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May 15, 2020

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Bible Gemz 1034 - Catching the Cultural Cues - like going to the movies in 3D (Luke 15:1-32)

June 26, 2019

And all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to Him, to hear Him. 

And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, This one receives sinners and eats with them.

And He spoke to them this parable, saying,

Suppose one of you having a hundred sheep, and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety nine in the deserted placeand go after the lost oneuntil he finds it?

And finding it, he puts iton his shoulders, rejoicing.

And coming to the house, he calls together the friends and neighbors, saying to them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that had been lost.

I say to you that so there is joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety nine righteous ones who have no need of repentance.

Suppose a woman has ten drachmas, if she loses one drachma does not light a lamp and sweep the house, and look carefully until she finds it?

And finding it, she calls together the friends and neighbors, saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found the drachma which I lost.

I say to you, So there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

And He said, A certain man had two sons.

And the younger of them said to the father, Father give me that part of the inheritancefalling to me. And he divided the inheritance between them.

And not many days after, gathering up all things, the younger son went away to a distant country. And there he wasted his property, living dissolutely.

But having spent all his things, a severe famine came throughout that country, and he began to be in need.

And going, he was joined to one of the citizens of that country. And he sent him into his fields to feed pigs.

And he longed to fill his stomach from the husks which the pigs ate, but no one gave to him.

But coming to himself he said, How many servants of my father have plenty of loaves, and I am perishing with famine.

Rising up, I will go to my father, and I will say to him, Father, I 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 rising up, he came to his father. But he yet being far away, his father saw him and was moved with pity and he ran and fell on his neck and fervently kissed him.

And the son said to him, Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you, and no longer am I worthy to be called your son.

But the father said to his slaves, Bring out the best robe and clothe him, and give a ring for his hand and sandals for his feet.

And bring the fattened calf, slaughter and let us eat and rejoice;

for this son of mine was dead, and lived again, and was lost, and was found. And they began to be merry.

But the older son was in the field. And having come, as he drew near to the house, he heard music and dances.

And having called one of the children, he inquired what this may be.

And he said to him, Your brother came, and your father killed the fattened calf, because he received him back in health.

But he was angry and did not desire to go in. Then coming out, his father begged him.

But answering, he said to the father, Behold, so many years I serve you, and I have never transgressed a command of you. And you never gave a goat to me, so that I might be merry with my friends.

But when this son of yours came, the one devouring your living with harlots, you killed the fattened calf for him.

But he said to him, Child, you are always with me, and all of my things are yours.

But to be merry and to rejoice was right, for this brother of yours was dead, and lived again; he was lost and hewas found.

 (Luke 15:1-32)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something else you have to do to fully understand this parable is to catch the cultural cues all through it. Our problem is that we are reading a Jewish book set in the 1st Century AD. Well, in this case, a Greek Gentile's book written about Jewish things which adds another degree of difficulty. We see terms, names, cultural aspects, that we interpret through our grid in the 21st Century and dependent on our cultural perspective. Beware of the things you think you understand, because you probably don't. For instance, when I read this book (the Bible) I read it from a 21st Century mixed with 20th Century thought. Ok, so I am older than you. My point is our age, the time span in which we were born also influences the way we see things. A Gen X'er will interpret the world differently from a Gen Y'er. It depends on the coloured glasses we are wearing.

 

Our cultural upbringing determines a lot of how we perceive things too. We see the world through our cultural glasses; rose coloured or otherwise. I knew the theory of all this but my first personal encounter with cultural perspectives that were significant, was when we left New Zealand for the first time and headed to our nearest neighbour, Australia. We can be deceived into thinking we are not all that different. Don't you believe it. After we had been there a while, a friend asked me what my first impressions of Australia were, since this was my first time in Aussie. I replied, "Coming into Melbourne and flying over the city I was struck by the sameness. The uniformity. Similar coloured tiled rooves, mostly brick homes with various shades of brown but still mostly brown". He asked me what was it like in New Zealand. I told him, "Houses are made from a variety of materials, brick yes, but also stone, cement, wood, etc. And there are varieties of colours of paint used". Certainly not the uniformity I had seen when coming into Melbourne. His response: oh yes, Australia used to be untidy like that but now there is more uniformity. I was speechless. That is perceived as untidy! Mmmm. 

