Monday, June 02, 2014

Revisiting the Scripture 1

I find it constantly amazing (and a little amusing), that so much of what I thought I knew by way of interpreting scripture has been wrong! (Ouch!)
Often, my understanding of a particular passage has proven to be the exact opposite of that which culture or tradition has led me to believe!
Perhaps not so surprising I suppose; when you consider that we are talking about ‘an upside down kingdom’! Let me give you an example from Luke’s gospel.

Luke 15:2-7

2 And both the Pharisees and the Scribes murmured, saying, this man receives sinners, and eats with them. 3 And he spoke to them this parable, saying, 4 what man of you, having a hundred sheep, and having lost one of them, does not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying to them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost. 7 I say to you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven over, one sinner that repents [Metanoeo], more than over ninety and nine righteous persons, which need no repentance [metanoia].

Jesus began his ministry by challenging all who would listen with the following:
“Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand”.
Such a message often met with fierce opposition from the religious leaders of the day; let’s look at why it was that they were so indignant; let’s firstly examine the idea of repentance.


(1) The verb metamelomai is used of a ‘change of mind’, such as to produce regret or even remorse on account of sin, but not necessarily a change of heart. This word is used with reference to the repentance of Judas (Matthew 27:3).

(2) Metanoeo, meaning to change one's mind and purpose, as the result of ‘after knowledge’.

(3) The above verb, with the cognate noun metanoia, is used of true repentance, a change of mind and purpose and life, to which remission of sin is promised.

Now let’s unpack the above account from Luke’s gospel.

In verse 1, we see many ‘sinners’ coming to Christ. [Note they are leaving the ‘path’ they were on, and turning around (in terms of decision and direction) towards Jesus].

We see them here, seeking Him out followed by His meeting with and receiving them - willingly. This is of itself a ‘picture’ of repentance i.e. ‘Metanoeo’ … changing one's mind and purpose, as the result of … knowledge.

However the Pharisees and the Scribes (the religious leaders of the day) murmured against Him. Clearly, the Lord’s protagonists were remonstrating with him because of his willingness to mix with ordinary folk (i.e. sinners).

They did so from the point of view of being self-declared custodians and keepers of the law and their supposed (superior) state of ‘righteousness’! In their eyes, such behaviour was sinful and therefore rendered the Lord Himself unclean or unrighteous!

In taking them to task, the Lord then accepts their proposition (for the sake of argument) that they are ‘righteous’ (as they claim) and uses hyperbole and parable, to demonstrate his point of view.

Loosely paraphrased it would be something like this:

“Let’s say you’re right, there are ninety nine persons who are (or proclaim to be) ‘righteous’ among you; but then, there is one who strays and is in need of assistance.

Jesus went on then to ask: Wouldn’t (even a self-proclaimed) ‘righteous’ person go after them … and finding them … celebrate their return"?

Oh course the answer that this question anticipates is – Yes. And of course, if such an action is justified for a self-proclaimed righteous person; then how much more so is it appropriate for the Good Shepherd?

Then the Lord goes on to deliver a crucial blow to their ego! Heaven will experience great joy over these ones (the lost who are found in Christ) but in regard to those who consider themselves ALREADY to be righteous (apart from Christ) though they are TRULLY LOST … things will be quite different for them.

The key verse for me in unlocking this interpretation was where Jesus clearly said; that the ninety nine ‘righteous’ persons (Pharisees and Scribes) need NO repentance!

The Pharisees and the Scribes deemed themselves already ‘righteous’ and therefore not in need of repentance. This is the same point that Jesus made against them when they criticized Him and the disciples for being at Levi’s feast (Luke 5:31) where they ‘posed’ as “righteous.”
Who can we conceive of, then or now, who needed NO repentance – apart from the Lord himself?
Perhaps here it would be interesting to suggest that the one who strayed did so because he realised that he was NOT righteous and therefore left the ‘self-righteous’ and went in search of the One who could save him from himself!

Imagine the delight today if a ‘backslider’ is brought back to the fold of the self-righteous! Oh, how this would bolster the self-righteous claims of the religious leaders of our day!

Note however, that this ‘one’ is gathered together with the GOOD Shepherd (Jesus); that is, he becomes a ‘called out one’ (called out from ‘organised religion’ …hmm) and brought into vital relationship with the Lord and his body THE Church.

Makes you wonder doesn’t it?


Heather said...

You know, I'm embarrassed to say that I never noticed that statement "who need no repentence" ... again, having grown up in churches that taught this parable differently.

I am setting off to read through the gospels and try to do it with no preconceived notions of what this and that means. I plan to read them over and over and try to get some sort of grasp on who Jesus is and what He truly means.

Thanks for this post to make me think and wonder. I appreciate your blog!



John Purcell said...

Hi Heather,

You're up early ... I hope you have a great day in the Lord!

I must admit, that I hadn't seen that phrase either until fairly recently. What a difference it makes when we allow the scripture to interpret itself! Thanks for your kind comments, I appreciate your humble spirit and hunger for Christ.

God bless you,