The Bible: how context is vital

Last week we looked at recurring imagery in the Parable of the Wicked Tenant.

Today we’re revisiting the same parable. We’ll look at how context is important and how the author developed his ideas using the parable as part of a panorama of meaning.

warriorThe parable appears in Mark 12 but the previous chapter introduces us to an interesting theme. In Mark 11, we first see Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem at the start of the Passover. Choosing a colt such as a king might ride, he passed the crowds who shouted “Hosanna!” which means “Save us.” The crowds were hoping for a return to the kingdom of David.

David was the best king of Israel and, even a thousand years later, the Jews were waiting for a king to restore them.

So we see the theme of a king developing in Mark 11.

Then we have an interesting tale of Jesus cursing a fig tree for its lack of fruitfulness, then going to the Temple where he toppled tables and threw out the merchants, then passing the fig tree now withered at the roots.

Our author laminated the story of the fig tree with the clearing of the temple to help make his point: both were condemned for lack of fruitfulness. Jesus lamented that the Temple was supposed to be a house of prayer for the nations – a nurturing role – but instead had become a den of robbers.

Remember, too, for first century Jews, the Temple was where God lived. It was where God came to earth from heaven to dwell with his people. The Temple had great authority because of that.

Following the display in the Temple, Jesus was approached by the religious leaders who demand to know what authority Jesus had to do what he did in the Temple. Although Jesus first responded with a question of his own which revealed how they bowed to popular opinion, he then answered their question in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.

Jesus laid out the situation around him: servants who didn’t acknowledge the generosity of the landowner and instead decided they wanted to own the vineyard himself.

In fact, the story that follows the parable has to do with paying taxes to Caesar – yet another authority issue.

Jesus answered the question of paying taxes with a classic response: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

That idea would also apply to his parable. The issue – based on the context of Mark 11-12 – has to do with authority. Who is king? Who is in charge?

Our author weaves several tales together to form a rich tapestry dealing with the question of authority. The religious leaders questioned Jesus’ authority to challenge the traditions of the Temple.

But Jesus, through the parable which is couched in several references to authority, turns the question around.

The religious leaders asked, “By what authority do you do these things?”

And Jesus seems to answer, “By what authority do you do these things?”

And the context makes his point clear.

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My video spinner

My teenage son wants to be a multimedia expert, which has thrown his mother into a bit of a spin.

Can one pay the rent while making YouTube videos and designing websites?

He’s 17 so of course one can.

I suggested to him today that maybe he should have  a backup plan. “Maybe you could also learn to repair computers. Or be an IT guy.”

“There’s always a place for IT guys,” he assured me. “That’s a great backup.”

“Don’t you think you should get some training?”

“Don’t need to. Google is my friend.”

Yeah.

But here’s a video he was a big part of and one I helped with as well. Thought I’d share, hoping that Plan A works for him:

No words for that

Words are my thing but sometimes they just escape me.

Like the guillotine story.

surprised-woman-in-redOur older son was 11 at the time.  He and his younger sister, who was 6 at the time, were cooking up adventures all afternoon.

At that time, our family had 40 acres of grassland accented with a barn and a few rustic out buildings. Plenty of places for adventure.

So I had let them explore while I worked in the back yard. But when Younger Sister came through the yard carrying a big stick and a bread basket, I had to ask.

“What’s that for?”

“Oh!” She stopped and her face lit up with a big smile. “Nick says that you can see for three second after you get your head chopped off. So we’re going to find out.”

Words escaped me on that day.

Not long after that day, our younger son, at age 4, announced to me that he liked the color purple as long as it wasn’t pink.

Um. Words escaped me that time, too.

I write and I speak but not always when my kids were in full blossom.

The Bible: repeated images

Vineyards appear throughout the Bible as vivid images. Many references to them appear in the Old Testament and then Jesus used the imagery numerous times in his teachings as recorded in the New Testament.

A vineyard on Pico

A vineyard  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We read about the Exodus of Israel described in the language of a vineyard:

You transplanted a vine from Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it,
and it took root and filled the land. Ps 80:8-9

Later, the prophet Isaiah gives us a image of the vineyard:

I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit. Is 5:1-2

This text, as does Psalm 80, describes Israel as God’s vineyard. We see key statements: The one who dug the vineyard also cleared it of stones and planted it with the best vines. The watchtower was built to protect it and the vine keeper also cut a winepress. He put much work into his vineyard and expected a good crop.

The picture here is similar to Genesis 2 where God forms a lush garden and instructs the man to tend it.

In both Genesis and in Isaiah, people fall short of being good tenants.

Jesus picks up the theme in a parable about the tenants, found in Matthew 21, Mark 12 and Luke 20.

Jesus has just entered Jerusalem on a donkey to a cheering crowd who welcomes him as a king. But the religious leaders challenge his authority and Jesus, after a few interchanges, tells this parable.

The parable relates the story of a vinedresser who worked hard to plant a vineyard, place the protection of a watchtower in place, and prepare a winepress. When the vineyard was ready, the vinedresser turned it over to tenants to care for it. The hard work was already done.

But when the vinedresser sent servants to gather his share of the crops, the servants were turned away. Some were beaten and others were killed.

So the vine keeper sent his son to gather what was his. The tenants, seeing an opportunity to clinch their hold on the vineyard, killed the son.

The vine keeper then killed the tenants and gave the vineyard to others.

Jesus had entered Jerusalem celebrated as a king but the religious leaders questioned his authority. Now he suggests that God, who had planted the vineyard called Israel, was sending his son to collect the fruit. And the tenants were going to reject/kill the son.

