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The Prodigal Son February 21, 2011

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Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So He spoke this parable to them, saying: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’

I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

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Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.

And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.

But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and 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 like one of your hired servants.” ‘ And he arose and came to his father.

But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.

Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.

So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’ ”

– Luke 15

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Who Is Your Neighbor? January 5, 2011

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In old Israel, burial of the dead was considered as a holy task and every Israelite was obliged to actively seek to do kindness by burying the dead. If one found a body it had to be buried before sunset.

The great paradox, however is that by touching a dead body one became unholy and impure. This state prevented him from participating in activities involved in serving the Lord, such as eating from the Passover sacrifice or entering the holy Temple.

This situation meant that in order for a person to perform the holy rite of burying the dead one made oneself unclean. This however didn’t detract faithful Israelites from performing the custom.

In fact it caused the act of burying the dead to be a highly respected act. The idea being that a person should be so eager to perform a good deed, like burying the dead and doing other activities of kindness that he was prepared to make himself unclean was to be admired.

The readiness to become unclean was considered a blessed and holy act.

Once one became unclean one could cleanse oneself by immersing in rainwater or other natural water like a sea or a river. At sunset, one would be certain that all ritual defilement would be gone for the start of the new day. This demonstrated the ritual power of water and faith in God.

The Parable of the Compassionate Samaritan underscores the superior faithfulness, obedience to the Law of Moses, oriental hospitality and charity given from the good character of one of the Samaritan people beyond what the Law required.

More, Jesus Christ’s parable serves to dramatically highlight the completely distorted and impious condition that Pharisaism and “the traditions of men” had set up in their vanity that perverted and twisted the written Law of Moses, and that had worked ruin on Jerusalem, the culture and society, and the people.

A people with no shepherds, were the lost sheep of Israel as our Lord Jesus pointed out time and again. Bad shepherds were the same as having no shepherds at all.

The Samaritans were not only fully despised by the Judeans, there was always an ongoing level of hostility. They were excommunicated by the Great Sanhedrin about AD9 for having distributed dead men’s bones throughout the cloisters of the temple compound (not the temple itself.)

Up until that time, Samaritans worshipped YHWH at the temple in Jerusalem after their own on Mt. Gerazim had been destroyed during Hasmonean rule.

Indeed, the Talmud records the words of the Rabbis who were forced to admit not only that the Samaritans adhered only to the Five Books of Moses, and none of the others, but also that the Samaritans kept the Law even more strictly, piously and obediently than the Judean Pharisees and the Rabbis themselves.

More ironic, Jesus tells the parable to a Scribe, a Sage, a Sopher in order to instruct the “lawyer” in the Great Commandment found in his own written Law of God as given to Moses he was so proud to be an expounder of.

The contentious “lawyer” tests Jesus with the question of “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers with Scripture conveying the essential spirit of the Law (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18): “‘Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength, and with all thy mind,’ and ‘thy neighbor as thyself.’

The question was put by the expert of the law with a bit of benign contempt of the Galilean implied by his use of the title “Teacher” in addressing Jesus. The Judean heirarchy had no love for either Galileans or a Teacher not of their own ordination.

The lawyer is a Sopher of the Rabbinate, considered the wisest of the wise men of Jerusalem and Judaea. People must call him ‘Master’ and ‘My Great One’ with all due reverence as being next to God Himself in holiness, wearing the prophetic mantle of the Holy Spirit, or risk being beaten by his school of disciples.

The Sopher demanded the principal place in everything, honor for his vast knowledge of the intricacies of the Oral Law. Nothing less than a covey of disciples of his own worshipping at his feet would do.

The Sopher pushed his way to the forefront of every crowd, and was superior to even anointed kings; nay, even superior to King David himself, because David had things to repent for, and did so until his death.

Jesus’ parable describes the robbery victim as being left half-dead by the side of the road. In other words, in such a beaten and unconscious condition, that the only way to determine if he was alive was to touch him — check for breathing or a heartbeat by hand.

But that was to risk becoming unclean in case he was dead. And of course there was the Scriptural, time-honored commandment and case law that would compel any Israelite, including a priest or Levite, to immediately see to the burial of an unattended corpse as it was found.

The Samaritan exceeded the minimum legal requirements — he had compassion on the victim, and a very generous purse opened up for the victim’s care and restoration to full health after taking the man to the nearest caravanseri.

The parable highlights the level of sanctimonious and self-righteous concern of the high priest and the Levite in the parable over their own holy skins, and anxiety to avoid ritual defilement at all cost to themselves whatsoever, especially because of the very temporary inconvenience it might cause.

The priest, seeing the body, immediately moves to the side of the road. The Levite does more. He comes even closer to the victim and looks, then moves to the OTHER SIDE of the road altogether to avoid the victim.

Moreover, the parable is silent on whether the victim was an Israelite or not, yet the Law is very clear that it applies to ANY unattended corpse.

Lawlessness in the guise of law, the spirit of the Law of God made null and void, the chance to save a life and make a friend for life canceled. The opportunity avoided to perform a paradoxical holy deed of great merit in burying the dead, simply because it was inconvenient for the priest and the Levite to wash, and then wait until sundown when the defilement would be made clean again.

Whitewashed sepulchres full of hidden corruption, indeed.

And, as Jesus Christ drew all of His parables from every day life, He surely saw something like this actually occur.

The Sopher, the expert in the law, was hoisted on his own test and convicted of not embracing the spirit of the Law of Moses, and upholding God’s mercy and compassion, and Holy Name.

When Christ asked him, “So which of these three do you think was the neighbor to him who fell among thieves?” And the question also implied another: “Which of these three loved God more?”

And the Sopher, the Great One, had to answer “He who showed mercy on him.”

Meaning the Samaritan. Having a compassion and charitable spirit that would either care for the living neighbor as the parable played out, or care for the dead neighbor, still considered a mercy of great merit.

And a heart that revealed that the Samaritan was a friend of God, like Abraham the Hebrew.

Then Jesus said to the great rabbi, the Sopher, the wise guy, “Go and do likewise.”

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From a comment by KathJuliane (via Real Zionist News), January 4, 2011