THE STORY OF YESHUA
by miriam berg
Yeshua was now less than fifteen miles from Jerusalem, and he
had less than two weeks to live. He was passing through the
hill country of Ephraim, north of Judea, the southern part
of ancient Israel: forested slopes and fertile valleys; olive,
fig, and fruit trees growing on the hill slopes; wheat and vines
cultivated in the valleys and small plains. This was the region
in which the ancient shrine of Shiloh had been located, where
Joshua had located the ark containing the ten commandments after
the Israelites had invaded Canaan, and the birthplace of Samuel,
the ancient judge who had crowned both Saul of Israel and David
of Judah. Shiloh was destroyed by the Philistines in a battle
with Saul, and the ark was stolen; after that, it never revived
as a religious center, because David established the center of
worship at Jerusalem. But the priestly clan survived, and
Jeremiah himself was said to have been the son of a Shilonite
priest. In Yeshua's time, the city still existed as the village
Luke tells us many parables during the journey to Jerusalem,
more than any other of the gospels. Many of them are given
without any setting or context, so we do not know exactly
what issue he was responding to. The following parable is
difficult to understand for this reason; it is called the parable
of the unrighteous steward:
There was a rich man, who had a steward; and
the same was accused to the rich man of stealing
his goods. So he called the steward to him, and
said, What is this that I am told about you? turn
in your books and your gold, for you are fired
from being my steward.
Then the steward said to himself frantically,
What shall I do, seeing that my lord takes away
my job? I am not strong enough to dig; and I am
ashamed to beg. I know what I should do, so that
when I am put out of the stewardship, there will
be those who will receive me into their houses.
So calling up each one of his lord's debtors,
he said to the first, How much do you owe to my
lord? And the first said, A hundred barrels of
oil. And the steward said unto him, Take your
contract, and sit down quickly and write fifty.
Then he said to the next, And how much do you
owe? And the next said, A thousand bushels of
wheat. He said to him, Take your contract, and
write eight hundred.
And the lord commended the unrighteous
steward for his foresight; for worldly persons
are better at managing business affairs than
Is Yeshua commending unrighteousness? is he commending the
steward for wasting his goods, after giving him notice of
termination for wasting his goods? is he saying that it is
better to be worldly than holy? This is a puzzling conclusion,
and Yeshua's succeeding remarks do not help us very much:
And I say unto you, You should make friends
out of the mammon of unrighteousness; that
when it shall fail, they may receive you into
the eternal tabernacles.
Make friends with mammon? Earlier he has told them that they
cannot serve both God and mammon; is this an exception? What
are the "eternal tabernacles"? And who are they who are to
receive us into them? This is the first time he has ever used
such a phrase; it must have been added by a later editor. But
Luke has still more to say to confuse us:
He that is faithful in a very little will
be faithful also in much; and he that is
unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous
in much. If you haven't been faithful in the
unrighteous mammon, who will put you in charge
of true riches? And if you have not been
faithful in that which is another's, how can
you be trusted with that which is your own?
Some ancient texts read "our own" at the end, but that makes
it make even less sense than before. These are probably more
homiletic remarks from Luke or some of the later followers of
Yeshua, trying to explain the parable.
Yeshua must now more than ever have been looking for ways in
which to impress his message upon the ears of his hearers,
and especially his disciples. We can picture him, sitting
with them in the evening, listening to their jokes about driving
out the Romans, and punishing them, and the glory of the restora-
tion of the kingdom of the Jews. They must have also referred
often to the great works he was going to perform in Jerusalem;
had he not cured so many people in Galilee, and through Samaria,
and calmed the storm, and walked on the water? So there came a
evening when he told this parable, which is known as the parable
of the rich man and the beggar, although that is not its point:
Now there was a certain rich man, and he
was clothed in purple and fine linen, eating feasts every
day; and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus lying
at his gate, full of sores, and begging only to be
fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's
table; yes, even the dogs came and licked his sores.
And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and
was carried away into Abraham's bosom; and the rich
man also died, and was buried. And in Sheol he
lifted up his eyes, being in great suffering, and he
saw Abraham far off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
And he cried out and said, Father Abraham, have
mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may comfort
me; for I am in great torment; it is like Gehinnom.