 

I could add many more cultural stories. I have cultural stories to fill a warehouse. But that is not the purpose of me writing this. The point is we have to interpret the Bible text before us through Jewish eyes, not Kiwi or Aussie, Indonesian or Kalibaptithumpian. We must lock into the intent and meaning that was there in the minds of the hearers at the time. Yes, Luke, the Gentile doctor, is writing this story. But Jesus, the Jewish teacher is telling it. It's a Jewish story. Thus we must put on our 1st Century Jewish glasses. 

 

One more illustration to take you deeper. We read things in the Bible that we skim over thinking that we understand it. But we don't. What we have done is neglected to translate it into Bible terms. For instance, I come from New Zealand. If you know one thing about NZ it's that there are a lot of sheep there. New Zealanders know about sheep. So when I read the Bible I have a good background knowledge about sheep to help me understand the biblical passages about sheep farming and shepherds, right? No, wrong! If I approach the passages in the Bible related to sheep from a kiwi perspective, I will misunderstand what is being said. I will look at shepherding from a 21st Century New Zealand cultural perspective. That is not the same as sheep farming, or shepherding sheep from the viewpoint of 1st Century Israel. Given the development of sheep farming in New Zealand, over time it would not be wise to assume sheep farming in the New Zealand context from the late 19th Century to the beginning of the 21st Century is similar. Too much change has occurred in the time between. To think we have a handle on shepherding in the time of Jesus in Palestine because we "know" sheep farming in 21st Century New Zealand is folly. There are many aspects to shepherding in the 1st Century we miss if we apply our knowledge of sheep farming in modern day New Zealand. 

 

It always pays to find out what you can about the life and culture of Israel in Bible times. It always pays to take time find out about what you think you know, because what you think you know may not actually be fact. When you do that, you have a far better understanding of the background to the biblical text you are trying to explore. There are many sources available for you to use for researching the cultural background. No, I won't say researching the cultural background – it sounds too grand and pretentious. Let's just say finding out something about the way things were done back then and what life was like. Does that sound like something you would like to do? You can use the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (ISBE) available for free in E-Sword if you download it as an add-on. Alternatively, you could useAlfred Edersheim's - Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, also available free through E-Sword. Other books of use are The IVP Bible Background Commentary in two volumes, or Manners and Customs of the Bible by Gower and another of the same name by James Freeman. But these books all cost something. They are not free. 

 

Now you are waiting for me to take you on a guided tour of Luke 15, pointing out the hidden cultural features behind the scenes, aren't you? Well, it's not going to happen – YET. I am just suggesting that you have your cultural 1C3DJ glasses on as you read the text. Find out what you can. It will amaze you. It will make the Prodigal Son parable come alive before your eyes. I guarantee you, it adds significantly to your understanding of what is going on in this passage and connects the dots for you. Try it. As we go through the text unit by unit, I will guide you and point out features along the way. But the best thing you can do for yourself before-hand, is to have done some digging yourself and proved to yourself that you can do it too. Just do it (thanks Nike). 

 

 

Culture is man's efforts to order society and define the most effective and correct way to live in it. A R Bernard

 

The tragedy of Canada: They could have had French cuisine, British culture, and American technology. Instead, they ended up with British 

cuisine, American culture, and French technology.

 

I imagine hell to be Italian punctuality, German humour and English wine.  Peter Ustinov

 

I used to think that anyone doing something weird was weird. Now I know that it is the people who call others weird who are weird. Paul McCartney

 

We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now. Martin Luther King Jnr

 

 

 

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