"'And that servant came and reported these things to his lord. Then the master of the house was angry; and he said to his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.' And the servant said, 'Sir, it has been done as you commanded, and there is still room.' Then the lord said to the servant, 'Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, not one of those men who were invited shall taste of my supper.''" (Luke 14:12-24, Holy Bible in Its Original Order - A Faithful Version (HBFV))
The Lord admonished making a feast, not for one's kindred, nor for the rich, but for the poor and afflicted. This would imply true spirituality, because that fellowship of giving, which descends to others in order to raise them as brethren, not condescends, in order to be raised by them as their Master and Superior. And He had concluded with the words "But you shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the just." It was this last clause - but separated, in true Pharisaic spirit, from that which had preceded, and indicated the motive - on which one of those present now commented, probably with a covert, perhaps a provocative, reference to what formed the subject of Christ's constant teaching: "Blessed is the one who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God." This expression, to the Pharisee, referred to the common Jewish expectancy of a great feast at the beginning of the Messianic Kingdom. Jesus had, indeed, referred to the future retribution of (not, for) deeds of love, among which He had named as an instance, suggested by the circumstances, a feast for, or rather brotherly love and fellowship towards, the poor and suffering. But although the Pharisee referred to the Messianic Day, his words show that he did not own Jesus as the Messiah. Whether or not it was the object of his exclamation, as sometimes religious commonplaces or platitudes are in our days, to interrupt the course of Christ's rebukes, or, as before hinted, to provoke Him to unguarded speech, must be left undetermined.
What is chiefly apparent is that this Pharisee separated what Christ said about the blessings of the first Resurrection from that with which He had connected them - we do not say as their condition, but as logically their moral antecedent: viz., love, in opposition to self-assertion and self-seeking. The Pharisee's words imply that, like his class, he, at any rate, fully expected to share in these blessings, as a matter of course, and because he was a Pharisee. Thus to leave out Christ's anteceding words was not only to set them aside, but to pervert His saying, and to place the blessedness of the future on the very opposite basis from that on which Christ had rested it. Accordingly, it was to this man personally that the Parable was addressed.
There can be no difficulty in understanding the main ideas underlying the Parable. The man who made the 'Great Supper' was He Who had, in the Old Testament, prepared 'a feast of fat things.' The 'bidding many' preceded the actual announcement of the day and hour of the feast. We understand by it a preliminary intimation of the feast then preparing, and a general invitation of the guests, who were the chief people in the city; for, as we shall presently see, the scene is laid in a city. This general announcement was made in the Old Testament institutions and prophecies, and the guests bidden were those in the city, the chief men - not the ignorant and those out of the way, but the men who knew, and read, and expounded these prophecies.
At last the preparations were ended, and the Master sent out His Servant, not necessarily to be understood of any one individual in particular - such as John the Baptist - but referring to whomsoever He would employ in His Service for that purpose. It was to intimate to the persons formerly bidden, that everything was now ready. Then it was that, however differing in their special grounds for it, or expressing it with more or less courtesy, they were all at one in declining to come. The feast, to which they had been bidden some time before, and to which they had apparently agreed to come (at least, this was implied), was, when actually announced as ready, not what they had expected, at any rate not what they regarded as more desirable than what they had, and must give up in order to come to it.
For - and this seems one of the principal points in the Parable - to come to that feast, to enter into the Kingdom, implies the giving up of something that seems if not necessary yet most desirable, and the enjoyment of which appears only reasonable. The main point lies in this, that, when the time came, they all refused to enter in, each having some valid and reasonable excuse. But the ultimate ground of their refusal was, that they felt no real desire, and saw nothing attractive in such a feast; had no real reverence for the host; in short, that to them it was not a feast at all, but something much less to be desired than what they had, and would have been obliged to give up, if they had complied with the invitation.
Then let the feast - for it was prepared by the goodness and liberality of the Host - be for those who were in need of it, and to whom it would be a feast: the poor and those afflicted - the maimed, and blind, and lame, on whom those great citizens who had been first bidden would look down. This, with reference to, and in higher spiritual explanation of, what Christ had previously said about bidding such to our feast of fellowship and love. Accordingly, the Servant is now directed to 'Go out into the highways and hedges' - a trait which shows that the scene is laid in 'the City,' the professed habitation of God. The importance of this circumstance is evident. It not only explains who the first bidden chief citizens were, but also that these poor were the despised ignorant, and the maimed, lame, and blind - such as the publicans and sinners.
These are they in 'the streets' and 'lanes;' and the Servant is directed, not only to invite, but to 'bring them in,' as otherwise they might naturally shrink from coming to such a feast. But even so, 'there is yet room;' for the great Lord of the house has, in His great liberality, prepared a very great feast for very many. And so the Servant is once more sent, so that the Master's 'house may be filled.' But now he is bidden to 'go out,' outside the City, outside the Theocracy, 'into the highways and hedges,' to those who travel along the world's great highway, or who have fallen down weary, and rest by its hedges; into the busy, or else weary, heathen world. This reference to the heathen world is the more apparent that, according to the Talmud, there were commonly no hedges round the fields of the Jews. And this time the direction to the Servant is not, as in regard to those naturally bashful outcasts of the City - who would scarcely venture to the great house - to 'bring them in,' but 'constrain' [without a pronoun] 'to come in,' Not certainly as indicating their resistance and implying force, but as the moral constraint of earnest, pressing invitation, coupled with assurance both of the reality of the feast and of their welcome to it.
