Saturday, May 19, 2007

Interpreting the NT: Day 5

We also started on looking into the parables of Jesus yesterday which we continued on today. Parables are truly intriguing and what Kar Yong said is interesting: the fact that it is one genre of the bible that is the most misunderstood, mainly because we are not familiar in the milieu, and the cultural and historical setting of the narratives. A look at the Parable of the Prodigal Son will clearly demonstrate this.

What is the normal lesson we draw from the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son? All along I have taken it to be a lesson for us to acknowledge the saving grace of the Lord, that whoever we are and whatever we have done, as long as we repent and confess our sins, God like the father in the parable would accept and receive us back because of his love. What if I tell you that this is not the main lesson of the parables? Let me explain.

Even though, all the above is truth, God do love us like the father in the parable, he will receive us when we repent and return to him but that is not the main thrust of the parable.

What is most important before interpreting a parable is to look at its context and setting: what happened before the parable was told and what happened after? Jesus did not tell a parable for the sake of just telling a story to entertain. There is always a reason and a purpose for a parable and we need to find out why Jesus told the parable.

The parable of the lost things are found in Luke 15.

It all started with Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, those most despised by the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. They muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them". For this reason, Jesus began to tell them the parables.

There were 100 sheep, one got lost, found, there were rejoicing.
There were 10 coins, one was lost, found, there were rejoicing.

The Pharisees would be nodding their heads I suppose, because anyone would rejoice when they found precious things that they have lost.

Then Jesus continued with the story and gave it a twist.

He said, there was a man with two sons. The younger one demanded for his share of property. Now, it is unusual for a son to ask for his share of inheritance while his father is still alive. This would cause the hearers' ears to perk up already.

Jesus continued, so he did, the father divided the property. Wait a minute ... where is the elder brother. Here we fail to recognise the responsibility of the elder brother. It is his duty to mediate between his brother and his father, to stop his brother from such wrongdoings but this elder brother is keeping quiet.

The story continues and we are very familiar with this section of the parable - he went and squandered his money, used it all up, lost his friends, worked in the lowliest of lowly jobs and decided to go home and ask for forgiveness. So he did.

The father was the one who came out, ran to him, clothe him and received him. This sound normal to us but not to the hearers of that time. This is the job of the elder brother, not the father. The elder brother should be the one who must bring the errant younger brother, clothe him and present him to his father and if all is well, throw him a welcome home party.

The elder brother here is no where to be seen. But when he appears, he was angry and the father had to beg him to attend the party. Jesus ended by saying, "My son, 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."

This is a slap in the face of the Pharisees, who would rejoice when they find lost things but not when a sinner has repented.

Putting it together:
There were 100 sheep, one got lost, found, there were rejoicing.
There were 10 coins, one was lost, found, there were rejoicing.
There was one elder son, one younger son was lost, the younger was found, the elder was angry.

I would never look at parables the same way again. Here are some guidelines:

1) They possess a realism that cannot be mistaken – we must always go back to the context, background and setting of the parable, which indeed may be alien to us
2) They are not necessarily realistic
3) They contain elements of shock, conflict and suspense. Look for the so-called punch line, the slap in the face
4) They elicit thought
5) They require a reversal of thinking
6) They contain one major point – there may be many lessons we can draw out but usually there is just one major focus
7) They demand interpretation
8) They require a response



  1. Wouldn't let me comment on day 6!!! So I will here. I've always been taught Goliath had 4 brothers. Hence David picked up the 5 rocks being prepared to fight not only Goliath but the 4 brothers.

  2. Sorry :) Don't know how it happened that they published as not allowing back links or comments from Friday onwards.

  3. Goliath had 4 brothers? Really? Where is that found?