Sunday, October 2, 2011

Speaking of Parables


Luke 7:36-50

Today's New International Version (TNIV)

Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman
 36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
 40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
   “Tell me, teacher,” he said.
   41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[a] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
   “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
 44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Jesus spoke in parables.  Parables are sometimes very difficult to understand the meaning and how it relates to your situation.  Above is an example of a parable.  

I think that understanding how a parable function is key to a "Christ Like Behavior."  The best clues as to what the parables are is to be found in their function.  In contrast to most of the parabolic sayings, such as not reaping figs from thistles, the story parables do not serve to illustrate Jesus' prosaic teaching the word pictures.  Nor are they told to serve as vehicles for revealing the truth - although they end up clearly doing that.  Rather the story parables function as a means of calling forth a response on the part of the hearer.  In a sense, the parable itself is the message.  It is told to address and capture the hearers, to bring them up short about their own actions, or to cause them to respond to some way to Jesus and his ministry.  

When taking the scripture above, Jesus has been invited to dinner by a Pharisee named Simon.  But the invitation was not to be considered as being "in honor of a visiting famous rabbi."  The failure to offer Jesus even the common hospitality of the day was surely intended as something of a put-down.  When the town prostitute finds her way into the presence of the diners.  This prostitute washed Jesus' feet and wiping them dry with her hair. 

Simon had suspicions, that Jesus could not be a prophet and leave uncondemned this kind of public disgrace.  Knowing their thoughts, Jesus tells his host a simple story.  It was about two men who owed money to a moneylender.  One owed five hundred denarii and the other owed fifty.  Neither of them could pay, so he canceled the debts of both.  The point:  Who, do you think, would have responded to the moneylender with the greater display of love?

This story needed no interpretation, although Jesus proceeded to drive the point home with full force.  There are three points of reference:  the moneylender and the two debtors.  And the identifications are immediate.  God is like the moneylender; the town harlot and Simon are like the two debtors.  The parable is a word of judgement calling for response from Simon.  He could scarcely have missed the point.  When it is over, he has egg all over his face.  Such is the force of a parable....

We should note further that the woman heard the parable as well.  She, too, will identify with the story as it is being told.  But what she will hear is not judgement but Jesus' - and therefore God's - acceptance of her.

Footnotes:
  1. Luke 7:41 A denarius was the daily wage of a day laborer (see Matt. 20:2).
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