For, these wanderers on the world's highway had, before the Servant came to them, not known anything of the Master of the house, and all was quite new and unexpected. Their being invited by a Lord Whom they had not known, perhaps never heard of before, to a City in which they were strangers, and to a feast for which - as wayfarers, or as resting by the hedges, or else as working within their enclosure - they were wholly unprepared, required special urgency, 'a constraining,' to make them either believe in it, or come to it from where the messengers found them, and that without preparing for it by dress or otherwise. And so the house would be filled!
Here the Parable abruptly breaks off. What follows are the words of our Lord in explanation and application of it to the company then present: "For I tell you, not one of those men who were invited shall taste of my supper.'' And this was the final answer to this Pharisee and to those with him at that table, and to all such perversion of Christ's Words and misapplication of God's Promises as he and they were guilty of.
Luke introduces us to the next series of parables by stating,
"Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were drawing near to hear Him; And the Pharisees and the scribes criticized Him, saying, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'" (Luke 15:1-2, HBFV)
It has formerly been shown that the Jewish teaching concerning repentance was contrary to that of Christ. Theirs was not a Gospel to the lost: they had nothing to say to sinners. They called upon them to 'do penitence,' and then Divine Mercy, or rather Justice, would have its reward for the penitent. Christ's Gospel was to the lost as such. It told them of forgiveness, of what the Savior was doing, and the Father purposed and felt for them; and that, not in the future and as reward of their penitence, but now in the immediate present.
Parable of the Lost Sheep
"Then He spoke this parable to them, saying, "Which man of you who has a hundred sheep, and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost, searching until he finds it? And when he finds it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing; And after coming to his house, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' I tell you that likewise, there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, more than over ninety-nine righteous ones who have no need of repentance. (Luke 15:3-7, HBFV)
At the outset we remark that this Parable, and the next one of the Lost Coin, are intended as an answer to the Pharisees. Hence they are addressed to them: 'What man of you?' in the Lost Sheep parable or 'or what woman?' in the parable of the Lost Coin.
In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the main interest centers on LOSS. In the parable of the Lost Coin, the focus is on SEARCHING. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the focus is on RESTORATION. And, although in the Prodigal Son Parable, the Pharisees are not addressed, there is the highest personal application to them in the words which the Father speaks to the elder son.
In the Lost Sheep parable only one among a hundred cannot be found: not a very great loss. Yet which among us would not, even from the common motives of ownership, leave the ninety-and-nine, and go after it, all the more that it has strayed into the wilderness? And, to take these Pharisees on their own ground, should not the Christ have done likewise to the straying and almost lost sheep of His own flock? Nay, quite generally and to all time, is this not the very work of the 'Good Shepherd,' and may we not, each of us, thus draw from it precious comfort? As we think of it, we remember that it is natural for the foolish sheep so to wander and stray. And we think not only of those sheep which Jewish pride and superciliousness had left to go astray, but of our own natural tendency to wander. And we recall the saying of Peter, which, no doubt, looked back upon this Parable:
"For you were as sheep going astray, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls." (1Peter 2:25, HBFV)
It is not difficult in imagination to follow the Parabolic picture: how in its folly and ignorance the sheep strayed further and further, and at last was lost in solitude and among stony places; how the shepherd followed and found it, weary and footsore; and then with tender care lifted it on his shoulder, and carried it home, gladsome that he had found the lost. And not only this, but when, after long absence, he returned home with his found sheep, that now nestled close to its Savior, he called together his friends, and bade them rejoice with him over the erst lost and now found treasure.
It needs not, and would only diminish the pathos of this exquisite Parable, were we to attempt interpreting its details. They apply wherever and to whatever they can be applied. Of these three things we think: of the lost sheep; of the Good Shepherd, seeking, finding, bearing, rejoicing; and of the sympathy of all who are truly friends - like-minded with Him. These, then, are the emblems of heavenly things. In heaven - oh, how different the feeling from that of Pharisaism! View 'the flock' as do the Pharisees, and divide them into those who need and who need not repentance, the 'sinners' and the 'righteous,' as regards man's application of the Law - does not this Parable teach us that in heaven there shall be joy over the 'sinner that repenteth' more than over the 'ninety-and-nine' 'righteous,' which 'have not need of repentance'? And to mark the terrible contrast between the teaching of Christ and that of the Pharisees; to mark also, how directly from heaven must have been the message of Jesus, and how poor sinners must have felt it such, we put down in all its nakedness the message which Pharisaism brought to the lost. Christ said to them:
"there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, more than over ninety-nine righteous ones who have no need of repentance." (Luke 15:7, HBFV)
Pharisaism said - and we quote here literally - 'There is joy before God when those who provoke Him perish from the world.'