But Abraham said, Between us and you is a
great gulf fixed, so that anyone who tries to cross over
from here to you may not be able, and no one may
cross over from there to here.
Then the rich man said, I beg you therefore,
Father, that you will send Lazarus to my father's
house; for I have five brothers; and he may witness
to them, so that they may not be sent to this place
of torment. But Abraham said, They have Moshe and
the prophets; let them hear them.
But the rich man answered, They will not,
Father Abraham; but if one go to them from the dead,
they will listen and repent. And Abraham answered back,
If they do not hear Moshe and the prophets, neither
will they be persuaded, even if one
rose from the dead.
This is one of Yeshua's most important parables; he has told them
over and over that there would be no sign given; he has told them
several times that he would be killed; and here he picks the most
dramatic sign he can think of, a person rising from the dead, and
says that even if that did happen, people would not pay attention,
if they were not able to pay attention to the teachings embedded
in the Hebrew scriptures, the teachings of Moshe, and of Amos,
and of Hosea, and Micah, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and of Yohanan.
But there is no evidence that the disciples got the point of this
parable, nor that anyone else has for nearly two thousand years.
Some time later, the disciples were again disputing among
themselves about something, and Yeshua came over to hear
the discussion. They were talking about forgiveness, of
which Yeshua had spoken before, saying:
If your brother commit a fault, rebuke him;
and if he repent, forgive him.
Here Yeshua gives a simple but absolute rule about how we are to
relate to those whose acts we find unacceptable. It seems clear
enough: faults are to be pointed out, and not ignored; but
contrition and change are cause enough for forgiveness. But
Simon turned and asked, "How many times should my brother sin
against me, and I forgive him? until seven times?" A curious
question, springing out of a rabbinic teaching that a person
should be forgiven for the same offense up to three times. But
Yeshua shook his head, and answered emphatically:
I say not to you, Until seven times; but,
Until seventy times seven.
He might have gone on, And after that, seventy times seven more.
For surely Yeshua meant that we are to forgive without ceasing,
just as he had said in his original statement: If a person repent,
then forgive him, without qualification as to frequency.
Matthew then reports a another parable about the kingdom of
God, but it is really about forgiveness. It is called the
parable of the unforgiving servant:
There was a certain king, who wanted to collect on
his accounts with his servants. And there was one
brought to him, who owed him ten thousand talents.
But since he could not pay the debt, the king ordered
that he and his wife and his children were to be
sold as slaves. Then the servant fell down on his
knees and pleaded, Lord, have patience with me, and
I will pay you every penny. Then the king, being
moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him
But later the servant met another of the servants,
who owed him a hundred pence; and he took him by the
throat, snarling, Pay me what you owe. And the
other servant fell on his knees and implored him,
saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay you.
But the first servant would not listen, and had his
fellow-servant cast into prison, until he should pay
what was owed. And when the rest of the servants
saw what was done, they were upset, and went and
told the king what had happened.
So the king called the servant to him and said,
You unkind servant, I forgave you that huge debt,
because you pleaded with me; shouldn't you have also
had mercy on your fellow-servant, just like I had
mercy on you? And the king turned the servant over
to the tormentors, until he should pay what was due.
This parable seems to say that, since we are all like servants
to God, and since God forgives us for our transgressions, we
should forgive each other, since none of us is any better than
any other. However, the concluding sentence seems to undermine
this conclusion, by saying rather that God will punish us if we
do not forgive each other. Matthew makes this explicit: So
shall my heavenly Father do unto you, if you do not forgive
each other from your hearts. But it is not possible that this
sentence is from Yeshua, since he has never before referred to
God as "my heavenly Father"; it is clearly an addition to the
gospel by a later hand. Mark also says that Yeshua told them
on another occasion:
And whenever you are praying, forgive, if
there is anything you hold against anyone;
then will you be forgiven by God for your
In other words, praying for yourself is hypocrisy if you have
a grudge against someone else; it is like the Pharisee thanking
God that he was better than other men.
