by miriam berg
Chapter XVIII

Shechem is an historic city about thirty-five miles north of Jerusalem, lying in the narrow valley between mounts Ebal and Gerizim, scarcely one hundred yards wide. It appears many times in the Hebrew scriptures: in the time of Abraham, who builds an altar there; in the time of Jacob, the grandson of Abraham and the ancestor of the thirteen tribes of Israel; and in the time of Joshua, who buried Joseph's bones a few miles east of the city. It was made the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel after they broke away under Jeroboam I upon the death of Solomon, and remained so until the capital was moved to Samaria by Omri. It was the traditional place for crowning the kings of Israel until the new capital was built. The city was destroyed by Nebuchadrezzar in the sixth century B.C.E. but was rebuilt by the Samaritans after the occupation of Palestine by Alexander the Macedonian.

Yeshua probably stopped in Shechem on his way south, although neither Mark, Luke, nor Matthew mention the city by name. The gospel of John does say that Yeshua passed through a place called "Sychar" in Samaria, where Jacob's well was; this is thought to be a mistranslation of Shechem. Unfortunately, none of the gospels mentions any places by name on the trip to Jerusalem, except for Jericho, which is an ancient city about 15 miles east of Jerusalem.

Luke reports another occasion at this point where Yeshua heals a person on the sabbath, and still another occasion just a little later. The first time, back in Kephar-Nahum, it had been a man suffering from a withered hand; the second time, it is a woman with a bent spine who had been like that for eighteen years; each time his retort to the disapproving Pharisees is essentially the same. On this occasion the ruler of the synagogue protested, saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come on one of those days to be healed, and not on the sabbath." Yeshua's retort is almost the same as before:
Doesn't each one of you loose your ox or ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And why therefore ought not this woman to be cured of her illness?
Luke says his adversaries were put to shame, and the multitude rejoiced

The third time was when he had gone into the house of one of the leading Pharisees on a sabbath for dinner, and it was a man who was afflicted with dropsy, which is a swollen condition of the body due to excess fluids. When they eyed him with glowering faces, he turned to them and asked,
Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath, or not? Which of you wouldn't rescue even your ox or your ass on a sabbath if they had fallen into a well?
And they said nothing, although we can guess what they were thinking and growling to themselves. Luke says that Yeshua healed him, and that they could not answer these things. Perhaps these are all variants on the same event; we cannot tell.

Then, on the same occasion, he told a parable unto all of the others who had been invited to the Pharisee's house, because they all picked out the leading seats, where they could get the most attention from the crowd. It is called the parable of the marriage feast, although it appears to be have been handed down in three different versions. The first is:
When you are bidden to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a leading seat; for another person may arrive who is more important than you, and the host shall ask you to take a lower seat, and you will be embarrassed before everyone.
      Rather should you go and sit down in the lowest place; then the host may say to you, Come, friend, and sit higher up; and then you will attract favorable attention from everyone there.
But is this really an honorable motivation? Previously Yeshua has told people to do their good acts in secret, and not to even let their right hand know what their left hand is doing; he has also told them that in order to be his disciple they must put themselves last. No doubt Yeshua told his followers not to take the chief seats, as he told them when crossing the sea of Galilee and they were discussing the leaven of the Pharisees. But it does not seem consistent with those teachings to take the lowest seats just in order to get attention from people! Perhaps Yeshua was jesting with the Pharisees on this occasion, making fun of their seeking high places. The Chinese sage Lao-tse says, The best of men is like water, which seeks the lowly places which all disdain. And an ancient rabbi compared the Torah itself to water, flowing away from the high places to lower ones.

Matthew and Luke report another version of the parable of the marriage feast, and the persons who were invited to that feast, and who Yeshua would have invited if he were giving the feast:
A certain man made a great supper; and he invited many friends. When all was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests that it was time to come and eat.
      But they all made excuses not to come; the one because he had to go look at a field which he had just purchased; another because he had bought five oxen, and needed to check them out; yet another because he had just gotten married himself.
      And the servant reported all these excuses to the master of the house, who was very angry, and told the servant to go out into the city, and invite the poor and maimed and blind and lame to come and eat. Shortly after, the servant said, Master, that is now done, and still there is room.
      So the owner said, Then go out into the roadsides and hedges, and bring in all the homeless, so that my house will be full. For I am determined that none of those ingrates shall taste of my supper.
Matthew tells us that the kingdom of God was likened unto this marriage feast, the point seeming to be that those who put themselves outside will be left outside, but that there are as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it, and better. Luke, not content with two versions of this parable, gives us still one more, as follows:
When you make a dinner or a supper, do not call your friends, or your brothers, or your kinsmen, or rich neighbors; for they will certainly invite you in return, and it becomes a trade. But when you make a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind; and you will be cheered and blessed; for those persons will not be able to invite you in return.
In other words, whatever you do for people, do without any thought of reward. In the Great Sermon, he said, "Give, and you shall be given unto; help, and you shall be helped"; but here, he says instead, "Give and help; that's all you can do, and that is its own reward." And a later follower and preacher quoted Yeshua as saying, "It is more blessed to give than to receive," although this saying is not found in the gospels.