Parable of the Lost Coin
"Or what woman who has ten coins, if she should lose one, does not light a lamp and sweep the house, and search diligently until she finds it? And after finding it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I lost.' I tell you that in like manner, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke 15:8-10, HBFV)
In proceeding to the second Parable of Luke 15, that of the Lost Coin, we must keep in mind that in the first the danger of being lost arose from the natural tendency of the sheep to wander. In the second Parable it is no longer our natural tendency to which our loss is attributable. The coin has been lost, as the woman, its owner, was using or counting her money. The loss is the more sensible, as it is one out of only ten, which constitute the owner's property. But it is still in the house - not like the sheep that had gone astray - only covered by the dust that is continually accumulating from the work and accidents around. And so it is more and more likely to be buried under it, or swept into chinks and corners, and less and less likely to be found as time passes. But the woman lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and seeks diligently, till she has found it. And then she calleth together those around, and bids them rejoice with her over the finding of the lost part of her possessions. And so there is joy in the presence of the Angels over one sinner that repenteth. The comparison with others that need not such is now dropped, because, whereas formerly the sheep had strayed - though from the frowardness of its nature - here the money had simply been lost, fallen among the dust that accumulates - practically, was no longer money, or of use; became covered, hidden, and was in danger of being for ever out of sight, not serviceable, as it was intended to be and might have been.
We repeat, the interest of this Parable centers in the search, and the loss is caused, not by natural tendency, but by surrounding circumstances, which cover up the bright silver, hide it, and render it useless as regards its purpose, and lost to its owner.
If it has already appeared that the first two Parables of Luke 15 are not merely a repetition, in different form, of the same thought, but represent two different aspects and causes of the 'being lost' - the essential difference between them appears even more clearly in the next Parable we will tackle - the Prodigal Son.
Parable of the Prodigal Son
"Then He said, "A certain man had two sons; And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me that portion of the property which falls to me.' And he divided to them his living. And not many days after, the younger son gathered everything together and departed into a distant country. And there he wasted all his substance, living in debauchery. But after he had spent everything, there arose a severe famine throughout that country, and he began to be in need.
"Then he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he was longing to fill his stomach with the husks that the swine were eating, but no one gave anything to him. And when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have an abundance of bread, and I am dying of hunger? I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; And I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired servants." ' And he arose and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion, and ran and embraced him, and ardently kissed him.
"And his son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servant, 'Bring out a robe, the best robe, and clothe him, and give him a ring for his hand and sandals for his feet; And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and be merry. For this my son was dead, but is alive again; and he was lost, but is found.' And they began to be merry.
"But his elder son was in a field; and when he was coming back, and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And after calling one of the servants nearby, he inquired what these things might be. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come home, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him safe and well.' Then he was angry and would not go in. As a result, his father came out and pleaded with him. But he answered and said to his father, 'Behold, I have served you so many years, and never did I transgress your commandment; yet you never gave me a kid, so that I might make merry with my friends; But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed the fattened calf for him.' Then he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But it was fitting to make merry and rejoice because your brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, but is found.'" (Luke 15:11-32, HBFV)
As he thought it might be weary, he laid it on his shoulder and brought it back, when God said that, because he had shown pity on the sheep of a man, He would give him His own sheep, Israel, to feed. As a parallel to the second Parable, this may be quoted as similar in form, though very different in spirit, when a Rabbi notes, that, if a man had lost a Sela (coin) or anything else of value in his house, he would light ever so many lights till he had found what provides for only one hour in this world. How much more, then, should he search, as for hidden treasures, for the words of the Law, on which depends the life of this and of the world to come! And in regard to the high place which Christ assigned to the repenting sinner, we may note that, according to the leading Rabbis, the penitents would stand nearer to God than the 'perfectly righteous', since, in Isaiah 57:19, peace was first bidden to those who had been afar off, and then only to those near.
This opinion was, however, not shared by all, and one Rabbi maintained, that, while all the prophets had only prophesied with reference to penitents (this had been the sole object of their mission), yet, as regarded the 'perfectly righteous,' 'eye hath not seen' O God, beside Thee, what 'He hath prepared' for them. Lastly, it may, perhaps, be noted, that the expression 'there is joy before Him' is not uncommon in Jewish writings with reference to events which take place on earth.
Rabbinic tradition supplies a parallel to at least part of the Prodigal Son Parable. It tells us that, while prayer may sometimes find the gate of access closed, it is never shut against repentance, and it introduces a Parable in which a king sends a tutor after his son, who, in his wickedness, had left the palace, with this message: 'Return, my son!' to which the latter replied: 'With what face can I return? I am ashamed!' On which the father sends this message: 'My son, is there a son who is ashamed to return to his father - and shalt thou not return to thy father? Thou shalt return.' So, continues the Midrash, had God sent Jeremiah after Israel in the hour of their sin with the call to return, and the comforting reminder that it was to their Father.
The main interest of this parable centers around restoration. It is not now to the innate tendency of his nature, nor yet to the work and dust in the house that the loss is attributable, but to the personal, free choice of the individual. He does not stray; he does not fall aside - he wilfully departs, and under aggravated circumstances. It is the younger of two sons of a father, who is equally loving to both, and kind even to his hired servants, whose home, moreover, is one not only of sufficiency, but of superabundance and wealth. The demand which he makes for the 'portion of property falling' to him is founded on the Jewish Law of Inheritance. Presumably, the father had only these two sons. The eldest would receive two portions, the younger the third of all movable property. The father could not have disinherited the younger son, although, if there had been several younger sons, he might have divided the property falling to them as he wished, provided he expressed only his disposition, and did not add that such or such of the children were to have a less share or none at all.
