Category Archives: Bible

Picking The Fruit

A modern re-telling of the parable of the vineyard workers.

The parable, by Jacob Willemszoon de Wet, circa mid-17th century

‘No one!’ exclaimed the foreman ‘there must be someone available.’ ‘No one on our books that doesn’t already have work for today.’ The agent said. ‘The old abandoned school, at the end of Castle Street, has a load of foreigners sleeping there. Maybe they’d be glad of a day’s work’.

Ten minutes later a suspicious Pole opened the door a crack to find the foreman standing outside. ‘I’m looking for men to pick fruit, strawberries. I need it done today.’ In faltering English the face through the crack in the door said ‘Wait, I get Aleksander. He speak good English.’

After a brief chat with the foreman and a longer one with his countrymen, Alexander with ten Polish men was on his way to the fruit farm. He had  negotiated a wage of £80.00 per man for the day’s work, with breakfast and lunch supplied.

At the morning break, the farmer was discussing the picking progress with his foreman, who was telling his employer ‘They’re good hard workers but I think we’ll need more to finish the strawberry harvest today.’ ‘You’d better get back into town then, see who else you can rustle up.’

‘What did you agree to pay this lot?’ The farmer asked his foreman, when he arrived back with another van full of pickers. ‘They said they’ll take whatever’s going. They just need to work.’ ‘Get ’em started then, and make sure they don’t put so much in a basket that the bottom fruit gets squashed. The foreman gave brief instructions and set the latest gang to work.

Shortly after lunch, it was clear that still not all the fruit could be picked in time for the wholesaler’s collection time. The foremen was again despatched to see if he could find more pickers.

‘These are the last.’ the foreman informed his boss on his return. ‘If we can’t get the crop in with these, the rest will be wasted.’ It’ll have to do. Get ’em started they can learn on the job. We’ll have to take a chance on the spoils.’

‘We made it guv.’ the foreman informed the farmer as the sun began to sink. ‘And there aren’t that many spoils either.’ ‘Give the a drink, then send them up to the office to collect their pay.’ the farmer replied.

Aleksander, who spoke for the first group to be taken on at the farm, was the first to emerge from the farmer’s office with a handful of cash. One by one a minute or two apart, the rest emerged each with their £80.00, all paid in cash. Then, when the early workers had all been paid and those taken on later in the day began to come out holding their wages. Those first to be paid soon noticed that the later arrivals were also being paid the same amount, £80.00 for their work even though they hadn’t worked a full day.

‘What is this?’ Alexander angrily asked the farmer. ‘We worked a full day for our money. You gave them the same for a few hours.’ ‘I gave you just what you asked for when you signed on. We had a contract.’ the farmer replied. ‘Those other men were so glad of the work they just took it on trust they’d be fairly paid.’

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When Jesus told the parable, it was to illustrate how the last shall be first. I think there is another, perhaps unintended, point illustrated too.

I have written previously about contract and covenant. In the parable the men who agreed terms, a contract, got exactly what they bargained for. Those who worked on trust, to my mind a covenant, were treated generously.

 

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Reading Aloud

Bringing the Bible to life.

Albert Joseph Moore (1841–1893)

When was the last time you read something out loud? To some extent it might depend on who you are. A parent or teacher reading to a child is probably the most likely to do it. What about the rest of us?

I think that for the great majority of us, reading something out loud is done only few-and-far-between times. When it is, it is probably only to ourselves, perhaps when checking something we have written to see if it sounds right when said. I often check my own writing like this but that is usually the only time I read aloud.

While reading an essay about Islam, I discovered that the title of the Islamic holy book, the Qur’an, means ‘recitation. It is intended to be read out loud. This reminded me that the Bible too was also intended to be read this way, aloud. Originally for the entirely practical reason that many listeners, when it was first written would be illiterate, and could not read.

