Author Archives: JandWs

About JandWs

Christian on faith's journey. Finding my way slowly, with many wrong turns and blind alleys. Not always on the right road but hopefully in the right direction.

Writing It Off

Or paying it back.

Depiction by Jan van Hemessen (c. 1556) showing the moment the king scolds the servant.

In recent years we have from time-to-time had news reports of banks setting aside funds to cover debts that have to be written off. Debts being written off happened in Jesus’ time too, mostly in jubilee years. We hear of it at other times, most notably in The Parable Of The Unmerciful Servant . In those days there is no evidence of money being set aside to cover writing off of bad debt.

The parabable, as they all are, is of course a fictional story to make a point or illustrate a truth. I wonder though if, in this instance, in the modern world the point becomes somewhat lost.

The parable tells of two servants. The first owes money to his master or king and the second owes a smaller sum to the first servant, who we might therefore reasonably assume is of higher rank than the second.

We are told that the first servant owed his master 10,000 talents, a huge sum (equating to thousands if not millions of pounds/dollars et-al today) that he would have no prospect of ever repaying. The second servant owed the first 100 denarii, a trifling sum compared to the first servant’s debt.

The king or master forgives the debt of the first servant but that servant does not in turn forgive the debt of the second. The first servant had the second thrown into prison for his debt.

The first servant’s debt was probably an exaggeration to make a point, but does the exaggeration detract from the point? With such an immense amount of money, the master must have known the servant would have no prospect of repaying it. So why had the servant had been lent so much at all?

The danger is that by focussing on such a large sum of debt, some of the point of the parable becomes ‘watered down’. Today’s generation may well focus more on the money than the hypocritical actions of the servant. Particularly taking into account the ease with which credit (and debt relief) seems to be available today.

 

 

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Poppies

Lest we forget.

These hand made poppies are each added to the memorial on the anniversary of the death of the serviceman they commemorate.

Poppy day, more correctly Remembrance Day seems to cause some controversy these days. Most recently I saw that someone had said they thought it was glorifying war. What poppycock.

Maybe I should say before continuing that I was born after World War 2. Like the great majority of people today, I have no direct experience of war beyond news reports so also like them I will probably never understand it’s full horrors and sacrifices.

My father was a conscripted soldier who served in Burmah in WW2. He was not killed or injured but he never spoke of his wartime experiences to anyone I know of, in or outside our family.

I choose to wear a poppy though many will not, that is their choice. I wish they would wear a poppy. I will not run them down, argue with or insult them for not doing so. Nor do I expect someone who does not wear a poppy to lambast me for wearing one.

We live in a free country, where we can choose to wear or not the poppy, freedom fought for by the men for whom the poppy is worn. The Independent newspaper asked “when does the time come to shift the emphasis away from the past and into the present? My answer is that the poppy is the present.

What kind of country would we be living in if we had lost those terrible wars? We almost certainly would not have the freedom we enjoy now. We are not just remembering the dead. We are remembering what they did for us, why they gave their lives to give us a free country to be proud of. Suppose Hitler had won the war. Imagine the kind of regime  we could be living under now.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

From Laurence Binyon’s poem, For The Fallen. These lines form the fourth verse, though apparently they were the first to be written.

The Poor In Spirit

A little trouble with the Beatitudes, or one of them.

The Sermon on the Mount (fresco) By Fra Angelico 1387 – 1455

We find the Beatitudes in Matthew 5: 1-12. I have had trouble for a long time with the first beatitude, found in verse 3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (UK NIV).

The meaning of the other beatitudes seems, to me, quite clear, not so the first one. I have never been comfortable with understanding what is meant by “poor in spirit”.

As an aside, nevertheless possibly relevant, there is some opinion that considers the term “blessed” in the Beatitudes is interchangeable and could be replaced with “happy”.

However back to my original trouble, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. What does “poor in spirit” mean? The nearest I can come to finding a meaning that I can associate with the phrase is poverty of spirit. The problem with this is that it could mean lacking in spirit, possibly lacking in belief in God. Another possibility is that “poor in spirit” refers to people whose spirit gives them a sinful nature and could be happy because of it.

Both possibilities I suggest seem to be at odds with receiving a blessing. All the other beatitudes confer a blessing for a virtue, but being poor in spirit seems prima facie to be an imperfection or disbelief, maybe disobedience. What would seem to make more sense might be ‘Blessed are those who seek forgiveness”.

Any thoughts?

Talented

A different interpretation of the parable of the talents.

I have already given a few thoughts on Jesus’ Parable of The Talents in Untalented. Here I am revisiting that parable, from a different point  view. 

I think it is generally assumed that the servants were honest, but were they?

We are told in the parable that the servants knew that the master harvested “where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed” It might be inferred from that, that the master is not completely honest?

If the master were not honest, might not the servants, to whom he has entrusted sums of money also be dishonest? How can we be sure that the servants, to whom the talents were entrusted, were honest in how they ‘invested’ the master’s money ?

We know that on the master’s return, two of the servants returned to him double what he had entrusted them with. The third returned exactly what he had been given, but can we be sure the servants did not make more than they returned? Suppose they gave back to the master only what they thought they could get away with, keeping any more for themselves.

Even if they gave to the master everything they had earned, while he was away, how do we know it was earned honestly? Perhaps it was used as seed funding for cons or cheating. Maybe profiteering by buying goods and selling at inflated prices. It might have been lent out at exorbitant rates of interest, like modern day payday loans.

I do not suggest any other interpretation is wrong. I offer a possible alternative interpretation, that does not seem to be contradicted by the text.

 

Dressed For The Occasion

The Wedding Banquet.

14th Century Russian icon of the ‘Parable of the Feast.

Jesus tells the parable of a king who gives a wedding banquet for his son, but no one comes. Some of the invited even murder the king’s messengers bearing the invitations. For which the king extracts retribution.

Since the invited rich and noble did not come to the wedding, the king instructs his servants to go out and bring in people from the streets. In no time at all the wedding hall was filled with guests of all kinds of people.

When the king comes to the hall in which the wedding guests are assembled, he spies a man not dressed in smart, wedding clothes. The king asks the man how he got in, dressed as he was. Then the king had the man bound and thrown outside.

The parable is the invitation of Jesus to the feast and the inappropriately dressed man represents someone who rejects the invitation, but the parable might easily be interpreted differently.

All the guests at the wedding banquet had been drawn in off the streets. The suggestion being that they were taken directly to the banquet and might not have had time to change into their fine clothes, appropriate to a wedding. There is also the possibility that the poorly dressed man was poor and might have been wearing what were his best cloths, or maybe even his only clothing.

It is possible to conclude that the poorly dressed man was quite unfairly treated. While this is not the usual interpretation of the parable, the text is not sufficiently detailed or clear to dismiss this possible interpretation out of hand.

As usual, I am not seeking to overturn established wisdom, just give some food for thought.