On the other hand, a man might, during his lifetime, dispose of all his property by gift, as he chose, to the disadvantage, or even the total loss, of the first-born, or of any other children; nay, he might give all to strangers. In such cases, as, indeed, in regard to all such dispositions, greater latitude was allowed if the donor was regarded as dangerously ill, than if he was in good health. In the latter case a legal formality of actual seizure required to be gone through. With reference to the two eventualities just mentioned - that of diminishing or taking away the portion of younger children, and the right of gift - the Talmud speaks of Testaments, which bear the name Diyatiqi, as in the New Testament. These dispositions might be made either in writing or orally. But if the share of younger children was to be diminished or taken away, the disposition must be made by a person presumably near death (Shekhibh mera). But no one in good health (Bari) could diminish (except by gift) the legal portion of a younger son.
It thus appears that the younger son was, by law, fully entitled to his share of the possessions, although, of course, he had no right to claim it during the lifetime of his father. That he did so, might have been due to the feeling that, after all, he must make his own way in the world; to dislike of the order and discipline of his home; to estrangement from his elder brother; or, most likely, to a desire for liberty and enjoyment, with the latent belief that he would succeed well enough if left to himself. At any rate, his conduct, whatever his motives, was most heartless as regarded his father, and sinful as before God. Such a disposition could not prosper.
The father had yielded to his demand, and, to be as free as possible from control and restraint, the younger son had gone into a far country. There the natural sequences soon appeared, and his property was wasted in riotous living. Regarding the demand for his inheritance as only a secondary trait in the Parable, designed, on the one hand, more forcibly to bring out the guilt of the son, and, on the other, the goodness, and afterwards the forgiveness, of the Father, we can scarcely doubt that by the younger son we are to understand those 'publicans and sinners' against whose reception by, and fellowship with, Christ the Pharisees had murmured.
The next scene in the history is misunderstood when the objection is raised, that the young man's misery is there represented as the result of Providential circumstances rather than of his own misdoing. To begin with, he would not have been driven to such straits in the famine, if he had not wasted his substance with riotous living. Again, the main object is to show, that absolute liberty and indulgence of sinful desires and passions ended in anything but happiness. The Providence of God had an important part in this. Far more frequently are folly and sin punished in the ordinary course of Providence than by special judgments. Indeed, it is contrary to the teaching of Christ, and it would lead to an unmoral view of life, to regard such direct interpositions as necessary, or to substitute them for the ordinary government of God. Similarly, for our awakening also we are frequently indebted to what is called the Providence, but what is really the manifold working together of the grace, of God. And so we find special meaning in the occurrence of this famine.
That, in his want, he 'hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country,' seems to indicate that the man had been unwilling to engage the dissipated young stranger, and only yielded to his desperate importunity. This also explains how he employed him in the lowest menial service, that of feeding swine. To a Jew, there was more than degradation in this, since the keeping of swine (although perhaps the ownership rather than the feeding) was prohibited to Israelites under a curse. And even in this demeaning service he was so evil entreated, that for very hunger he would fain have 'filled his belly with the carob-pods that the swine did eat.' But here the same harshness, which had sent him to such employment, met him on the part of all the people of that country: 'and no man gave unto him,' even sufficient of such food. What perhaps gives additional meaning to this description is the Jewish saying: 'When Israel is reduced to the carob-tree, they become repentant.'
It was this pressure of extreme want which first showed to the younger son the contrast between the country and the circumstances to which his sin had brought him, and the plentiful provision of the home he had left, and the kindness which provided bread enough and to spare for even the hired servants. There was only a step between what he said, 'having come into himself,' and his resolve to return, though its felt difficulty seems implied in the expression: 'I will arise.' Nor would he go back with the hope of being reinstated in his position as son, seeing he had already received, and wasted in sin, his portion of the patrimony. All he sought was to be made as one of the hired servants. And, alike from true feeling, and to show that this was all his pretence, he would preface his request by the confession, that he had sinned 'against heaven' - a frequent Hebraism for 'against God' - and in the sight of his father, and hence could no longer lay claim to the name of son. The provision of the son he had, as stated, already spent, the name he no longer deserved. This favor only would he seek, to be as a hired servant in his father's house, instead of in that terrible, strange land of famine and harshness.
But the result was far other than he could have expected. When we read that. 'while he was yet afar off, his father saw him, ' we must evidently understand it in the sense, that his father had been always on the outlook for him, an impression which is strengthened by the later command to the servants to ' bring the calf, the fatted one, ' as if it had been specially fattened against his return. As he now saw him, ' he was moved with compassion, and he ran, and he fell on his neck, and covered him with kisses.' Such a reception rendered the purposed request, to be made as one of the hired servants, impossible - and its spurious insertion in the text of some important manuscripts affords sad evidence of the want of spiritual tact and insight of early copyists. The father's love had anticipated his confession, and rendered its self-spoken sentence of condemnation impossible.
