to the Reality of the Challenge
The Labourers in the Vineyard: Matt. 20.1 – 16
1For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the labourers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; 4and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. 5Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the labourers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last up to the first.’ 9And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, 12saying ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first last.
Verse 16 is an independent saying which is found in various forms in the synoptic tradition (Mark 10.31 = Matt. 19.30; Luke 13.30) and in a gnosticized form (‘For many who are first shall become last and they shall become a single one’) in Thomas, logion 4. The parable itself has been well preserved in the tradition, probably because the story itself is so natural, consistent and coherent, and it has a natural Sitz im Leben Jesu – the offence caused by his acceptance of the ‘tax collectors and sinners’ who responded to the challenge of the forgiveness of sins.
To understand the point of the story we must compare with it the rabbinical saying: ‘Some obtain and enter the Kingdom in an hour,while others hardly reach it after a lifetime’ (b. Abodah Zarah 17a. C.G. Montefiore, The Synoptic Gospels II , 274.) and the parable that is the funeral oration for Rabbi Bun:
To whom was R. Bun like? To a king who had a vineyard and hired many labourers to work it. Among them was one far more skilful in his work than the rest, so what did the king do? He took him by the hand and walked with him up and down. At evening the labourers came to receive their wages and this one came with them and he gave him the full amount. The others began to grumble, saying, ‘We toiled all day, whereas this man toiled only two hours, and yet the king has given him the full wage.’ The king said to them, ‘What cause have you for grumbling? This man did more in the two hours than you in a whole day.’ (j. Ber. 2.3c. Parallels: Eccles. R. 5.11; Song of Sol. R. 6.2. Cf. J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], p. 138, where it is suggested that this is secondary to the gospel parable.)
The point of the saying and parable is that a Jew might earn his place in the Kingdom in a comparatively short time if his work were of a superlative quality.
The story Jesus told reflects the conditions of first-century Palestine and we are to assume, as his hearers certainly would have assumed, (that the labourers hired later in the day expected to receive a part of a denarius, a denarius being a regular payment for one day’s labour. So we share the surprise that this was not done, but rather each group was paid the same. Naturally, the workers hired first grumbled, and we would stress the naturally; there never was a group of workmen who would not have grumbled under the same conditions. The whole point is that we should enter into their situation: How would we have reacted in this situation? If we enter into their situation, then we are confronted by the dilemma which confronted them: the householder’s undeniable right to be generous. If he wishes to treat his workmen according to their need, rather than according to the letter of an implied contract, that is entirely his business. Despite this fact, however, it is undeniably true that the situation is an intolerable situation from the workmen’s viewpoint. It is an intolerable situation precisely because the employer has chosen arbitrarily to treat one group according to their rights and another group according to his generosity. If he is to be generous to one, let him be generous to all; if he is to be legalistic with one, let him be legalistic with all. Incidentally, the employer is cutting his own throat; the next time he wanted to employ workmen his reputation would have preceded him and a very interesting situation would have arisen!
But is not the intolerable nature of this situation from the workmen’s viewpoint the point on which the analogy turns? If the employer acts both legalistically and generously, then the situation becomes intolerable. By analogy, if God accepts some on the basis of merit and others on the basis of forgiveness, the situation is similarly intolerable. Either all must work out their own salvation in fear and trembling, or all must rejoice in the goodness and mercy of the Lord; there is no third possibility. With this parable, therefore, Jesus throws down the gauntlet in challenge to an attitude to God that seeks to hold together both merit and mercy. Since in his own proclamation and ministry he has so clearly stressed the latter, he must of necessity challenge the former.
Two things become evident at this point. In the first place, we see a further aspect of the challenge of Jesus to his contemporaries not to allow a preconceived idea, however good it might have seemed in its own place, to blind them to the realities of the new situation created by his proclamation and ministry. That the workman is worthy of his hire is a good idea, but not in the context of the eschatological activity of God and the challenge of the forgiveness of sins. Then we see, further, as Ernst Fuchs and his pupils Eta Linnemann and Eberhard Jüngel rightly stress, that a tremendous personal claim is implied by Jesus in that he explicates and defends the situation of his ministry by means of a parable which has reference, by analogy, to the activity and attitude of God. Matthew regards the parable as an illustration of the ‘last, first: first, last’ principle, but we must assume that it was originally spoken in a context in which Jesus was being attacked for his attitude to ‘tax collectors and sinners’, with all that this implied to many of his contemporaries. But if this is the case, then, as Miss Linnemann has put it: ‘There is a tremendous personal claim involved in the fact that Jesus answered an attack upon his conduct with a parable concerned with what God does!’ (E. Linnemann, Die Cleichnisse Jesu, p.93; cf. Parables of Jesus, p.87. Cf. E. Fuchs, Studies of the Historical Jesus, p. 36; E. Jüngel, Paulus und Jesus, pp. 168f.)
The Two Sons: Matt. 21.28 – 32
28‘What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, "Son, go and work in the vineyard today." 29And he answered, "I will not"; but afterward he repented and went. 30And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, "I go, sir," but did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.’
The history of this particular bit of tradition has been established by Jeremias, who points out (J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], pp. 80f.) that v. 32 is a variant of Luke 7.29f. and has probably been added to this parable because of the verbal association, ‘tax collectors and harlots’. It was probably added at a pre-Matthaean stage of the tradition, since Matthew seems already to have found it and to have used it as the reason for inserting it in its present context, i.e. in close connection with another reference to the baptism of John (v. 25). We have to consider the parable without reference either to its Matthaean context or to its present conclusion, V.32.
Interesting as background to the parable is a rabbinical simile about the giving of the Torah to Israel:
It can be compared to a man who has a field which he wishes to entrust to peasants. Calling the first of them he asked: ‘Will you take over this field?’ He replied: ‘I have no strength; the work is too hard for me.’ In the same way the second, third and fourth declined to undertake the work. He called a fifth and asked him: ‘Will you take over this field?’ He replied, ‘Yes.’ ‘On the condition that you will till it?’ The reply was again: ‘Yes.’ But as soon as he took possession of it, he let it lie fallow. With whom is the king angry . . .? Surely with him who undertook it (Exod. R. 27. 9)
The simile that Jesus uses is similar to this, except that it reduces the number to two and strengthens the contrast by making the first man ‘afterward repent and go’. It is certainly possible that here we have a deliberate allusion to the rabbinical simile; in any ease, the point is clear: to refuse and then to repent is better than to accept and then to disobey. The allusion again is to a situation in which outcasts are accepting forgiveness and other Jews are finding offence in this, and thereby blinding themselves to the reality of their own situation.
Children in the Market Place: Matt. 11.16-19 (par. Luke 7.31- 35)
16But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, 17‘We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.
The arguments for the authenticity of both this simile and its application are very strong indeed. The tradition is markedly Semitic and retranslates readily into Aramaic; hence it is early. The reference to the children reflects a sharp and sympathetic observation of Palestinian life which we have found to be characteristic of Jesus rather than of the early Church. The parable’s application reflects a high estimate of the Baptist, since it puts his ministry and that of Jesus on the same level. We have already seen that this, too, is characteristic of Jesus and not of the early Church. The reference to the Son of man is certainly, as it stands, a confessional reference to Jesus, and so the product of the early Church. But in Aramaic bar nash could be used in such a context as an indirect reference to the speaker himself, as in the Aramaic of Genesis Rabbah. (E.g. Gen. R. 7.2, 3 ‘When R. Haggai heard of this [a ruling by R. Jacob that fish must be ritually slaughtered] he said to him, "Come and be beaten." He replied, "A son of man who gives a ruling from the law is to be beaten!" . . . When R. Haggai heard of this [a ruling by the same R. Jacob that the infant son of a gentile woman, born to a Jew, could be circumcised on the sabbath] he sent to him, "Come and be beaten." he replied, "A son of man who gives a legal ruling to be beaten!"’ [Cf. M. Black, EspT60 (1948/9),p. 35.] Here ‘son of man’ is being used in reference to the speaker himself’; although this use seems to be no more than could be the case in English with ‘one’. It would perhaps be going too far to describe ‘son of man’ here as a circumlocution for the first personal pronoun. It is reported that the third edition of M. Black, The Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, not published at the time of writing, will contain an important discussion of the problem of the idiomatic and titular use of ‘son of man’ in Aramaic [by G. Vermès]). It is only when it is translated into Greek, given the definite article and set in the context of early Christian tradition that it becomes confessional. Further, the designation of Jesus as ‘a glutton and a drunkard’ belongs to the polemics of the controversy surrounding Jesus’ earthly ministry during his lifetime, rather than to the circumstances of the controversies between the early Church and Judaism. The other epithet, ‘friend of tax collectors and sinners’, should be understood as ‘holder of table-fellowship with tax collectors and other Jews who have made themselves as Gentiles’, and, together with the first epithet, it is an unmistakable reference to the major aspect of the ministry of Jesus we discussed at the end of our last chapter: the table-fellowship ‘of the Kingdom of God’.’ The first epithet reflects the joyousness of that fellowship, and the second its radical nature. Finally, there is also no doubt but that the parable and its application have belonged together in the tradition from the very beginning. On the basis of the arguments just given, we may claim that both are certainly from Jesus, and the comparison between them is so apt and striking that it is impossible to imagine that they ever belonged, separately, to other bits of tradition now lost, or that they were originally independent units which were brought together only in the tradition.