The vine keeper expected good fruit; the tenants wanted to be the owners instead.

The imagery of the vineyard, threaded from Genesis where God gave humans the duty of tending the earth, to the gospels where Jesus reminded God’s people of their rebellion, makes for a powerful story.

Consistent imagery cements the emphasis.

Google Plus not dead yet

Google Plus is not dead, although I thought so for months. Maybe you gave up on Google Plus as well.

Then I read an article by Dave Llorens about the future of Google Plus and decided to stir the waters of my account again.

I know, one more social connection to try to maintain.

But the Google Authorship aspect caught my attention. When my name is googled, I want people to find my blog and other connections. Google Authorship ties my photo to my writings and I like that.

The core of the ability to do that is Google Plus.

So I’m giving it a run. I wish WordPress  could automatically post blogs to Google Plus like it can to Facebook and Twitter but I suspect that’ll come soon. In the meantime, I have to remember to copy the url from my blogs and paste them in my Google Plus account.

Unlike Facebook, Google Plus members are more focused on business, art, technology and ideas rather than complaints about the boss and the stale coffee. I like that. There are less photos of grandkids but I go to Facebook for those connections.

I scored an information find that I’ll share with you. The chart below came from a Google Plus community, Christian Authors, which is packed with intelligent interaction about writing. As you can see, there’s a lot of help with technology in that community.

If you’re a Google Plus member already, consider adding me to your circle. I’m listed as Kathy Brasby. And if you’re a Christian writer, check out the Christian Writer community.

Now, take a look at the chart about website design and see some content available on Google Plus. Thanks to Tim Young on Christian Authors at Google Plus:

webdesigntrends

 

How a prowling rooster fared

Now I like chickens as well as most people, which is hardly at all, but roosters have an even lower place.

An adult male chicken, the rooster has a promi...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was under the age of accountability (determined by my lack of maturity in this case) when my little sister jumped on her bike to ride around our farmyard.  She had one of those fat-wheel pink jobs with streamers blowing in the breeze.

As she rode past the flock of free-ranging chickens, the rooster spotted her. Maybe it was the streamers. Maybe it was the heat of the day. In any case, he stretched out in hot pursuit of the bike and my sister.

She glanced over her shoulder to discover the rooster, his head extended, legs churning. She screamed and stuck her legs straight out to the sides of the bike. No more pedaling.

A more mature (or at least kind and compassionate) older sister would have run to her rescue but this was too good to miss. I wanted to see what happened although the tears from my laughter obscured things.

She had enough momentum that, by the time her bike wobbled to a stop, the rooster had been shooed away by our diligent mother, who scurried past giggling me in rescue.

I might have matured a little over the years because something similar came up after I was married with kids.

We had a bantam chicken trio that I liked because of their chocolate tails and rich orange wings and back. They made nice ornaments in our barn.

But the rooster was mean and he started chasing my kids. This time I didn’t laugh until the tears ran. This time, I declared that this beautiful orange rooster had to go.

I offered to give him to a neighbor for butcher. We managed to trap him and stuff him into a feed bag.

“Don’t let him out,” I warned her. “He’s mean.”

After she took the wriggling feed bag home, she called me.  “Do you have a hen to go with him?  He’s beautiful.”

I repeated my story of a prowling rooster seeking whom he could devour. She insisted so we brought her a hen to go with the rooster.

This was a great win-win, I thought, until a couple of months later. My neighbor called me on the phone again.

“That rooster is crazy! He chases anything that moves!”

I wasn’t very sympathetic. And I do think that rooster ended up in a noodle soup shortly afterward.

For all I know, so did the one chasing my sister many years before. Mothers stand firm against prowling roosters.

 

The Bible: dialogue matters

When we read biblical narratives, we need to pay close attention to the dialogue. That’s where the action is, so to speak.

Esau Selling His Birthright (painting circa 16...

Esau Selling His Birthright (painting circa 1627 by Hendrick ter Brugghen) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dialogue carries most of the punch of the story. Biblical narratives are tightly written with no extra words. Every sentence does heavy lifting in terms of the message.

Let’s take a look at some dialogue between two brothers. Here’s the piece we’ll examine:

Once, when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!”

Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

Gen 25:29-34 (NIV)

We almost have what writers call a “talking heads” situation with a little action and a lot of talking.

Because characters are developed through the dialogue, what does the dialogue tell us about Jacob and Esau?

Esau is dramatic and driven by his stomach. He overstates his situation. Is he really about to die?

He also doesn’t value his birthright compared to the immediate need: hunger. So he’s not a guy who looks ahead. Right now is what matters for Esau and his own desires trump anything noble.

Jacob, on the other hand, is a guy who sits at home while his brother is out in the field. Was Esau hunting? Working in the field? We’re not told but he was not sitting at the fire cooking stew.

Jacob’s greed keeps him from ladling up the stew for his hard-working brother? Instead, he proposes an unequal exchange: food for birthright.

Jacob’s conscience doesn’t weigh in, even when Esau agrees to the lopsided deal. In fact, Jacob wants the deal locked in with an oath. Jacob is not a man to be trusted.

In a short exchange between brothers, we get a vivid picture of the character of each man. As Genesis unfolds, we see the consequences of Jacob’s greed and craftiness. He becomes a deceiver, a man of lies and crooked deals. And his first deal comes when he swindles his brother.

Jacob’s transformation from deceiver to father of God’s nation is made more amazing in light of this early exchange between Jacob and Esau.

Biblical dialogue carries forward rich meaning and it’s important to read it carefully.