Perfect love casts out fear and the hard thoughts concerning himself and his deserts on the part of the returning sinner were banished by the love of the father. And so he only made confession of his sin and wrong - not now as preface to the request to be taken in as a servant, but as the outgoing of a humbled, grateful, truly penitent heart. Him whom want had humbled, thought had brought to himself, and mingled need and hope led a suppliant servant - the love of a father, which anticipated his confession, and did not even speak the words of pardon, conquered, and so morally begat him a second time as his son.
Here it deserves special notice, as marking the absolute contrast between the teaching of Christ and Rabbinism, that we have in one of the oldest Rabbinic works a Parable exactly the reverse of this, when the son of a friend is redeemed from bondage, not as a son, but to be a slave, that so obedience might be demanded of him. The inference drawn is, that the obedience of the redeemed is not that of filial love of pardoned, but the enforcement of the claim of a master. How otherwise in the Parable and teaching of Christ!
But even so the story of love has not come to an end. They have reached the house. And now the father would not only restore the son, but convey to him the evidence of it, and he would do so before, and by the servants. The three tokens of wealth and position are to be furnished him. 'Quickly' the servants are to bring forth the 'stola,' the upper garment of the higher classes, and that 'the first' - the best, and this instead of the tattered, coarse raiment of the foreign swineherd. Similarly, the finger-ring for his hand, and the sandals for his unshod feet, would indicate the son of the house. And to mark this still further, the servants were not only to bring these articles, but themselves to 'put them on' the son, so as thereby to own his mastership. And yet further, the calf, 'the fatted one' for this very occasion, was to be killed, and there was to be a joyous feast, for 'this' his son' was dead, and is come to life again; was lost, and is found. '
Thus far for the reception of 'publicans and sinners,' and all in every time whom it may concern. Now for the other aspect of the history. While this was going on, so continues the Parable, the elder brother was still in the field. On his return home, he inquired of a servant the reason of the festivities which he heard within the house. Informed that his younger brother had come, and the calf long prepared against a feast had been killed, because his father had recovered him 'safe and sound,' he was angry, would not go in, and even refused the request to that effect of the father, who had come out for the purpose. The harsh words of reproach with which he set forth his own apparent wrongs could have only one meaning: his father had never rewarded him for his services. On the other hand, as soon as 'this' his 'son' - whom he will not even call his brother - had come back, notwithstanding all his disservice, he had made a feast of joy!
But in this very thing lay the error of the elder son, and - to apply it - the fatal mistake of Pharisaism. The elder son regarded all as of merit and reward, as work and return. But it is not so. We mark, first, that the same tenderness which had welcomed the returning son, now met the elder brother. He spoke to the angry man, not in the language of merited reproof, but addressed him lovingly as 'son,' and reasoned with him. And then, when he had shown him his wrong, he would fain recall him to better feeling by telling him of the other as his 'brother.'
But the main point is this. So long as the son is in His Father's house He gives in His great goodness to His child all that is the Father's. But this poor lost one - still a son and a brother - he has not got any reward, only been taken back again by a Father's love, when he had come back to Him in the deep misery of his felt need. This son, or rather, as the other should view him, this 'brother,' had been dead, and was come to life again; lost, and was found. And over this 'it was meet to make merry and be glad,' not to murmur. Such murmuring came from thoughts of work and pay - wrong in themselves, and foreign to the proper idea of Father and son; such joy, from a Father's heart. The elder brother's were the thoughts of a servant: of service and return; the younger brother's was the welcome of a son in the mercy and everlasting love of a Father. And this to us, and to all time!
Parable of the Unjust Steward
"And He also said to His disciples, "There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and he was accused of wasting his master's goods. And after calling him, he said to him, 'What is this I hear concerning you? Render an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.' Now the steward said within himself, 'What shall I do, for my lord is taking away the stewardship from me? I am not able to dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I will do, that, when I have been removed from the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.'
"And after calling each one of his lord's debtors to him, he said to the first, 'How much do you owe my lord?' And he said, 'A hundred baths of oil.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down immediately and write fifty.' Then to another he said, 'And how much do you owe?' And he said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill and write eighty.' And the lord praised the unrighteous steward, because he had acted prudently. For the children of this world are more prudent in their own generation than the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; so that, when you fail, they may receive you into the age-lasting dwellings." (Luke 16:1-9, HBFV)
This parable centers around the prudence which characterizes the dealings of the children of this world in regard to their own generation, or, to translate the Jewish forms of expression into our own phraseology, the wisdom with which those who care not for the world to come choose the means most effectual for attaining their worldly objects. It is this prudence by which their aims are so effectually secured, and it alone, which is set before 'the children of light,' as that by which to learn. And the lesson is the more practical, that those primarily addressed had hitherto been among these men of the world. Let them learn from the serpent its wisdom, and from the dove its harmlessness; from the children of this world, their prudence as regarded their generation, while, as children of the new light, they must remember the higher aim for which that prudence was to be employed. Thus would that Mamon which is 'of unrighteousness,' and which certainly 'faileth,' become to us treasure in the world to come - welcome us there, and, so far from 'failing,' prove permanent - welcome us in everlasting tabernacles.
Thus, also, shall we have made friends of the 'Mamon of unrighteousness,' and that, which from its nature must fail, become eternal gain - or, to translate it into Talmudic phraseology, it will be of the things of which a man enjoys the interest in this world, while the capital remains for the world to come.