The parable has reference to a situation in the ministry of Jesus with which we have become familiar: the relationship of that ministry to, and Jesus’ personal association with, ‘tax collectors and sinners’. In this particular instance the point of maximum offence is that Jesus enters into table-fellowship with these people, and we must compare with this the Pharisaic opinion that a tax collector defiled any house he entered and all within it. We can appreciate that to many the offence would have been real, and that the challenge to change deep-rooted convictions about the basic conditions governing relations of men with God and of men with men very difficult to meet. But we can see from this parable that there were also those who were unprepared for any real challenge, and who could be offended equally by John the Baptist, to them an unreasonable ascetic, and Jesus, to them a libertine.
This parable has significance beyond that of revealing the challenge of the message of Jesus to the presuppositions of his hearers, for it offers evidence for the fact that table-fellowship with those who responded to the proclamation was a well-known aspect of the ministry of Jesus, and it brings out the fact that joyousness was the keynote of this fellowship. As we argued in chapter II, above, this is a strong indication that a table-fellowship which anticipated the joys of the age to come was a feature of the ministry of Jesus.
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector: Luke 18.9 – 14
9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, "God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get." 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.’
The generalizing conclusion in v. 14b is certainly foreign to the parable itself. It is an independent saying found elsewhere in the tradition (e.g. Matt. 23.12; Luke 14.11) which refers to the future, the age to come, rather than the present. Apart from this, however, the tradition seems to have preserved the parable well. It is marked by numerous Semitisms, much more so than any other Lukan parable, and it reflects exactly the religious situation, customs and prayers of Palestine at the time of the second Temple. For this reason, it is particularly suited to the exegetical methodology of J. Jeremias, and his exegesis of this parable (J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], pp. 139-44.) is beyond all praise, and certainly beyond our power to imitate.
The crux of the matter, for our purposes, is the fact that we are here again confronted by the distinction between righteous Jew, here exemplified by the Pharisee with his characteristic (Ibid., p. 142, we find two parallels to the Pharisee’s prayer: b. Ber. 28b and IQH vii. 34.) prayer and attitude, and the ‘Jew who had made himself a Gentile’, here shown as penitent before God. In this story these characters and their situation are not depicted by analogy but directly, and, in consequence, the hearers are not left to draw their own conclusions, but rather are challenged by the direct statement: ‘I tell you . . .’ The challenge is the one we have seen throughout this group of parables, the fundamental challenge of Jesus to his hostile contemporaries. We should note in passing that ‘I tell you . . .’ with its direct challenge to dearly held preconceptions of the period is an indirect personal claim of great magnitude.
Exegesis 3. The Good Samaritan, The Unmerciful Servant, The Tower Builder, The King Going to War. The Necessary Response to the Challenge
The Good Samaritan: Luke 10.29-37
29But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ 30Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half-dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down the road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, 34and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, "Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back." 36Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?’ 37He said, ‘The one who showed mercy on him.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
As it stands in the tradition, this parable has been attached to the Lukan equivalent of the lawyer’s question about the greatest commandment (Mark 12.28-31), probably because of the catchword ‘neighbour’, but this is an editorial connection and we must disregard it. (Miss Linnemann has convinced the present writer of this point; E. Linnemann, Parables of Jesus, p. 138.) Treated as an independently circulating parable, it still has reference to the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ a question of great concern to both first-century Judaism and the early Christian Church, and so it has a natural Sitz im Leben in both the ministry of Jesus and the life and work of the Church. Since the vividness and power of the story itself is adequate testimony to its authenticity, we may assume that it was a parable told by Jesus in answer to such a question, although the circumstances of the questioner and the questioning are now lost to us.
The parable itself is an ‘exemplary story’ and as such is concerned to teach by example, in this instance the example of true neighbourliness. Of the three characters involved, only one is motivated by the recognition of overwhelming need. The others allow other concerns to override the challenge of the stranger’s need, and no doubt the original hearers of the parable would have supplied these concerns in their own minds as they listened, each according to his own estimate of ‘priest and Levite’: fear of involvement, possibility of ceremonial defilement if the man were dead, ecclesiastical hypocrisy, and so on. Actually, the original hearers would have expected an Israelite layman to appear as the third character, and it is hard for us today to recapture the sense of shock that the words ‘But a Samaritan . . .’ must have occasioned. Jews and Samaritans hated one another passionately at this period, on both religious and racial grounds, and lost no opportunity to express that hatred. The fact that the true neighbour turned out to be a Samaritan is as important as that the Prodigal Son became a swineherd, and, as in that parable the father is made to go through every realistically possible act of welcoming the son, so in this one the Samaritan is made to take every possible step to care for the stranger. Jesus leaves no stone unturned in his effort to make the point: Be prepared to abandon presuppositions.
The purpose of the parable is to give an example of neighbourliness, to teach that the crucial aspect of human relationships is response to the neighbour’s need. There is no need for us to labour this point, since the parable speaks far more effectively for itself than any modern author could speak for it. But a point we would make is that this teaching has to be set in the context of Jesus’ proclamation of the forgiveness of sins and his table-fellowship with ‘tax collectors and sinners’. All the various aspects of the teaching of Jesus are closely interrelated, and to speak ofiesus as teaching the necessity of response to the neighbour’s need as the crucial aspect of human relationships is misleading, unless it is clearly understood that this is an imitation of God’s response to one’s own need. Because one knows God as responding to human needs in terms of the eschatological forgiveness of sins, one must respond to the needs of a neighbour in terms of whatever may be appropriate to the immediate situation.
This point is not made in the parable by direct reference to the forgiveness of sins, but rather becomes apparent only when the parable is set in its context in the ministry of Jesus. At first sight the parable teaches a radically new concept of neighbourliness — in terms of need as over against mutual membership in a racial or religious group — and that it does this is, of course, true enough. But the full force of its message is felt only when it is realized that this lesson is being taught by one who proclaimed a radically new concept of the forgiveness of God: it extended even to the ‘Jew who had made himself a Gentile’. The two belong together as obverse and reverse of the same coin; the showing mercy is a response to being shown mercy. This point is somewhat obscured in the tradition by v. 37b, where the ‘Go and do likewise’ transforms the parable into a general exhortation, but this was most probably added in the tradition. (R. Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, p. 178.)
The Unmerciful Servant: Matt. 18.23-35
23Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; 25and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife, and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’29 So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. 31When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; 33and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay his debt. 35So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.
Verses 34 and 35 are to be regarded as additions to the story, made perhaps by Matthew himself; they convert the original challenge of the parable into a warning, and v. 35 is entirely Matthaean in phraseology and sentiment. The fact that such a simple addition made it suitable for Matthew’s purpose, and its own natural balance, has preserved the story in what must be very much the form in which Jesus taught it. The present connection with Peter’s question is, of course, editorial; we must, as always, treat the story as an isolated piece of tradition.
The story itself is unusual among the parables of Jesus in that it does not reflect Palestinian conditions. The Jewish monarchy had never been absolute as this one is pictured as being; in Jewish law the wife could not be sold into slavery; and in Palestine torture would not have been inflicted on a man imprisoned for debt (the word translated ‘jailers’ in v. 34 also means ‘torturers’). Only in one respect does it accord with Jewish practice, and that is in v. 30, where the servant is imprisoned and not sold into slavery. According to Jewish law, a man could not be sold into slavery because of a sum less than the sum for which he would be sold, (Mekilta Ex. 22.2 [Lauterbach III, p. 104]. We are indebted to J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], pp. 211f., for the information about the Jewish law and practices.) and he could not be sold for debt, only for theft. Indeed, almost the only really Palestinian touch is in v. 28: ‘seizing him by the throat’. The Mishnah begins a discussion of a hypothetical case, ‘If a man seized a debtor by the throat in the street . . .’, assuming this to be the normal practice (B. B. 10.8)! The story, in fact, reflects the kind of hearsay knowledge of the absolute monarchies of the East and the practices of their courts that a Palestinian might have been expected to have. In this respect, it has its own kind of verisimilitude; it corresponds to the Palestinian’s picture of foreign kings and their courts and so would be meaningful to him.
The point of the story is clear: as you have been forgiven, so must you forgive. The Kingdom of God is known in terms of the experience of the forgiveness of sins; the only proper response to that experience is a preparedness in turn to forgive. The story is told in terms of kings, servants and debts large and small, and as such it is an exemplary story, as is that of the Good Samaritan, except that it makes the point in reverse. The servant of this story is held up to the judgement of the hearers as an example of what should not have been done. In passing judgement on him, the hearers are affirming the principle upon which this aspect of the teaching of Jesus turns: the experience of God demands a response in terms of imitation of that experience in relationship to one’s fellow men.