Only two more occurrences of healing are reported in the
gospels. Luke says that on his way to Jerusalem, he was
passing through the midst of Samaria and Galilee." Now
the Kishon River flowing west and the valley of Jezreel going
east are the separation between Samaria and Galilee; and Yeshua
has already departed from Galilee, and has passed through most of
Samaria already. So we are not sure what Luke meant by this
statement; perhaps he was not that familiar with the geography of
Judea. But as Yeshua entered into a another unnamed village, he
was approached by ten persons, identified as "lepers", the same
as early in his career about the sea of Galilee. They pleaded
with Yeshua for help, and he told them, as he had in the earlier
incident, to go and show themselves to the priests. Again it
must have been that he saw that their illness had cured itself,
and he was telling them to fulfil the requirements in Leviticus.
Then one of them, understanding that he was now cleansed of
the dreaded disease, turned back, and with a loud joyful
cry, knelt before Yeshua, thanking him and praising God.
Yeshua is reported to have asked:
Were there not ten of you? so where are the other
nine? Were none of them grateful enough to come
and give thanks to God for being forgiven?
Luke says that Yeshua added, "save this foreigner," because the
one was said to be a Samaritan. Then Yeshua repeated his usual
instruction for the final time:
Go your way; it is your faith which has healed you.
This is the next to last of the many healings reported in the
Synoptic gospels. Not a single one of them has been claimed by
Yeshua as a sign; he has told many of those who were cured not
to tell anyone, which is further evidence that he did not intend
them as a sign; and to many of them he has also said, as he says
here, that it was their own faith which cured them, not himself
or any special power of healing.
Ephraim was also the name of a city within the hill country.
As they drew closer and closer to Jerusalem, it was natural
that the disciples grew more excited about their arrival,
which they construed to be the coming of the new liberated
kingdom of Judea. Yeshua saw this, and shook his head. As
they rested along the road, he turned to them and made yet
another gloomy prediction of the days to come:
The days will come, when you will desperately
wish to see one of the days of the son of man;
but you will not see it.
Earlier he has told them that some of them would live to see the
coming, and now he tells them that they will not. Has his
opinion changed? or does the political situation now look worse
than ever, with the hatred of the Romans fanned into flame by the
speeches of the Zealots? The gospels do not tell us about the
other happenings in Judea at the time; but Josephus, the Jewish
historian, and Tacitus, the Roman historian, make it quite plain
what was happening during the first half of the first century
A.S.D., so we know that Jewish intransigence was mounting toward
a peak. Yeshua goes on with his forecast:
And they shall say to you, Lo, here it is!
or Lo, there it is! but do not go, nor follow
For as the lightning, when it flashes
out of one part of the sky, and lights up the other part
of the sky as well, so shall the coming of those
days be; they shall be without warning;
And as it came in the days of Noah, even so
shall it be in the days to come. They ate,
they drank, they married, they were given in
marriage, until the day that Noah entered into
the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.
At best this doesn't sound hopeful; he foresees a flash of
lightning that will destroy them all.
Likewise even as it came to pass in the days
of Lot; they ate, they drank, they bought, they
sold, they planted, they builded; but in the day
that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and
brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.
In both of these legends from the Hebrew scriptures there were
a few who escaped destruction.
In those days, he who is upon the housetop,
and his goods still in the house, let him not go
down to take them away; and let him that is in
the house not turn back. Remember Lot's wife.
Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back
to see the fire from heaven destroy Sodom.
I say unto you, In that night there shall
be two men on one bed; the one shall be taken,
and the other left. There shall be two women
grinding together; the one shall be taken,
and the other left.
Before they left Galilee he had explained to them that he was
bringing division on the country: members of a family against
each other. Here he applies that to the coming destruction: one
will be destroyed, and the other not. The disciples wonder among
themselves, and one asks where they will be taken. He answers:
Where the body is, there will the vultures
be gathered together.
One cannot help wondering why he didn't just say in so many
words that the movement to drive the Romans out by violence
was simply going to provoke the Romans into destroying the
city of Jerusalem, and that the only way to avoid that fate
was to learn to get along with the Romans, to bring about the
reign of God by practicing the teachings of universal love
which he has stated so many times. But perhaps if he had, he
would be unknown today, since they would have all deserted
him long before they reached Jerusalem.