It cannot now be difficult to understand the Parable. Its object is simply to show, in the most striking manner, the prudence of a worldly man, who is unrestrained by any other consideration than that of attaining his end. At the same time, with singular wisdom, the illustration is so chosen as that its matter, 'the Mamon of unrighteousness, ' may serve to point a life-lesson to those newly converted publicans and sinners, who had formerly sacrificed all for the sake, or in the enjoyment of, that Mamon. All else, such as the question, who is the master and who the steward, and such like, we dismiss, since the Parable is only intended as an illustration of the lesson to be afterwards taught.
As regards the owner, his designation as 'rich' seems intended to mark how large was the property committed to the steward. The 'steward' was not, as in Luke 12:42-46, a slave, but one employed for the administration of the rich man's affairs, subject to notice of dismissal.
He was accused - the term implying malevolence, but not necessarily a false charge - not of fraud, but of wasting, probably by riotous living and carelessness, his master's goods. And his master seems to have convinced himself that the charge was true, since he at once gives him notice of dismissal. The latter is absolute, and not made dependent on the 'account of his stewardship,' which is only asked as, of course, necessary, when he gives up his office. Nor does the steward either deny the charge or plead any extenuation. His great concern rather is, during the time still left of his stewardship, before he gives up his accounts, to provide for his future support. The only alternative before him in the future is that of manual labor or mendicancy. But for the former he has not strength; from the latter he is restrained by shame.
Then it is that his 'prudence' suggests a device by which, after his dismissal, he may, without begging, be received into the houses of those whom he has made friends. It must be borne in mind, that he is still steward, and, as such, has full power of disposing of his master's affairs. When, therefore, he sends for one after another of his master's debtors, and tells each to alter the sum in the bond, he does not suggest to them forgery or fraud, but, in remitting part of the debt - whether it had been incurred as rent in kind, or as the price of produce purchased - he acts, although unrighteously, yet strictly within his rights. Thus, neither the steward nor the debtors could be charged with criminality, and the master must have been struck with the cleverness of a man who had thus secured a future provision by making friends, so long as he had the means of so doing.
A point on which acquaintance with the history and habits of those times throws light on the meaning of this parable is how debtors could so easily alter the sum mentioned in their respective bonds. For, the text implies that this, and not the writing of a new bond, is intended; since in that case the old one would have been destroyed, and not given back for alteration.
The materials on which the Jews wrote were of the most divers kind: leaves, as of olives, palms, the carob, etc. ; the rind of the pomegranate, the shell of walnuts, etc. ; the prepared skins of animals (leather and parchment); and the product of the papyrus, used long before the time of Alexander the Great for the manufacture of paper, and known in Talmudic writings by the same name, as Papir or Apipeir, but more frequently by that of Nayyar - probably from the stripes of the plant of which it was made. But what interests us more, as we remember the 'tablet' on which Zacharias wrote the name of the future Baptist, is the circumstance that it bears not only the same name, Pinaqes or Pinqesa, but that it seems to have been of such common use in Palestine. It consisted of thin pieces of wood (the Luach) fastened or strung together.
The Mishnah enumerates three kinds of them: those where the wood was covered with papyrus, those where it was covered with wax, and those where the wood was left plain to be written on with ink. The latter was of different kinds. Black ink was prepared of soot (the Deyo), or of vegetable or mineral substances. Gum Arabic and Egyptian and vitriol seem also to have been used in writing. It is curious to read of writing in colors and with red ink or Siqra, and even of a kind of sympathetic ink, made from the bark of the ash, and brought out by a mixture of vitriol and gum. We also read of a gold-ink, as that in which the copy of the Law was written which, according to the legend, the High-Priest had sent to Ptolemy Philadelphus for the purpose of being translated into Greek by the Septuagint But the Talmud prohibits copies of the Law in gold letters, or more probably such in which the Divine Name was written in gold letters.
In writing, a pen, Qolemos, made of reed was used, and the reference in an Apostolic Epistle to writing 'with ink and pen' finds even its verbal counterpart in the Midrash, which speaks of Milanin and Qolemin (ink and pens). Indeed, the public 'writer' - a trade very common in the East - went about with a Qolemos, or reed-pen, behind his ear, as a badge of his employment. With the reed-pen we ought to mention its necessary accompaniments: the penknife, the inkstand (which, when double, for black and red ink, was sometimes made of earthenware, and the ruler - it being regarded by the stricter set as unlawful to write any words of Holy Writ on any unlined material, no doubt to ensure correct writing and reading.
In all this we have not referred to the practice of writing on leather specially prepared with salt and flour, nor to the Qelaph, or parchment in the stricter sense. For we are here chiefly interested in the common mode of writing, that on the Pinaqes, or 'tablet,' and especially on that covered with wax. There can be no question that acknowledgments of debt, and other transactions, were ordinarily written down on such wax-covered tablets; for not only is direct reference made to it, but there are special provisions in regard to documents where there are such erasures, or rather effacements: such as, that they require to be noted in the document, under what conditions and how the witnesses are in such cases to affix their signatures, just as there are particular injunctions how witnesses who could not write are to affix their mark.