The Tower Builder and the King Going to War: Luke14.28-32
28For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace.
To these parables we must add one from Thomas: the Assassin.
Thomas 98. Jesus said: ‘The Kingdom of the Father is like a man who wishes to kill a powerful man. He drew the sword in his house, he stuck it into the wall, in order to know whether his hand would carry through; then he slew the powerful (man).’
Here we have three vivid pictures of men from very different walks of life who have one thing in common: a willingness to prepare themselves realistically for the responsibility they assume. The man building the ‘tower’ is probably a farmer contemplating building farm buildings; the emphasis upon the cost of the foundation makes it probable that a large building is in question, and the word translated ‘tower’ (pyrgos) can also mean ‘farm buildings’. (B.T.D. Smith, Parables of the Synoptic Gospels [Cambridge: University Press. 1937], p. 220). The king going to war would be a familiar enough figure in embattled Palestine, and the assassin ‘draws upon the stern reality of the Zealot movement’.(J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], p. 196.) There is every reason to accept them as authentic; their very vividness, the fact that the tradition has misunderstood the first two (v. 33 makes them examples of self-denial) and the extreme unlikelihood of anyone but Jesus using a Zealot assassin as an example (cf. the Labour Racketeer!), are overwhelming arguments in their favour.
As far as the interpretation of these pictures is concerned, C. H. Hunzinger has recently pointed out (‘Unbekannte Gleichnisse Jesu aus dem Thomas-Evangelium’, Judentum, Urchristentum, Kirche [Festschrift fur Joachim Joachim Jeremias], ed. W. Eltester, pp. 209-20.) that the canonical ones begin with the rhetorical question, ‘Which of you . . .?’ and in this respect they belong to a whole group of parables (e.g. Luke 11.11 par.; 11.5; 15.4) which draws a conclusion about God from the conduct of man. This being the case, these three should also be understood in this way; they challenge men to consider: What God has begun, he will carry through. But, as Jeremias points out, (J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], p. 197, n. 23) the pictures are not of successfully concluding something half begun, but of preparing oneself for a task. The farmer calculates his resources, the king estimates his strength over against his enemy’s, the assassin assures himself that his hand has not lost its skill; the natural point of comparison here is not God, but man. We are justified, therefore, in claiming that Luke is, so to speak, half right: these parables are parables of discipleship, although their point is not self-denial. Set in the context of the eschatological challenge of Jesus’ proclamation, these parables challenge men to sober judgement. The Hid Treasure and the Pearl challenge to a recognition of the joy of fulfillment of long-held hopes, these to a recognition that, as the present writer heard T. W. Manson put it, ‘Salvation may be free, but it is not cheap.’ These parables emphasize the earnestness and self-preparedness that must characterize the response to the challenge of Jesus’ proclamation.
Exegesis 4. The Friend at Midnight, The unjust Judge. Confidence in God
The Friend at Midnight: Luke 11.5-8 (The Importuned Friend)
5Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; 6for a friend of mine has arrived on a long journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything’. 8I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs.
In this parable we find again the sympathetic observation of Palestinian peasant life so characteristic of Jesus. The Palestinian peasant wife baked bread for the day before sunrise, normally there would be none left after dark. The responsibilities of hospitality were sacred in the ancient East and three loaves are a meal for one person. The importuned friend is living in a one-room cottage, the whole family sleeping on a mat on a raised platform, and getting up and unbolting the door, itself a cumbersome business, would necessarily disturb the whole household.
The one difficulty in the story is the phrase translated ‘because of his importunity’ (anaideian). This can be referred either to the importuner, as in the translation above, or it can be referred to the importuned, in which case it must be understood in the sense of ‘so as not to be shamed’, i.e. not to lose face. (J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], p. 158.) There can be no certainty as to which of these is correct, but the fact that the parable is so strongly Palestinian in atmosphere lends weight to the latter, the more oriental of the two possibilities. If we accept this as the correct rendering, then the whole weight of the story falls not upon the importuner, but upon the importuned, for it is his conduct that is singled out for explanation and comment. We would, therefore, call it the ‘Importuned Friend’, and, with Jeremias, (Ibid.) read it as one long rhetorical question followed by a pungent comment. ‘Is it conceivable that one of you could have a friend who would come to you at midnight . . . could you answer from within . . .? No, you could not. Even if his friendship did not get you up, the shame of refusing to accept responsibility for the needs of hospitality would be more than sufficient to do so !’
The parable argues from the lesser to the greater, and the natural interpretation is: If the importuned has to answer his friend, how much more must God hear you. We must remember that the context of the parable as the total proclamation of Jesus and that its message is, therefore, a supplement to that proclamation. Those who hear the proclamation may have full confidence in the God of which it speaks: If . . . how much more must . . . Luke, concerned with the ongoing life of the Church and experience of the Christian ‘way’, understands the reference to be to confidence in prayer; but it seems more probable that the original reference was to the totality of the proclamation as it challenged the hearer.
The Unjust Judge: Luke 18. 1-8 (The Importuned judge)
1And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; 3and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, "Vindicate me against my adversary." 4For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, "Though I neither fear God nor regard man, 5yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming."’ 6And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
Verse 1 is the Lukan introduction; as in the case of the Importuned Friend he understands the reference to be to God as the answerer of prayer, and vv. 6, 7 and 8 are a series of comments accruing to the story m the tradition. Restricting ourselves to vv. 2-5, we have a vivid picture, of which an exact modern parallel has been reported, (By H. B. Tristram, quoted in B. T. D. Smith, Parables of the Synoptic Gospels, p. 150, and summarized by J. Jeremias, Parables of Jesus [rev. ed., 1963], p. 154, n. 7.) of an Eastern judge whose judgements are responsive to bribery and a poor widow whose persistence in importunity wins the day for her. Again, it is an argument from the lesser to the greater, and the probable reference is the total proclamation of Jesus as it challenged the individual hearer. If an unjust judge can be importuned into responding to a poor widow, how much more can you trust the God who reaches Out to you in the word of forgiveness.
The application of these twin parables to prayer is natural and proper. Certainly trust extended to the God known in the experience of forgiveness would lead naturally to the practice of prayer, and the existence of the Lord’s Prayer itself is evidence enough that Jesus did, in fact, lead his followers from the general attitude of trust to the particular expression of it in prayer.
Thus far we have discussed the challenge of Jesus to recognition and response in terms of the parabolic teaching; now we must turn to another aspect of the matter: the challenge of Jesus to faith. ‘Faith’ is a dangerous word to use in connection with the teaching of Jesus, because its constant theological, ecclesiastical and evangelical use among Christians inevitably leads to a tendency to associate ideas with the word in the teaching of Jesus which really have no place there. Despite this danger, however, we have no choice in the matter, because Jesus did, in fact, challenge men to ‘faith’. The most we can do is to stay as close to the text as we can, mindful that the real issue is the way the word is being used, not what ideas we may associate with it.
‘Faith’ in the Teaching of Jesus (See on this subject: R. Bultmann, Faith [Bible Key Words from Gerhard Kittel’s Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament], London: A. & C. Black [No. 10], and New York: Harper and Row [Vol. III with Spirit of God], 1961. G. Ebeling, ‘Jesus and Faith’, in his collected essays Word and Faith [ET by J. W.Leitch of Wort und Glaube (1960). London: SCM Press, and Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963}, pp. 201-46.)
