The Bible and Culture

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The journey to Jerusalem this time had been relatively uneventful. Jesus was able to travel faster because he was alone. He had longed to spend some more time with Eliezer, Martha and Mary, and also to do some more teaching in the Temple. When he arrived in Jerusalem this time, it was winter and the Feast of Lights, Hannukah was being celebrated. Jesus was determined to teach in the temple, but first he had much to share with those who most nearly shared his vision of the future.

The first night in Bethany had been merely a time for Jesus to catch up with the lives of his friends and share what had been happening to him. Eliezer had proposed to have a big banquet and invite a few people he knew who were sympathetic to the teaching of Jesus, but wanted to know more of what his message was in Galilee. Eliezer knew that Jesus’ public teaching in Galilee had a somewhat different character than his teaching in Judea, and so he too was keen to hear Jesus tell some of his many parables. Jesus readily agreed to this proposition, and as was the custom, it was after the meal when all were reclining and drinking a little wine that the teacher would offer words for reflection and response.

“Let me begin by telling you three stories about the lost and how Abba seeks them out” said Jesus. “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” One of the listeners interrupted at this point and said “but a shepherd would not normally leave his whole flock to go and rescue one sheep, would he?” Jesus replied, “G-d’s ways are not always like our ways.”

He told a second parable of a similar sort: “Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of G-d over one sinner who repents.”

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

” ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ “

There was silence after this last parable, and Eliezer after some reflection spoke and said “Master I think that these stories explain why you have been reaching out to sinners and tax collectors and the like. G-d wishes to save everyone, all the lost sheep of Israel.” But some there present took exception to some aspects of what Jesus was saying, and Jesus realizing this, told another parable.

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘G-d, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before G-d. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” There was no immediate reaction to this parable except a little murmuring by those present, realizing Jesus had been speaking about them.

Breaking the silence a man asked: “Teacher, tell us something of your message about the future. What happens to a person when a righteous man dies? And when and where will our rewards be granted?

“Let those who have two good ears listen to this parable,” replied Jesus.

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Eliezer, (looking at his host he added ‘no not my friend and our gracious host Eliezer here”) covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Gehenna where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Eliezer by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Eliezer to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Eliezer received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Eliezer to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

” ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “Abraham said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ “

This parable immediately struck a chord in Eliezer’s own house, since their father had died of leprosy and the man in question was named Eliezer. But on the other hand, they had never been poor beggars so Jesus could not be talking about his host. Martha spoke up and said, “So you are saying that in the afterlife justice will be done. But will it not be done in the end of days here on earth as well? Will we never see justice triumph here in Jerusalem?”

“Some day when the Son of Man returns,” replied Jesus. Jesus realized he had given them enough to think about for one evening, and when there was no response to this for some minutes, Jesus offered a blessing and Eliezer dismissed the guests. As they were cleaning up, Eliezer said to Jesus, “you realize that opposition to you here in Jerusalem has been building and building after your last visit here. Are you sure you want to go and teach in the Temple precincts in the morning?”

Jesus gave Eliezer a friendly hug, and said “The night is coming when I cannot do my work any more. I must seize the day while there is still light.”