Wednesday, September 25, 2013

“New” Parables of Jesus Lost in the Gospels?

Well, maybe not "new" in the sense that no one has ever seen them before, but there are certainly parables in the gospels that are overlooked, neglected, or ignored for one reason or another—so the parables are "new" in the sense that they need to be "rediscovered" as parables. What is a parable? The classic form of parable is a brief narrative fiction about ordinary things.  Basically a narrative is a story having at least three elements: a beginning, middle, and end.  So a parable is a form of speech that is something more than a phrase, clause, or saying—it tells a story.  A parable may be as brief as a single sentence: "a woman took and concealed a fermenting agent in three bushels of flour until the whole was leavened" (Matt 13:33); or a parable may extend to as much as two paragraphs in length (viz., A Father and Two Sons, Luke 15:11-32).  In general, scholars tend to recognize a literary unit as a parable when they are introduced with the phrase:  "The kingdom of God is like . . .," but that is not always the case.  A Father and Two Sons (Luke 15:11-32), and An Injured Man on the Jericho Road (Luke 10:30-35) are not introduced by a parabolic comparative frame, and yet these two stories are universally recognized as parables.
            The Jesus Seminar made a survey of early Christian literature in the first two centuries of the Christian era searching for parables attributed to Jesus, and found thirty-three that they thought should be included in the corpus of stories attributed to Jesus (Funk, Scott, Butts, The Parables of Jesus. Red Letter Edition [Polebridge Press, 1988).  I have argued, however, that the corpus of Jesus' parables is comprised of at least forty-three parables, ten more than acknowledged by the Jesus Seminar.  One that you may have missed is Settling out of Court (Matt 5:25-25 = Luke 12:58-59).  I checked several commentaries on the parables at random and discovered that the following scholars apparently do not regard it as a parable (The Jesus Seminar, Kissinger, Scott, Bailey, Blomberg, Hultgren), but at least two do (Smith and Jeremias).  Another story, The Persistent Friend (Luke 11:5-7) is not regarded as a parable by the Jesus Seminar and Scott, but Kissinger and Jeremias do discuss it as a parable.
One story, Offering your Gift at the Altar (Matt 5:23-24), appears to have gone virtually unrecognized as a story of Jesus by the scholars whose works I checked for this blog:
If, therefore, you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and first go become reconciled to your brother, and then coming offer your gift.

The Jesus Seminar colored the saying gray, as it did a similar saying parallel (Mark 11:25), but the story is not unlike its "twin" immediately following in Matthew (On Going to Court, Matt 5:25-26) in its use of the imperative; this "twin" parable is colored pink in The Five Gospels.  Bultmann regarded the "saying" Offering Your Gift at the Altar as the more original form of another similar saying (Mark 11:25), since Matthew's parable "presupposes the existence of the sacrificial system in Jerusalem" (Bultmann, p. 132).  Bultmann regards the legal style of Offering Your Gift at the Altar in Matthew as the work of the early church.  The saying itself, however, is older, since the content had nothing to do with the church "brotherhood" (Bultmann, 146, 147).  The use of the term "brother" when used in the gospels is generally read as a Christian motif, which may account for the general neglect of the parable, but that aspect of the saying is likely part of the Christian reworking of a much older saying.  How might the narrative have appeared in its earlier pre-Christian form?
A man was offering his gift at the altar and there remembered his [friend] had something against him; he left his gift there before the altar and first went, became reconciled with his [friend], and then coming he offered his gift.

The term "friend" makes an appearance in other parables of Jesus in Luke (11:5-6; 14:10; 15:6, 9; 15:29).
What do you think?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University
Color gray: the saying is questionable as a saying of Jesus
Color pink: the saying is likely a saying of Jesus
Funk, Hoover and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels
B. T. D. Smith, The Parables of the Synoptic Gospels
Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition
Bailey, Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes
Kissinger, The Parables of Jesus
Scott, Hear Then the Parable
Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus
Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables
Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus

Monday, September 9, 2013

Jesus said, “Do Not Resist Evil” — Does that include Syrian President Bashar Assad?

In a recent blog I discussed the question of "What to do about Evil in the world?"  What to do with evil in the world is precisely the question facing the Citizens of the United States today through their elected representatives and senators in the American Congress.  The Obama administration has released intelligence whose credibility has not been challenged that President Bashar Assad of Syria used chemical weapons on citizens of Syria in the rebel-held section of Damascus killing a reported 1,429 people, 426 of them were children.  President Obama condemned the atrocity, which he says demands a military response on the part of the civilized world.  Congress is now considering a proposal to approve a limited and targeted military response against Assad and Syria, a nation that signed the Geneva Protocol of 1925 to ban the use of deadly gases on the battlefield. (Information from an Associated Press release "What makes Syria's chemical use 'red line.'")
Proposition: The use of sarin gas on a civilian population whatever the reason is an evil act.  What is sarin gas?  See the report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It appears that only France has stepped forward, after the British Parliament said "no," to stand beside the U.S. president in what started out to be President Obama's unilateral act to punish Assad for violating the 1925 Geneva Protocol, but now France has asked for more time to consult their national legislature, while President Obama has taken the issue to Congress.
So what does our country do about this particular evil act?  I am afraid that we will not find much help from Jesus on this particular question; he said "Love your enemies" (Luke 6:27) and "do not resist evil" (or the evil person, or the evil one, Matt 5:39).  Frankly as a standard for nations to apply not only are these ideas not practical, but they are dangerous to the nations that apply them.  (Or did Jesus really say that it was "time to take up the sword"? Luke 22:35-36.)  Should Congress support the President and risk plunging the nation deeper into the Syrian civil war?  Or should our country simply ignore Assad's use of sarin gas now for the second time?
Polls tell us that the American public is war-weary and America cannot continue being the world's "policeman."  But, on the other hand, does America's position in the world impose some responsibility for taking some kind of action?  Would not our isolationist tendencies in this regard, and our anti-war marches amount to condoning the use of sarin gas by Assad, and in so doing would we not be strengthening his hand for further use of chemical weapons?
Quite frankly I do not wish to live in a world where evil goes unopposed.  And that means sometimes those who do violence in the world must be opposed with force. We live in a world where ethical choices more often than not are dirty shades of grey, and our choice is not between absolute right and absolute wrong but between dark grey and a lighter shade of grey.  That is to say, whatever your ethical choice it is likely hurtful to someone.  But in this case, using sarin gas on a civilian population will always be an evil act!  It is not a dirty shade of grey!  And it is right that President Bashar Assad and Syria should be held accountable by the world community, war-weary or not.
I am not a "hawk," although I am a retired soldier (Korean War era, and reactivated from reserve status for the first Gulf War).  I would prefer that we not initiate military action against Syria, but doing nothing is not an option.
Elie Wiesel in a Commencement Address at Washington University in 2011 said: "My commandment is: you shall not stand idly by.  When you see an injustice, do not stand idly by.  You must intervene, you must interfere." (
I have wondered why the Obama administration has not at least sought the prosecution of Assad as a war criminal before the International Court of Justice at the Hague. Is it not true that doing nothing in itself is criminal, while standing idly by makes us all complicit in Assad's crime?
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University