The discussion of this aspect of the teaching of Jesus has only very recently come alive in English language research. For a long time it did not get very far and for this there are a number of reasons. One difficulty has been that scholars tending to a conservative view of the tradition have, as a consequence, also tended to regard the various claims and challenges of the Christ of the gospels as constituting the situation of the ministry of the historical Jesus. Since there is no point at which the gospel tradition is more influenced by the post-Easter situation than it is in this aspect of the depiction of the risen Lord of Christian experience in terms of Jesus of Nazareth, this has not proven a fruitful approach to the problem. On the other hand, scholars who were sensitive to the differences between the historical Jesus and the Christ of the gospel tradition tended to see their task as depicting the historical Jesus in such a way that they and their readers might enter into his experience and so share his confidence in God, (For example, B. Harvie Branscomb, The Teachings of Jesus [New York: Abingdon Press, 1931], p. 209: ‘This is the source and ground of Jesus’ confidence and courage. . . . We usually call this Jesus’ teaching of faith in God. He constantly urged greater faith on his disciples. . .’) which is what they understood faith to be. There has recently been a return to a view similar to this, although very differently expressed, in the work of Ernst Fuchs, who speaks of Jesus’ faith, of Jesus’ decision, and of the need to repeat Jesus’ decision, and who speaks also of Jesus’ personal prayer as ‘the most eminent part of his own obedience in faith’, and of the disciples as being let ‘take part in his prayer’.(E. Fuchs, Studies of the Historical Jesus, pp. 11-31 [‘The Quest of the Historical Jesus’] and 48-64 [‘Jesus and Faith’]. Quotations are from p. 62.). But the difficulty with this is always that it assumes two things: that faith is concerned with one’s attitude to God, which is true enough, but much too broadly conceived; and that the crux of the challenge of Jesus is that men should share his faith, (Fuchs would want to express the matter in words very different from these.) which is a sweeping assumption, indeed. A further problem is that many of the most characteristic sayings about faith in the gospels are associated with miracles, especially healing miracles, and critical scholarship has found this aspect of the tradition very difficult. Liberal scholars tended either to rationalize the stories, or to speak movingly of ‘the supreme meaning of Jesus’ wonders: God’s will of mercy and salvation was expressing itself through him,’ (E. J. Goodspeed, Life of Jesus [New York: Harper & Bros., 1956], pp. 55f.) and then move quickly to a more congenial subject! Form criticism, building on the foundations of the immense comparative studies of the religionsgeschichtliche Schule, dismissed the stories as typical products of the legend-making propensities of ancient religious movements, to be paralleled in both Jewish and Hellenistic religious literature.(E.g. R. Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, pp. 209-44.) In either case, there was no desire to discuss the concept of faith involved in these stories as an aspect of the teaching of Jesus. A further factor at work in the situation was the feeling that a discussion of ‘faith’ in the teaching of Jesus would lead to a discussion of Jesus’ faith and this would be an illegitimate psychologizing about Jesus. (Cf. Bultmann’s comments on the work of Fuchs, in The Historical Jesus and the Kerygmatic Christ, ed. C. E. Braaten and R. A. Harrisville [New York: Abingdon Press, 1964], pp. 32f.) It can readily be seen that there are strong reasons for the fact that Bultmann’s article on Faith, in Kittel’s TWNT, in many ways a classic, did not include a discussion of the teaching of Jesus.
Today, however, it is being increasingly recognized that the tradition of miracle stories in the gospels deserves much more serious attention than either the older liberal or the earlier form-critical scholarship gave it. Further, a closer study of this tradition throws into sharp relief the role played in it by references to ‘faith’.
The view of the miracles held by critical scholarship has, then, changed, and for this there are a number of reasons. One is that parallels quoted from Jewish and Hellenistic literature have been more carefully examined, and they turn out to be not completely convincing as sources for all that we find in the synoptic accounts.
As a matter of convenience, and because these are the crux of the matter so far as the ministry of Jesus is concerned, we will restrict ourselves to exorcisms, giving two characteristic passages from the Hellenistic literature.
Philostratus, Apollonius of Tyana iv. 20
(Apollonius is discussing the question of libations and in his audience is a youth with ‘so evil a reputation for licentiousness, that his conduct had once been the subject of coarse street-corner songs’. This youth interrupts Apollonius with loud and coarse laughter.) Then Apollonius looked up at him and said: ‘It is not yourself that perpetrates this insult, but the demon, who drives you on without your knowing it.’ And in fact the youth was, without knowing it, possessed by a devil; for he would laugh at things that no one else laughed at, and then he would fall to weeping for no reason at all, and he would talk and sing to himself. Now most people thought that it was the boisterous humour of youth which led him into such excesses; but he was really the mouthpiece of a devil, though it only seemed a drunken frolic in which on that occasion he was indulging. Now when Apollonius gazed on him, the ghost in him began to utter cries of fear and rage, such as one hears from people who are being branded or racked; and the ghost swore that he would leave the young man alone and never take possession of any man again. But Apollonius addressed him with anger, as a master might a shifty, rascally, and shameless slave and so on, and he ordered him to quit the young man and show by a visible sign that he had done so. ‘I will throw down yonder statue,’ said the devil, and pointed to one of the images which were in the king’s portico, for there it was that the scene took place. But when the statue began by moving gently, and then fell down, it would defy anyone to describe the hubbub which arose thereat and the way they clapped their hands with wonder. But the young man rubbed his eyes as if he had just woke up, and he looked towards the rays of the sun, and won the consideration of all who now had turned their attention to him; for he no longer showed himself licentious, nor did he stare madly about, but he had returned to his own self, as thoroughly as if he had been treated with drugs; and he gave up his dainty dress and summery garments and the rest of his sybaritic way of life, and he fell in love with the austerity of the philosophers, and donned their cloak, and stripping off his old self modeled his life in future upon that of Apollonius. (Quoted from the translation by F. C. Conybeare in the Loeb Classical Library.)
Lucian, Philopseudes 16
‘You act ridiculously,’ said Ion, ‘to doubt everything. For my part, I should like to ask you what you say to those who free possessed men from their terrors by exorcising the spirits so manifestly. I need not discuss this: everyone knows about the Syrian from Palestine, the adept in it, how many he takes in hand who fall down in the light of the moon and roll their eyes and fill their mouths with foam; nevertheless, he restores them to health and sends them away normal in mind, delivering them from their straits for a large fee. When he stands beside them as they lie there and asks: "Whence came you into his body?" the patient himself is silent, but the spirit answers in Greek or in the language of whatever foreign country he comes from, telling how and whence he entered into the man; whereupon, by adjuring the spirit and if he does not obey, threatening him, he drives him out. Indeed, I actually saw one coming out, black and smoky in colour.’ (Quoted from the translation by A. M. Harmon in the Loeb Classical Library.)
It becomes apparent that many of the details in the synoptic accounts are paralleled in the Hellenistic literature; that Christian writers did use Hellenistic models can be seen quite clearly in the apocryphal Acts of Peter, where the author improves on a version of a story similar to that told by Philostratus.
Acts of Peter XI
And as Peter spake thus and embraced Marcellus, Peter turned himself to the multitude that stood by him and saw there one that laughed (smiled), in whom was a very evil spirit. And Peter said unto him: ‘Whosoever thou art that didst laugh, show thyself openly unto all that are present.’ And hearing this the young man ran into the court of the house and cried out with a loud voice and dashed himself against the wall and said: ‘Peter, there is a great contention between Simon and the dog whom thou sentest; for Simon saith to the dog: "Say that I am not here." Unto whom the dog saith more than thou didst charge him; and when he bath accomplished the mystery which thou didst command him, he shall die at thy feet.’ But Peter said: ‘And thou also, devil, whosoever thou art, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, go out of that young man and hurt him not at all; show thyself to all that stand here.’ When the young man heard it, he ran forth and caught hold on a great statue of marble which was set in the court of the house, and broke it in pieces with his feet. Now it was a statue of Caesar. Which Marcellus beholding smote his forehead and said unto Peter: ‘A great crime hath been committed; for if this be made known unto Caesar by some busybody, he will afflict us with sore punishments.’ And Peter said to him: ‘I see thee not the same that thou wast a little while ago, for thou saidst that thou wast ready to spend all thy substance to save thy soul. But if thou indeed repentest, believing in Christ with thy whole heart, take in thine hands of the water that runneth down, and pray to the Lord, and in his name sprinkle it upon the broken pieces of the statue and it shall be whole as it was before.’ And Marcellus, nothing doubting, but believing with his whole heart, before he took the water lifted up his hands and said: ‘I believe in thee, O Lord Jesus Christ: for I am now proved by thine apostle Peter, whether I believe aright in thy holy name. Therefore I take water in my hands, and in thy name do I sprinkle these stones that the statue may become whole as it was before. If, therefore, Lord, it be thy will that I continue in the body and suffer nothing at Caesar’s hand, let this stone be whole as it was before.’ And he sprinkled the water upon the stones, and the statue became whole, whereat Peter exulted that Marcellus had not doubted in asking of the Lord, and Marcellus was exalted in spirit for that such a sign was first wrought by his hands; and he therefore believed with his whole heart in the name of Jesus Christ the Son of God, by whom all things impossible are made possible.(Quoted from M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament [Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1953], pp. 314f.)
None the less, there is one thing conspicuous by its absence from these Hellenistic stories and that is the use of ‘faith’ in such a saying as ‘Your faith has saved you’. Such a use of ‘faith’ is not only completely absent from these stories, it is also without parallel anywhere in the Hellenistic literature.