But although we have thus ascertained that 'the bonds' in the Parable must have been written on wax - or else, possibly, on parchment - where the Mocheq, or blotter, could easily efface the numbers, we have also evidence that they were not, as so often, written on 'tablets'. For, the Greek term, by which these 'bonds' or 'writings' are designated in the Parable), is the same as is sometimes used in Rabbinic writings for an acknowledgment of debt; the Hebraised Greek word corresponding to the more commonly used term Shitre (Shetar), which also primarily denotes 'writings,' and is used specifically for such acknowledgments. Of these there were two kinds.
The most formal Shetar was not signed by the debtor at all, but only by the witnesses, who were to write their names immediately below the text of the document, to prevent fraud. Otherwise, the document would not possess legal validity. Generally, it was further attested by the Sanhedrin of three, who signed in such manner as not to leave even one line vacant. Such a document contained the names of creditor and debtor, the amount owing, and the date, together with a clause attaching the property of the debtor. In fact, it was a kind of mortgage; all sale of property being, as with us, subject to such a mortgage, which bore the name Acharayuth. When the debt was paid, the legal obligation was simply returned to the debtor; if paid in part, either a new bond was written, or a receipt given, which was called Shobher or Tebhara, because it 'broke' the debt.
But in many respects different were those bonds which were acknowledgements of debt for purchases made, such as we suppose those to have been which are mentioned in the Parable. In such cases it was not uncommon to dispense altogether with witnesses, and the document was signed by the debtor himself. In bonds of this kind, the creditor had not the benefit of a mortgage in case of sale. We have expressed our belief that the Parable refers to such documents, and we are confirmed in this by the circumstance that they not only bear a different name from the more formal bonds, but one which is perhaps the most exact rendering of the Greek term.
For completeness' sake we add, in regard to the farming of land, that two kinds of leases were in use. Under the first, called Shetar Arisuth, the lessee received a certain portion of the produce. He might be a lessee for life, for a specified number of years, or even a hereditary tiller of the ground; or he might sub-let it to another person. Under the second kind of lease, the farmer - or Meqabbel - entered into a contract for payment either in kind, when he undertook to pay a stipulated and unvarying amount of produce, in which case he was called a Chokher, or else a certain annual rental in money, when he was called a Sokher. From this somewhat lengthened digression, we return to notice the moral of the Parable. It is put in these words:
"And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; so that, when you fail, they may receive you into the age-lasting dwellings." (Luke 16:9)
From what has been previously stated, the meaning of these words offers little serious difficulty. We must again recall the circumstances, that they were primarily addressed to converted publicans and sinners, to whom the expression 'Mamon of unrighteousness ' - of which there are close analogies, and even an exact transcript in the Targum - would have an obvious meaning. Among us, also, there are not a few who may feel its aptness as they look back on the past, while to all it carries a much needed warning.
Again, the addition of the definite article leaves no doubt, that 'the everlasting tabernacles' mean the well-known heavenly home; in which sense the term 'tabernacle' is, indeed, already used in the Old Testament. But as a whole we regard it (as previously hinted) as an adaptation to the Parable of the well-known Rabbinic saying, that there were certain graces of which a man enjoyed the benefit here, while the capital, so to speak, remained for the next world. And if a more literal interpretation were demanded, we cannot but feel the duty incumbent on those converted publicans, nay, in a sense, on us all, to seek to make for ourselves of the Mamon - be it of money, of knowledge, of strength, or opportunities, which to many has, and to all may so easily, become that 'of unrighteousness' - such lasting and spiritual application: gain such friends by means of it, that, ' when it fails, ' as fail it must when we die, all may not be lost, but rather meet us in heaven. Thus would each deed done for God with this Mamon become a friend to greet us as we enter the eternal world.
The suitableness both of the Parable and of its application to the audience of Christ appears from its similarity to what occurs in Jewish writings. Thus, the reasoning that the Law could not have been given to the nations of the world, since they have not observed the seven Noachic commandments (which Rabbinism supposes to have been given to the Gentiles), is illustrated by a Parable in which a king is represented as having employed two administrators; one over the gold and silver, and the other over the straw. The latter rendered himself suspected, and - continues the Parable - when he complained that he had not been set over the gold and silver, they said unto him: Thou fool, if thou hast rendered thyself suspected in regard to the straw, shall they commit to thee the treasure of gold and silver? And we almost seem to hear the very words of Christ: 'He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much,' in this of the Midrash: 'The Holy One, blessed be His Name, does not give great things to a man until he has been tried in a small matter;' which is illustrated by the history of Moses and of David, who were both called to rule from the faithful guiding of sheep.
Considering that the Jewish mind would be familiar with such modes of illustration, there could have been no misunderstanding of the words of Christ. These converted publicans might think - and so may some of us - that theirs was a very narrow sphere of service, one of little importance; or else, like the Pharisees, and like so many others among us, that faithful administration of the things of this world (' the Mamon of unrighteousness' ) had no bearing on the possession of the true riches in the next world. In answer to the first difficulty, Christ points out that the principle of service is the same, whether applied to much or to little; that the one was, indeed, meet preparation for, and, in truth, the test of the other. 'He that is faithful' - or, to paraphrase the word, he that has proved himself, is accredited - 'in the least, is also faithful [accredited] in much; and who in the least is unjust is also in much unjust.' Therefore, if a man failed in faithful service of God in his worldly matters - in the language of the Parable, if he were not faithful in the Mamon of unrighteousness - could he look for the true Mamon, or riches of the world to come? Would not his unfaithfulness in the lower stewardship imply unfitness for the higher?
