THE STORY OF YESHUA
by miriam berg
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.