We might expect that the Jewish literature would provide a closer parallel to the gospel narratives, and, indeed, exorcism stories are more common here than they are in the Hellenistic literature. We give three examples from the Babylonian Talmud, quoting the Soncino edition.
b. Me‘ilah 17B
(R. Simeon and R. Eleazar are going to Rome to work for the annulment of anti-Jewish decrees.) Then Ben Temalion [a demon] came to meet them. He said: ‘Is it your wish that I accompany you?’ Thereupon R. Simeon wept and said: ‘The handmaid of my ancestor’s house was found worthy of meeting an angel thrice [Hagar: Gen. 16], and I not even to meet him once. However, let the miracle be performed, no matter how.’ Thereupon he [the demon] advanced and entered into the Emperor’s daughter. When R. Simeon arrived there he called out: ‘Ben Temalion leave her, Ben Temalion leave her’, and as he proclaimed this he left her. He [the emperor] said to them: ‘Request whatever you desire.’
b. Kiddushim 29b
Now a certain demon haunted Abaye’s schoolhouse, so that when [only] two entered, even by day, they were injured. [R. Aha b. Jacob is on his way to visit Abaye] He [Abaye] ordered, ‘Let no man afford him hospitality [so that he would be forced to sleep in the schoolhouse]; perhaps a miracle will happen [in his merit].’ So he entered and spent the night in that schoolhouse, during which it [the demon] appeared to him in the guise of a seven-headed dragon. Every time he [the Rabbi] fell on his knees [in prayer] one head fell off. The next day he reproached them: ‘Had not a miracle occurred, you would have endangered my life.’
b. Kiddushim 39b-40a
As in the case of R. Hanina b. Pappi, whom a certain matron urged [to immorality]. He pronounced a certain [magical] formula, whereupon his body was covered with boils and scabs [so as to protect him from temptation]; but she did something and he was healed. So he fled and hid himself in a bathhouse in which when [even] two entered, even in daytime, they would suffer harm [from demons]. The next morning [seeing he was unharmed] the Rabbis asked him. ‘Who guarded you?’ Said he to them, ‘Two Imperial [armour] bearers guarded me all night.’ Said they to him, ‘Perhaps you were tempted with immorality and successfully resisted?’ For it is taught, He who is tempted with immorality and successfully resists, a miracle is performed for him.
It can be seen at once that here again the emphasis upon faith so characteristic of the synoptic stories is completely missing. There is no equivalent to ‘Your faith has saved you’; rather, power over the demons is an attribute of a particular rabbi, or it is granted in answer to prayer or as a reward for a meritorious act. We have restricted ourselves to exorcisms, but the same thing is true if all types of miracle stories are considered. After considering twenty-one miracle stories of all kinds as a representative cross-section of the rabbinic tradition, L. J. McGinley points out that ‘faith is never demanded from the patient’.(L.J. McGinley, ‘The Synoptic Healing Narrative and Rabbinic Analogies’, Theological Studies 4 , p. 95.) As in the case of the Hellenistic stories, so also here the characteristic ‘Your faith has saved you’ of the gospel narratives is conspicuous by its absence.
Set in the context of their Hellenistic and Jewish parallels, then, the synoptic narratives offer many features that are reminiscent of features present in those parallels — in this respect the work of Bultmann mentioned above is justified — but they also offer one strikingly different feature: the emphasis upon the faith of the patient, or his friends.
Another factor entering into the discussion at this point is the increasing willingness of critical scholars to accept the premise that Jesus did, in fact, ‘cast out demons’ in a way considered remarkable by his contemporaries. The evidence for this is strong. We have the testimony of the Jewish sources; the fact that such stories occur in all strata of the tradition, including the two earliest, Mark and Q (criterion of multiple attestation); and the authentic Kingdom-sayings related to exorcisms, especially Matt. 12.28 par. Today, the pupils of the original form critics are prepared to accept elements of the tradition their teachers rejected. (Most important in this context is E. Käsemann’s article, ‘Wunder IV. Im NT’, RGG3 VI , 1835-7, especially the opening paragraph.) We cannot, of course, diagnose the diseases and their cures over the gulf of two thousand years and radically different Weltanschauungen. Nor can we accept the necessary authenticity of any single story as it stands at present in the synoptic tradition; the ‘legendary overlay’ (Käsemann) and the influence of parallel stories from Hellenism and Judaism on the tradition are too strong for that. But we can say that behind that tradition there must lie a hard core of authenticity, even though its details are unrecoverable today. But if there is a hard core of authenticity, and if the process of transmission has been largely an expansion of this tradition by, and its accommodation to, the influence of parallel stories in other traditions, then the unique element in the tradition in comparison with its parallels is that which has the highest claim to authenticity. Although we cannot, today, reconstruct a single authentic healing or exorcism narrative from the tradition we have, we are none the less entitled to claim that the emphasis upon the faith of the patient, or his friends, in that tradition is authentic.
We are concerned with the frequently occurring ‘Your faith has saved you’ or its equivalent: Mark 5.34 par. (woman with the flow of blood); Mark 10.52 par. (blind Bartimaeus); Luke 7.50 (woman who was a sinner); Luke 17.19 (Samaritan leper); Mark 2.5 (the paralytic’s friends). Although we are not prepared to argue for the authenticity of any of the narratives concerned, we are arguing for the authenticity of such an element in the historical ministry of Jesus: he did help those who confronted him in their need in a way his contemporaries regarded as remarkable, and he did link this with the ‘faith’ of the people concerned.
In order to investigate the meaning to be attributed to ‘faith’ as Jesus used it, we have to consider, in addition, the complex of sayings about faith ‘moving mountains’ or ‘uprooting trees’. The two fundamental sayings here are Matt. 17.20 and Luke 17.6.
Matt. 17.20. He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you will have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, "Move hence to yonder place", and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.’
Luke 17.6. And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, "Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea; and it would obey you."’
In addition, Mark 11.23 has a saying, ‘Whoever says to this mountain "Be taken up and cast into the sea", and does not doubt . . .but believes . . . it will be done for him’, set in the context of the dialogue about the meaning of the withered fig tree, and in this he is followed by Matthew (21.21). Then Paul appears to allude to the saying in I Cor. 13.2, ‘. . . if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains . . . and gnosticized versions of it occur twice in Thomas, where the gnostic ‘unity’ which is expressive of the state of salvation is such that ‘they shall say to the mountain: "Be moved", and it shall be moved’ (logion 48, cf. 106).
The most reasonable explanation of this complicated complex of sayings would appear to be (I) that there is widespread tradition that triumphant Christian (or gnostic) faith is such as to be able to ‘move mountains’ (I Cor. 13.2; Thomas 106; 48). Then (2) Mark 11.23 (= Matt. 21.21) should be recognized as a mixed saying in that it has parts of the two originally separate metaphors: the mountain from a version such as is now in Matt. I 7.20 and the sea from a version such as is now in Luke 17.6. (3) Matt. 17.20 and Luke 17.6 should be recognized as two distinct sayings making exactly the same point: the inconceivable power of faith. They have different but equally vivid metaphors of contrast: the proverbially small mustard seed with the power to move mountains, and the same seed and the power to uproot a sycamine (sycamore: Heb. shikmah) tree. The latter metaphor comes alive for us when we recognize that the Palestinian sycamine tree was notably deep rooted; the Mishnah says: ‘A tree may not be grown within twenty-five cubits of a cistern, or within fifty cubits if it is . . . a sycamore (shikmah) tree’ (B. B. 2.11). (Cf. T. W. Manson, Sayings of Jesus [London: SCM Press, 1949], p.141.) Since a developing tradition does not sharpen and isolate metaphors but rather mixes and blunts them, we may assume that these two sayings have given nse to the tradition of faith ‘moving mountains’ in the Church rather than vice versa, and there is good reason to accept their authenticity. Their vividness is a characteristic of the teaching of Jesus in metaphor; there are no parallels in Judaism to this form of a concept of faith, (G. Ebeling, Word and Faith, p. 229, with references.) and they are entirely coherent with the emphasis on faith in the exorcism-healing tradition. Nor may it be supposed that an early Christian emphasis upon faith has been read back into the tradition. The concept involved is different from that to be found in the early Church in that it is absolute and not directed towards Jesus (criterion of dissimilarity), and it is consistent in both miracle stories and sayings (criterion of multiple attestation).
The data we have to interpret, then, is that Jesus did help certain people in their need in a way his contemporaries regarded as remarkable, but he insisted that ‘Your faith has saved you’; and that he taught that the veriest particle of faith could ‘move mountains or uproot even sycamine trees’. What does ‘faith’ mean in these contexts? Well, it is clearly being used absolutely; there is no direct relationship to God or Jesus himself, men are not being asked to believe in God, to believe on Jesus. They are not even being asked to count themselves, in the moment of faith, a part of a regular religious community. Faith is imputed to the Samaritan leper, the Syrophoenician woman and the Gentile nobleman irrespective of any confessional standing in regard to a specific religious faith. Whatever may be our critical estimate of the authenticity of the individual stories, this is all so startlingly unlike anything that we could parallel in Judaism (the disregard of the community of faith) or the early Church (faith not directed to Jesus) (Except in Matt. 18.6, the only place where the specifically Christian Greek construction pisteuein eis is found in the synoptics and where the eis eme is clearly secondary, being absent in the source, Mark 9.42.) that it must be the usage of Jesus himself.