And - still in the language of the Parable - if they had not proved faithful in mere stewardship, 'in that which was another's,' could it be expected that they would be exalted from stewardship to proprietorship? And the ultimate application of all was this, that dividedness was impossible in the service of God. It is impossible for the disciple to make separation between spiritual matters and worldly, and to attempt serving God in the one and Mamon in the other. There is absolutely no such distinction to the disciple, and our common usage of the words secular and spiritual is derived from a terrible misunderstanding and mistake. To the secular, nothing is spiritual; and to the spiritual, nothing is secular: No servant can serve two Masters; ye cannot serve God and Mamon.
Ten lepers healed
We now come to the period in Jesus' ministry when he is passing through Galilee and Samaria on his way to Jerusalem. He stops by a small village where a group of leperous men cry out for healing.
"Now it came to pass that as He was going up to Jerusalem, He passed through the middle of Samaria and Galilee. And as He went into a certain village, He was met by ten leprous men, who stood at a distance. And they lifted up their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" And when He saw them, He said to them, "Go show yourselves to the priests." And it came to pass that while they were going, they were cleansed.
"Then one of them, seeing that he was healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice; And he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him; and he was a Samaritan. And answering, Jesus said, "Were not ten cleansed? But where are the other nine? Are not any found returning to give glory to God except this stranger?" Then He said to him, 'Arise and go. Your faith has healed you.'" (Luke 17:11-19, HBFV)
It may have been that the district was infested with leprosy; or these lepers may, on tidings of Christ's approach, have hastily gathered there. It was, as fully explained in another place, in strict accordance with Jewish Law, that these lepers remained both outside the village and far from Him to Whom they now cried for mercy. And, without either touch or even command of healing, Christ bade them go and show themselves as healed to the priests. Any priest might declare 'unclean' or 'clean' provided the applicants presented themselves singly, and not in company, for his inspection. And they went at Christ's bidding, even before they had actually experienced the healing! So great was their faith, and, may we not almost infer, the general belief throughout the district, in the power of 'the Master.' And as they went, the new life coursed in their veins. Restored health began to be felt, just as it ever is, not before, nor yet after believing, but in the act of obedience of a faith that has not yet experienced the blessing.
But now the characteristic difference between these men appeared. Of the ten, equally recipients of the benefit, the nine Jews continued their way - presumably to the priests - while the one Samaritan in the number at once turned back, with a loud voice glorifying God. The whole event may not have occupied many minutes, and Jesus with his followers may still have stood on the same spot whence He bade the ten lepers go show themselves to the priests. He may have followed them with his eyes, as, but a few steps on their road of faith, health overtook them, and the grateful Samaritan, with voice of loud thanksgiving, hastened back to his Healer. No longer now did he remain afar off, but in humblest reverence fell on his face at the Feet of Him to Whom he gave thanks. This Samaritan had received more than new bodily life and health: he had found spiritual life and healing.
But why did the nine Jews not return? Assuredly, they must have had some faith when first seeking help from Christ, and still more when setting out for the priests before they had experienced the healing. But perhaps, regarding it from our own standpoint, we may overestimate the faith of these men. Bearing in mind the views of the Jews at the time, and what constant succession of miraculous cures - without a single failure - had been witnessed these years, it cannot seem strange that lepers should apply to Jesus. Not yet perhaps did it, in the circumstances, involve very much greater faith to go to the priests at His bidding - implying, of course, that they were or would be healed. But it was far different to turn back and to fall down at His feet in lowly worship and thanksgiving. That made a man a disciple.
Many questions here suggest themselves: Did these nine Jews separate from the one Samaritan when they felt healed, common misfortune having made them companions and brethren, while the bond was snapped so soon as they felt themselves free of their common sorrow? Or did these nine Jews, in their legalism and obedience to the letter, go on to the priests, forgetful that, in obeying the letter, they violated the spirit of Christ's command? Of this also there are only too many parallel cases which will occur to the mind. Or was it Jewish pride, which felt it had a right to the blessings, and attributed them, not to the mercy of Christ, but to God; or, rather, to their own relation as Israel to God? Or, what seems to us the most probable, was it simply Jewish ingratitude and neglect of the blessed opportunity now within their reach - a state of mind too characteristic of those who know not 'the time of their visitation' - and which led up to the neglect, rejection, and final loss of the Christ? Certain it is, that the Lord emphasized the terrible contrast in this between the children of the household and 'this stranger.' And here another important lesson is implied in regard to the miraculous in the Gospels.
The history shows how little spiritual value or efficacy they attach to miracles, and how essentially different in this respect their tendency is from all legendary stories. The lesson conveyed in this case is, that we may expect, and even experience, miracles, without any real faith in the Christ; with belief, indeed, in His Power, but without surrender to His Rule. According to the Gospels, a man might either seek benefit from Christ, or else receive Christ through such benefit. In the one case, the benefit sought was the object, in the other, the means; in the one, it was the goal, in the other, the road to it; in the one, it gave healing, in the other, brought salvation; in the one, it ultimately led away from, in the other, it led to Christ and to discipleship.