The next day, or perhaps a few days later, Yeshua was surrounded by more tax-gatherers and so-called "sinners", just as happened in Kephar-Nahum months earlier. And again all the punctilious scribes and Pharisees criticized him, saying, "This man sits with sinners, and actually eats with them!" Yeshua probably groaned again in his spirit, and took the opportunity to tell some more of his most famous parables, the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son.
Who is there among you who would have a hundred sheep, one of which was lost, and would not go out into the wilderness and seek the one which is lost until you find it? And after finding it, would you not carry it on your shoulders in joy; and after getting home, would you not invite all your friends and neighbors, saying to them, Come and rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
      I say unto you, that even so will God rejoice over one person who repents and returns to him, more than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
This adds to Yeshua's picture of God as a Father counting every hair on their heads and each sparrow in the streets: according to Yeshua, God will go out seeking all those persons who have wandered outside of the kingdom.
Or what woman having ten silver coins, and losing one, will not light a lamp, and sweep the house, and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors and says, Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I lost.
      Even so there will be joy to all who are in the kingdom of God over one person who turns himself around and enters into the kingdom.
These are certainly more vivid than his simple retort on the previous occasion when he said, I have come out of the desert to teach those who do not know Torah and the prophets! The next parable is another of the best-known and best-loved of all of Yeshua's parables, the parable of the prodigal son, as it is usually known, although a better name would be the parable of the two sons, or even better, the parable of the perfect parent.
A certain man had two sons; and the younger said to his father, Father, give me the portion of your possessions which I will inherit. So the man divided his living among them.
      And not many days after the younger son gathered all his things together, and went on a journey into a far country; and there he wasted his money with riotous living.
      And when he had spent all, there came a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be hungry and cold. So he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him out into the fields to feed the pigs. And the son would gladly have eaten even the husks which the pigs ate; and no one gave him anything.
      Finally he came to himself, and he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I am here perishing of hunger! I will return to my father, and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned against God, and against you; I am no more worthy to be called your son; only allow me to be as one of your hired servants.
      So he arose, and came back to his father. But when he was still far off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell upon his neck, and kissed him.
      And the son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no more worthy to be called your son.
      But the father said to the servants, Bring out the best robe, and put in on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, and kill it, and let us eat, and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. So the household began to have a party.
      Now the elder son was in the field; and as he came nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called over one of the servants, and asked what the party was for. The servant replied, Your brother has come home; and your father has killed and roasted the fatted calf, because he has returned safe and sound.
      But the elder son was angry, and would not go inside; and his father came out, and urged him to go in. But the elder answered, Look, all these years I have obeyed you, and never went against your commandments; yet you never killed a kid for me and my friends to make merry; but when this other son came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf, and all the servants are dancing.
      But the father said, My son, you have always been with me, and everything I have is yours. But it is right for us to make merry and be glad; for your brother was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is now found.
Wow! This is the longest of Yeshua's parables. It has everyone in it: the younger son, who strays from his father, standing for the amme ha'aretz; the father, standing for God, who forgives even the most wayward of his children; the return of the younger son, symbolizing the repentance which Yohanan and Yeshua have been urging; and the elder son, standing for the Pharisees themselves, who are commended by the father, but need urging to accept the street people.

Luke reports one other parable, in which Yeshua contrasts the self-righteous and the humble of spirit before God, almost certainly as a rebuke to the haughty Pharisees, who contemned those who did not follow the rules:
Two men went up into the temple to pray: the one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-collector.
      The Pharisee stood and prayed with himself, God, I thank thee that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector.
      But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even so much as lift up his eyes, but pounded his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
      I say unto you, this latter went down to his house justified rather than the other.
There is indeed a prayer in the Talmud which is like the prayer of this haughty Pharisee that he is better than other men. But Yeshua forcefully puts it down. Luke also tells a short parable known as the parable of the servants:
But who is there of you, whose servant plows the fields, or keeps sheep, who would say to that servant when he comes in from the field, Come and sit down with me to eat?
      Will not you rather say to him, Make ready my dinner, and put on your apron and serve me, until I am sated; and then you may eat and drink? Will a lord thank a servant because he has done the things which he was commanded to do?
      So likewise, when you have done all the things which are expected of you, say only, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do.
Again Yeshua appears to emphasize the virtue of not expecting any reward; in the reign of God, we are simply to do those things which are necessary, or which we are commanded to do, and that is enough. But in the Great Sermon he has also promised that God, who sees everything that is done in secret, will reward us. The conjunction of these two teach- ings appears to be that good acts are themselves a reward.

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