To come closer to an interpretation of the data we should note another factor in this tradition: faith is used both in connection with the forgiveness of sins (Luke 7.50) and with healing (Mark 5.34 etc.); indeed, the two are linked as being one and the same thing in the context of faith (Mark 2.5ff.). Now, this is not only fully in accordance with the relationship between sin and suffering as understood by the Jews at the time of Jesus (John 9.2), but it is also the reason for the very existence of an exorcism-healing element in the ministry of Jesus. We argued in chapter II, above, that Jesus was, above all, the Proclaimer of the Kingdom of God and that a major specific aspect of that proclamation was the eschatological forgiveness of sins. But if Jesus proclaimed the forgiveness of sins as a reality for those who accepted the challenge of his proclamation, then this proclamation must be accompanied by a ministry of exorcism and healing. So deep-rooted was the connection between sin and suffering to a Palestinian Jew of the first century that if there had been no such aspect of the ministry of Jesus, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God and the forgiveness of sins must have been regarded as a vain and empty sham. The present state of the tradition testifies to the reality of this connection in the ministry of Jesus in the way in which it equates the two in the context of faith. Recognition of this brings us closer to an understanding of the absolute use of faith by Jesus, in that it calls our attention to the fact that both the offer of the forgiveness of sins and the exorcisms were the subject of controversy between Jesus and some of his contemporaries. The synagogue scene at Capernaum pictures Jesus being accused of blasphemy in connection with the forgiveness of sins (Mark 2.7), and, although this is, no doubt, an ‘ideal’ or ‘typical’ scene, we have no reason to doubt its essential correspondence to an aspect of the historical ministry of Jesus. Similarly, the Beelzebul controversy (Mark 3.22-27), again certainly corresponding to an aspect of the ministry of the historical Jesus, pictures Jesus as being accused of collusion with the prince of demons in his exorcisms. In both contexts, therefore, faith must necessarily begin as recognition: recognition that Jesus does, in fact, have the authority to forgive sins, and recognition that the exorcisms are, indeed, a manifestation of the Kingdom of God, all possible arguments to the contrary notwithstanding. In this respect, faith is essentially an assent to a particular interpretation of an event, an interpretation not necessarily self-evident in the event itself. Jesus could have been blaspheming, his exorcisms could be collusion with evil forces, and what his opponents, no doubt, regarded as the indiscriminate nature of both the forgiveness (including tax collectors and sinners) and the healings (Samaritan leper) could be an argument against these aspects of his ministry, but for faith both are a manifestation of the kingly activity of God.
Faith, then, includes this vital element of recognition; it is in no small part trust in the fact that God is, indeed, active in the ministry of Jesus and that Jesus is what he implicitly claims to be. But although this faith has thus an ultimate reference both to God and to Jesus, it is by no means confidence in God or faith in Jesus. It could become this, on reflection, but the fact is that faith is used absolutely in the characteristic ‘Your faith has saved you’, or ‘faith as a grain of mustard seed. . . .’ It is not there further defined as faith in God, in Jesus, in the good news, as it is in the characteristic reformulations in the tradition, for example Mark 1.15: ‘. . . believe in the gospel’. The force of this absolute use is to concentrate attention upon the concrete nature of faith. ‘Faith is concrete faith in its being related to a concrete situation.’ (G. Ebeling, Word and Faith, p. 244.) It is faith in relation to a specific occurrence, a given event, an immediate challenge. Faith means to recognize the concrete situation for what it is and to respond in the only appropriate manner to its challenge.
The appropriate response is implicit in the concept of faith itself as it was understood in ancient Judaism, for there the primary meaning of faith is certainly trust. A traditional saying, attributed in the Babylonian Talmud (b. Sot. 48b) to Rabbi Eliezer b. Hyrcanus and hence certainly coming from New Testament times, runs: ‘Whoever has a piece of bread in his basket and says "What shall I eat tomorrow?" belongs only to them who are little in faith.’ Faith here is clearly trust, in this instance in God’s provisioning, and the ‘faith as a grain of mustard seed’ in the teaching of Jesus would seem to be an allusion to some such saying as this one. Although to do so is to lose the pungency of the original, we may certainly understand it as ‘even the smallest particle of trust, if it is real trust . . .‘ So the appropriate response to the challenge is trust;, trust in God, but trust in God in the concrete situation and in the particular instance, trust in relation to the specific challenge. But to the Jews trust must of necessity issue in obedience, faith becoming faithfulness, (Note the absolute use of faith in the sense of faithfulness in Wisd. of Sol. 3.14; IV Ezra 6.28; 7.34, and as parallel to righteousness in I Enoch 58.5; 61.4.) and so here we must understand the response of faith as including both trust and obedience, absolute trust and complete obedience.
One is entitled to use words such as absolute or complete in connection with trust and obedience in the teaching of Jesus. In the first place, both the absolute use of ‘faith’ and the imagery of the mustard seed are evidence that faith either is or is not; so far as the teaching of Jesus is concerned, there is no less or more to faith. The point of the mustard seed image in this instance is not that a mustard seed grows into a large bush, but that there is no such thing as a large mustard seed! Again, we have the vivid saying, Luke 14.26: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.’ This may be regarded as authentic because of the vividness of the imagery and because the variant in Matt. 10.37 (‘is not worthy of me’ for ‘cannot be my disciple’) goes back to an original Aramaic in which we have the unusual word shwly (Shwly = apprentice. the usual word for disciple of a rabbi is tlmyd. T.W. Manson, Teaching of Jesus, p. 238.) for disciple. As an authentic saying, it vividly illustrates the nature of the obedience required as part of the faith response to the challenge of Jesus and his proclamation. Luke 9.62: ‘No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God’ has equal claim to authenticity (the imagery is vivid and without parallel in Judaism, Billerbeck, Kommentar ad loc.; the use of Kingdom of God is dominical) and makes the same point in a different way. Involved in faith is absolute trust and complete obedience. We may summarize: Jesus challenged men to faith as recognition and response to the challenge of his proclamation — recognition that God was, indeed, active as king in his ministry, and in a specific event, occasion or incident for the individual concerned, and response in terms of absolute trust and complete obedience.
We have stressed the direct and concrete nature of the challenge to faith in the teaching of Jesus; we turn now to explore further the response-as-obedience aspect of that teaching in terms of a group of sayings which exhibit the radical and total character of the challenge of Jesus altogether. These are: Luke 9.62; Mark 10.23b, 25; Luke 9.60a; Matt. 7.13f.; Mark 10.31; Mark 7.15; Mark 10.15; Luke 14.11; 16.15; Matt. 5.39b-41; Matt. 5.44-48.
These sayings have been chosen from among the residue of logia which survives the extensive, and brilliant, investigation of ‘Jesus as the teacher of wisdom’ by R. Bultmann in his History of the Synoptic Tradition (pp. 69-105). This investigation is so thorough, the emerging history of tradition so convincing and the application of what we have called the criterion of dissimilarity so careful, that we feel no need to do more than quote Bultmann’s conclusion: ‘All these sayings contain something characteristic, new, reaching out beyond popular wisdom and piety and yet (they) are in no sense scribal or rabbinic, nor yet Jewish apocalyptic. So here, if anywhere, we can find what is characteristic of the preaching of Jesus.’ (R. Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, p. 105) No discussion of the authenticity of these sayings, therefore, will be offered here.
Exegesis 5. Luke 9.62; Mark 10,23b, 25; Luke 9.60a; Matt. 7.13f.; Mark 10.31; Luke 14.11, Cf. 16.15. The Challenge To Discipleship
No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.
This saying has both the vivid naturalness of imagery and the radical nature of the demand which are typical of the ‘ethical’ teaching of Jesus. The reference to the plough is a parable in itself (‘To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God? It is like a man who puts his hand to the plough and moves steadfastly across the land, looking neither to the right nor to the left, and least of all behind him!’) and characterizes the single-mindedness that is an essential aspect of the response to the challenge of Jesus’ proclamation.
Some idea of the vividness of Jesus’ teaching can be seen by comparing this saying with a rabbinical one of similar import: ‘If a man was walking by the way and studying and he ceased his study and said, "How fine is this tree!" or "How fine is this ploughed field !" the Scripture reckons it to him as though he was guilty against his own soul’ (Aboth 3.8).
Mark 10.23b, 25
How hard it will be (v. 24: is) to enter the Kingdom of God. . . .It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.
The tradition here varies between the present tense and the future in Vv. 24 and 23 respectively. There is no need for us to make any decision on this point, because both would be equally fitting in the teaching of Jesus, since, as we have seen and as we shall have occasion to see, there is in that teaching an absolutely characteristic tension between present and future.(On this see N. Perrin, Kingdom, pp. 185-99.)
‘To enter the Kingdom of God’ is an idiom found both in Judaism and in the early Church, and it is, therefore, indefensible on the basis of the criterion of dissimilarity. But it is so widespread in the tradition (criterion of multiple attestation), and so much more used in the synoptic tradition than anywhere else in Judaism or Christianity, that we may accept it as part of the teaching of Jesus, and we may certainly accept this saying on the basis of Bultmann’s analysis of the tradition. There is no need for us to blunt the hyperbole of the reference to the camel and the eye of the needle. Rabbinic Judaism knows well the imagery of an elephant going through the eye of a needle as a symbol for the impossible, (Billerbeck, Kommentar I, 828.) so Jesus’ imagery was readily understandable as well as apposite.
