The interpretive approach of this essay assumes that Jesus’ frame of reference for the Parable of the Sower centered on the kingdom of heaven. Jesus emphasized repentance and grace, and their joint role as a catalyst for increasing God’s reign.
Paul mentions the living sacrifices without explanation, as if the readers would be familiar with the concept. Similar early rabbinic vocabulary suggests that Paul is referring to sacrifices which were given to the Temple but which were inappropriate for offering, because they were female instead of male or for other technical reasons. They could not be un-offered so, although they were sacrifices, they were kept alive as temple property till they became blemished, and any profit from them was for the Lord.
Let’s consider how Jesus would have responded to the damage and loss of life wrought by Katrina. He no doubt would have said, “Do you think these people in New Orleans were worse sinners than all the rest? No, and unless you repent you will also perish” (compare Luke 13:1-5). In other words, this disaster (and all others) should serve to remind us that we need to urgently and seriously examine our own lives!
Mark’s placement of Jesus’ “no longer dared” comment is very awkward: first, because the comment comes in the middle of a lovefest between Jesus and a scribe; and second, because the comment immediately follows Jesus’ appreciation of the scribe’s wisdom: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
Jesus’ teaching on judging is one of his most frequently misunderstood sayings, sounding as if he is saying, “Have no discernment. Just ignore sin!” Often we struggle to find a way to sort out sin without actually calling it that so that we do not judge. While Jesus’ ethical demands are high, we often give up trying to follow them if they do not make sense to us.
The apostle Paul asserted in Romans 11:1 that God had not rejected his people. Speaking metaphorically, he went on to compare the people of Israel to a cultivated olive tree. Because of unbelief, some, but not all, of the tree’s branches had been broken off, and a wild olive branch had been grafted to the stock. Paul emphasized, however, that grafting the original branches back to the stock of the cultivated tree would be a much simpler task than grafting a wild olive to it.
The story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) is footnoted in most modern versions (NIV, NASB, RSV) to indicate that in the majority of Greek manuscripts the story does not appear. In other Greek manuscripts it is placed elsewhere—after John 7:36, while in another it even appears after Luke 21:38. The complex manuscript evidence presents a real challenge to New Testament scholarship. Many scholars have questioned the historicity of the story altogether.
I would like to congratulate Professor Safrai on his award, and add a personal note: I have known Professor Safrai since 1965 when he was one of my instructors at the Hebrew University. I have spent literally hundreds of hours with him. Not only is Professor Safrai one of the greatest scholars that the Hebrew University has ever produced, he is also a mensch. Kind, well-mannered, and above all, patient, he has been a model of right living to his many students.
One of the strongest impressions I have from my first year in Israel (1963-1964) was taking part in a Passover Seder (the joyous home celebration of Passover). It happened that during this first year in Israel my first contact with the Jewish people took place—there were no Jews living in Cleveland, Oklahoma, where I grew up.
As practitioners of Jesus’ teachings, our conduct certainly should be characterized by charity, but a helping hand with strings attached or expectations appended is not pleasant. This constitutes one of the mysterious aspects of the kingdom of heaven. It is The Transparent Agenda, a mandate to do good to all without prejudice and without expectations.
One thing seems certain, in my opinion: we must renew our covenant with God again and again. Our relationship with God is not a one-time commitment, but an ongoing relationship.
The importance of sharing one’s bread with the poor has remained in the Jewish consciousness until today. Many people do not want to throw away bread. Instead of dumping their bread along with the rest of their garbage into the garbage carts parked along the streets, they save the bread in plastic sacks and hang it from the metal projections on the sides of the carts (used to hoist the carts into the garbage trucks). That way, the bread is potentially available to the poor.