This attitude to riches is radical. The Jews recognized the danger of riches becoming a hindrance to the observance of the Law, and they had had such an experience of the wealthier among their people succumbing to the temptation of a worldly Hellenism that the word ‘poor’ had become a synonym for ‘pious’. None the less, the rabbis strove for a balance in this matter, and their view is well expressed in Midrash Exodus Rabbah 31 on Ex. 22.24:
You will find that there are riches that positively harm their possessors and other riches that stand them in good stead.
When Solomon built the Temple, he said in his dedication prayer: ‘Lord of the Universe! Should a man pray unto thee for money and Thou knowest that it will be harmful to him, then do not grant his request; but shouldst Thou see one that will do well with his riches, then do grant him.’
Jesus, on the other hand, sees in riches a great danger. The reason is probably that he saw in riches a hindrance to the absolute nature of the self-surrender necessary as response to the challenge of the proclamation.
‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead.’ [Matthew (8.22) precedes this with ‘Follow me’, and Luke continues, ‘but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God’, a characteristically Lukan emphasis.]
This is possibly the most radical of the sayings of Jesus on response to the challenge. In Judaism the responsibility for burying the dead was one that took precedence over all other duties enjoined in the Law. ‘He whose dead lies unburied before him is exempt from reciting the Shema’, from saying the Tefillah and from wearing phylacteries’ (Ber. 3.1, some texts add: ‘and from all the duties enjoined in the Law’). So radical is the gospel saying that it has often been suggested that there must either be a mistranslation here (a noun participle ‘burier of the dead’ misunderstood as an imperatival infinitive) or the reference must be to people spiritually dead. Neither of these suggestions is convincing, and, indeed, the radical nature of the saying is the guarantee of its authenticity. The response to the challenge of the Kingdom is all-demanding; it must transcend all other responsibilities and duties, however naturally and normally important those might be.
13Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Following a hint by Bultmann, (R. Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, p. 82.) we may recognize in this saying and its Lukan parallel (Luke 13.24: ‘Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able’) an original saying of Jesus about striving to enter (the Kingdom) by the narrow gate which has been expanded in the tradition by the addition of commonplaces of Jewish exhortation. Billerbeck found that the imagery of the gate was extremely rare in Judaism, whereas that of the two ways, and the concept of ways leading to ‘life’ and ‘destruction’ respectively, occur frequently. (Billerbeck, Kommentor I, 460ff.) Furthermore, the terms ‘destruction’ and ‘life’ are not characteristic of Jesus; entering or failing to enter the Kingdom would be what we would expect.
A saying concerning striving to enter the Kingdom by the narrow gate would, again, stress the radical nature of Jesus’ demand.
‘But many that are first will be last, and the last first’ (par. Matt. 19.30; cf. Matt. 20.16; Luke (3.30).
Cf. Thomas 4. ‘For many who are first shall become last and they shall become a single one.’
With this saying we reach the climax of this particular aspect of the teaching of Jesus. The Kingdom is God’s Kingdom: his activity in the present and the consummation he will establish in the future. The responsibility of man is to respond to that activity in his present — radically, thoroughly, with complete self-surrender — so that he may both deepen his experience of God in his continuing present and move towards the goal of the future. Again, the response will be God’s, in the sense that it will be according to the impact which God makes upon the individual. So it will be the case, both with the activity and the response, that it will not necessarily be in accordance with man’s previous expectations, nor in accordance with human values — not even human values ascribed to God! So the first will be last and the last first; the poor will be rich and the rich poor; tax collectors and sinners will be found within the Kingdom and scribes and Pharisees shut outside it.
Here this same point is made in a different way.
‘For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’
Here the passives, as frequently, refer to the activity of God, and the point is that human values may well be reversed; all must be, and will be, in accordance with the values of God.
Exegesis 6. Mark 10.15; Matt. 5.39b-41; Matt. 5.44-48.
The New Attitude
Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.
This is perhaps the most memorable and pregnant of all the sayings of Jesus, and a worthy tribute was paid to it by the Jewish scholar, C. G. Montefiore: ‘. . . the beauty, the significance, the ethical force, and the originality . . . of the great saying in (v.) 15, can also only with injustice be overlooked, cheapened, or denied,’(C. G. Montefiore, The Synoptic Gospels I , p.238.) It sums up a whole aspect of the teaching of Jesus in one unforgettable image: a man must bring to his response to the activity of God the ready trust and instinctive obedience of a child. Only in this way is he truly able to enter into the depth of the experience that has now become a real possibility for him.
39bBut if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; 40and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; 41and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
The reference in v. 41 is to the Roman practice of impressing civilians into temporary service, as in the case of Simon of Cyrene being compelled to carry Jesus’ cross (Mark 15.21). It was a bitterly resented practice, but the power of Roman arms was such that the moral philosophy of the day found a very practical reason for accepting it. ‘If there is a requisition and a soldier seizes it (your ass), let it go. Do not resist or complain, otherwise you will be first beaten, and lose your ass after all’ (Epictetus).(Quoted by T.W. Manson, Sayings of Jesus, p. 160.) The teaching of Jesus challenges men to an attitude radically different from the prudential morality of an Epictetus: they are to see in the imposition a challenge to service and to accept it gladly. ‘The first mile renders to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; the second mile, by meeting opposition with kindness, renders to God the things that are God’s.’(Ibid.)
Essentially, the same challenge is expressed in the other two examples: the acceptance of insult and the refusal to stand on one’s rights. The reference to the right cheek indicates that the act envisaged is a formal insult and not a spontaneous act of violence. (Normally, a right-handed person would strike the left cheek of the victim. The reference is, then, to a back-handed slap which, according to the Mishnah [B.K.8.6], was a grave insult. See ibid., p. 51.) The ‘coat’ and ‘cloak’ in v. 40 are not particularly happy choices to translate the garments referred to, although in all fairness to the translators it must be admitted that no better could be found. The difficulty is that the modern wardrobe is vastly different from that of first-century Palestine! Then, the male attire consisted of two garments, an inner garment and an outer garment, the latter being a kind of blanket which served as clothing by day and bedding by night. Legally, no one could claim the outer garment (Ex. 22.26f.; Deut. 24.12f.), so the injunction is: ‘Do not stand on your rights but rather give more than could be demanded of you!’ Luke (6.29) has changed the scene from a court of law to an act of robbery, probably because his readers would not understand the allusion to a Jewish legal principle. ‘In either case the issue would be nudism, a sufficient indication that it is a certain spirit that is being commended . . not a regulation to be slavishly carried out.’(Ibid., p. 51.)
This last point is particularly important and we would pause for a moment to stress it. The teaching of Jesus is spectacularly devoid of specific commandments, and nowhere is that more evident than in these three sayings. In fact, they are quite impossible to carry out except under special conditions and in very limited circumstances. True, a man could accept insult in this spirit — so long as he was living in a community which recognized the dignity of the individual and therefore could be touched by the spirit of the act. Again, a man could respond to military imposition in this spirit and it would be effective — with some armies or some soldiers. But the ‘coat/cloak’ saying is, literally taken, ridiculous. A man acting in that manner would soon be back before the court on a charge of indecent exposure! If we may accept the axiom that Jesus knew what he was talking about, then we must recognize that these are not specific commandments and that they were never meant to be taken literally. What we have here are illustrations of a principle. The illustrations are extreme, and in the one instance so much so as to approach the ridiculous; but that is deliberate. They are intended to be vivid examples of a radical demand, and it is as such that we must regard them. The demand is that a man should respond to the challenge of God in terms of a radically new approach to the business of living. This approach is illustrated by means of vivid examples of behaviour in crisis: in response to grave insult, to a lawsuit and to a military impressment. Not natural pride, not a standing on one’s own rights, not even a prudential acceptance, are the proper response to these crises now, however much they might have been so before. In light of the challenge of God and of the new relationship with one’s fellow man one must respond in a new way, in a way appropriate to the new situation. What the specifics of that new way are is not stated; these sayings are illustrations of the necessity for a new way rather than regulations for it. But the implication of these sayings is, surely, that if one approaches the crisis in this spirit, and seeks the way in terms of the reality of one’s experience of God and the new relationship with one’s fellow man, then that way can be found.
44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
We have no need to concern ourselves with the exact wording of these sayings in their original form. A comparison of this passage with its Lukan parallels (Luke 6.27-28, 32-36) shows that three things are being said: Love your enemies; exceed the requirements of natural love; in this, be an imitator of God. That Jesus challenged his followers in these terms is not to be doubted and, indeed, is never doubted. Let us, however, stress the fact with which we are concerned, namely, that this teaching is directed to those who have experienced the love of God in terms of the forgiveness of sins. As with all of this aspect of the teaching of Jesus, it is directed to those who are consciously seeking to respond to the challenge of God. We must envisage it as directed to the group gathered together in the ‘table-fellowship of the Kingdom’, of which we spoke at the end of our last chapter.
Set in this context the teaching becomes explicit. The correct response to God, indeed the only response to him, is to imitate the reality one has known. Gathered around the table are those who have been ‘enemies’ of God, as well as those who have simply found a new means of knowing him. Whether a returned prodigal or a young man who had hitherto lacked one thing only, each rejoices in the experience which has brought him to this table, as he rejoices in the fellowship he now shares. Here he must accept the challenge to imitate what he has known, and knows. If he has enemies, then the challenge is to love them. He has neighbours and friends; the challenge is to exceed the normal and natural attitudes of love, affection, kindness and courtesy. In all things he is to strive to imitate the reality of God.
We have no need to labour the point. Once these words of Jesus can be seen in their original context, any words of ours become superfluous.
There is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.
The Jewish commandments to ritual purity were born of a desire so to purify the externals of everyday human life that God might truly be known in the circumstances of that life. The basic conviction was that of a legitimate distinction between sacred and secular: between things which by nature and circumstance belonged to God and through which he might be known, on the one hand, and those which belonged to the world and tended, therefore, to separate a man from God on the other. It was believed that some of these things were so foreign to God that they must simply be avoided at all costs, a tomb, for example, or the shadow of a Gentile; but that others were of such a nature that if they were ritually purified they would cease to separate man from God, household utensils, for example, or the tools of one’s trade. No Jew doubted the legitimacy of this approach to the problem of living in the world and yet not being separated from God. The characteristic response to the increasingly secular and Hellenized nature of Jewish life at the time of Jesus was to intensify the effort to attain ritual purity, e.g. by the Pharisees and, even more, by the Qumran sect. We have only one instance of a movement in the opposite direction, Johanan ben Zakkai (died about AD 80), who doubted the mechanical aspects of ritual defilement and purification by water, etc., but felt obliged none the less to maintain the commandments concerned simply because they were commandments: (he said to his disciples) ‘By your life! It is not the dead that defiles nor the water that purifies! The Holy One, blessed be He, merely says: "I have laid down a statute. I have issued a decree. You are not allowed to transgress my decree."’ (Numbers R. 19.8. The saying is also found elsewhere, refs. in Billerbeck, Kommentar I, 719.) His point is that the defilement is real and the ritual effective, not because of any special properties of dead bodies or water as such, but simply because God has so ordained matters.
Mark 7.15 is, therefore, completely without parallel in either rabbinic or sectarian Judaism, and, more than this, it completely denies a fundamental presupposition of Jewish religion: the distinction between the sacred and the secular. The Jesus tradition flatly denies that there are any external circumstances in the world or of human life which can separate a man from God; a man can be separated from God only by his own attitude and behaviour. Not the world, nor life, but only man himself is the ‘defiling’ agent. This is perhaps the most radical statement in the whole of the Jesus tradition, and, as such, it is certainly authentic. The tradition itself (Mark 7.17-23 par.) shows how the early Church struggled to comprehend the significance of so radical a statement, and reached the mundane, although correct, conclusions that this makes all food ‘clean’ and human sins the means of defilement. More than this, the saying is completely coherent with the almost equally radical attitude and behaviour of Jesus in connection with ‘tax collectors and sinners’; indeed, it is, so to speak, the ‘theoretical’ aspect of what is there exhibited in practice.
Setting the saying in the context of the Kingdom proclamation, as always, we can see at once that the experience of God acting as king requires a radically new attitude to life in the world. That experience is known precisely in terms of life in the world, and it requires, therefore, a radical reorientation toward life and the world. A man experiences God within the circumstances of his life in the world, and henceforth that world is, for him, transformed. No longer is there ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’; no longer is there ‘Jew’, ‘Jew who has made himself a Gentile’ and ‘Gentile’. There is now only the reality of God, and the life that is to be lived in terms of that reality. There are now only men who respond to the challenge of that reality and men who fail to do so.
The Response to the Challenge of the Reality of God
The keynote in the ‘ethical’ teaching of Jesus, then, is that of response to the reality of God. Since all the teaching is set in the context of the proclamation of the Kingdom, it follows that the ‘ethical’ teaching is not to be considered, and indeed could not exist, apart from the challenge to recognize God eschatologically at work in the experience of men. Crucial to an understanding of the teaching of Jesus at this point is the central petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Matt. 6.12 = Luke 11.4, which may be rendered: ‘Forgive us our sins, as we ourselves herewith forgive everyone who has sinned against us.’ We discussed this petition in some detail in our previous work (N. Perrin, Kingdom, pp. 194-6, 201f.) and have no need, therefore, to give here a further detailed exegesis of it. What we shall say below is to be regarded as supplementing our previous work.
In contrast to the Son of man sayings and Mark 9.1, further work and reflection on this petition has not led us to any change of opinion. We are more than ever convinced of its authenticity, for it is indubitably early, being a major part of the tradition from the beginning. Further, it is strongly Aramaic: the variation between the aorist (Matt.) and the present (Luke) in the second part of the petition represents the Aramaic perfectum praesens, and the word play debt/sin goes back to the Aramaic word hoba’. It satisfies the criterion of dissimilarity absolutely. In both form and content it contrasts sharply with Jewish prayers for forgiveness (in the directness, brevity and intimacy of the wording, and in the linking of the human preparedness to forgive with the reception of the divine forgiveness), as in emphasis it contrasts with the teaching of the early Church (Matt. 6.14f.(On this saying as a development from the petition in the ‘eschatological judgement pronouncement tradition’ of the early Church see chapter I, above, pp. 22f.) ‘legalizes’ the concept by making the forgiveness or non-forgiveness of God an exact reward or punishment for that of men, thus losing the dynamic of the petition itself). No saying in the tradition has a higher claim to authenticity than this petition, nor is any saying more important to an understanding of the teaching of Jesus.
We pointed out at the end of our second chapter that the Lord’s Prayer must be regarded as having its Sizt im Leben in the table-fellowship of Jesus with his followers; it is strictly a disciples’ prayer. Those who are taught to pray it are men and women for whom the forgiveness of sins is already a reality. They are those who gather around the ‘table of the Kingdom’ with Jesus in celebration of the joy and reality of their experience, and in anticipation of its consummation in God’s future. So the prayer for forgiveness is the more remarkable, and the more significant: those whose new relationship with God is made possible by an initial experience of the forgiveness of sins are taught to pray for a continuation of that experience. (On this in more detail see, N. Perrin, Kingdom, pp. 190-9. esp. p. 194.) But the Lord’s Prayer does not contain a detailed listing of all possible concerns of a disciple of Jesus; it picks out only the most significant, and the most representative. It should also be noted that just as in the case of the forgiveness of sins, so also in the case of the ‘coming of the Kingdom’, the Lord’s Prayer teaches disciples to pray for a continuation of that which they have already experienced: ‘Thy Kingdom come.’ The Kingdom reference is certainly a reference to the experience of God acting as king; the forgiveness of sins reference is equally certainly a reference to the central aspect of that experience. But this latter reference is not all-inclusive; it does not exclude any other kind of experience of God as king, but only points to its central aspect. In other words, the disciples are taught to pray for a continuation of their experience of God as king; ‘Kingdom’ and ‘forgiveness’ are terms intended to direct attention to major aspects of that experience, but also to include the developments that will go on as the disciple’s relationship with God grows and develops.
This is the first point to be recognized here: that discipleship begins and continues in the context of the experience of the activity of God as king. And the second point follows from this: ‘. . . as we also forgive . . .’ indicates that this continuing experience is contingent upon a proper response. The Aramaic perfect that originally stood in this petition indicates an action which takes place at the same time as the action of the previous verb (N. Perrin, Kingdom, pp. 195f., following J. Jeremias.) and must be translated ‘as we herewith forgive’, as we did translate it above. The recognition of this contemporaneity of action in the petition is absolutely crucial to an understanding of the teaching of Jesus. If we lose it, then the human forgiveness becomes either an echo of the divine, and while this would be true so far as it goes it would do less than justice to the dynamic of the teaching of Jesus, or it tends to become a means whereby we earn God’s forgiveness, as is happening in Matt. 6.14f. But in the teaching of Jesus the contemporaneity of the action envisages a response by man to God that is at the same time a full acceptance of the human responsibility in face of the divine mercy. In the context of God’s forgiveness men learn to forgive, and in the exercise of forgiveness toward their fellow man they enter ever more deeply into an experience of the divine forgiveness.
This is not only the crux of the teaching of Jesus about forgiveness; it is also the key to understanding the ‘ethical’ teaching of Jesus altogether: as men learn to live their lives in the context of their experience of the divine activity, so they must learn to live them in terms of the appropriate response to that activity. In the case of forgiveness, that response is to forgive; in the case of love, it is to love. This is the keynote of the ‘ethical’ teaching of Jesus.