The most likely time The Bible will be heard read aloud, is in church probably during a service. Occasionally the reader will bring some ‘life’ to the reading. More often than not, this is not so, the reading is flat, unemotional not evoking a reaction.

Reading aloud can be done in a number of ways. Flat, prosaic and boring, calculated to turn pretty much anyone off the subject or send them to sleep. It can also be with a touch of performance. By the reader varying intonation and phrasing, it is much more likely the listener’s attention will be kept. It is also possible that what the listener perceives in the reading can be subtly altered, by the emphasis or understatement of particular words and phrases.

Reading aloud can work equally well solo, as when reading to someone. Give it a try.

 

Roll Away The Stone

A slightly off-beat look at a familiar event.

‘Ouch’, he exclaimed sitting up in the pitch darkness, banging his head on the low ceiling. when his head stopped throbbing, he sat up again, more cautiously with his hand above himself to ward off any further knocks. Putting his hand gingerly to his head, he could already feel a swelling and tenderness. He ignored it. It was insignificant, compared to his other injuries.

Once his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he was able to make out chinks of light, a faint outline, that he supposed to be the doorway. He made his way slowly, still with his hand outstretched, carefully toward it until his hand touched a cold, hard, smooth rock surface roughly in the middle of the faint outline. All the time he was wincing slightly because of the rough, uneven surface under his bare feet.

After feeling around the cold surface his hand had come into contact with, he gave it a tentative push. It didn’t move. He tried again, pushing harder with both hands. Still no movement, not even the slightest shift. He turned around facing back into the darkness and flattened his back against the unyielding surface and heaved with his legs with all his might. A moment later, he slid down to the floor, with his back still resting against it still not having moved as much as a finger’s width.

He wouldn’t be able to shift what he now guessed to be a huge boulder himself. He needed help. Closing his eyes, even though it was a bit pointless in the pitch dark, he called out softly ‘Dad, Dad, can you hear me?’ He was silent a moment and then ‘I’m stuck. I need you to send a couple of the boys to help.’ then as an afterthought added, ‘quick as you can please Dad.’

What seemed to him to take ages, but in reality was only probably only a matter of seconds, he felt the boulder rock and then start to move slowly sideways away from the portal. He rose quickly, still taking care not to bang his head, and watched the light grow and seep into what he now saw was a cave, a tomb, until the gap was wide enough for him to step out into low sunshine of the dawn light.

Emerging from the tomb he gave a friendly nod to the two slightly glowing figures, that had freed him. ‘Thanks Michael, Gabriel, I could have been in there ages.’ ‘Try to keep yourself out of trouble for a while, Jesus.’, Michael said, just before both he and Gabriel both disappeared, a second too soon for Jesus to ask one more question. ‘What day is it?’

Forsaken

Separated from the Father?

Christ On The Cross, by Eugène Delacroix, 1798 – 1863

On the day that Jesus is crucified, when he is hanging nailed to the cross, at around three in the afternoon he is heard to say “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” (UKNIV Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34). It seems to be generally assumed that he has become separated from his father, can no longer feel His presence. Is there be another possibility?

Jesus knows he is going to die, that is clear. He prophesied his own death to his disciples, though they don’t listen, don’t believe or don’t understand. As well as knowing he was to die, Jesus knew why and quite possibly when.

You and me know we are going to die too. Only a very few people know when and with the exception of suicide, the time of their death. The very old probably realise why they die; They reach the natural end of thier life. Most of us do not know when, why or how we will die. We probably expect to live into a ripe, old age.

As I have aged my fear of death has diminished. I think that happens for most people as they get older. What I am afraid of now is not being dead, it is the manner of my dying.

Is it possible that Jesus’ cry of “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” as he was crucified was because of the manner of his death, not because he was afraid to die and not because he was experiencing separation from God His Father?

Jesus crucifixion was a brutal act. It was unjust, but that is not relevant in this context. It would have been excruciatingly painful. Most men probably could not have born such agony for so long, knowing their life was ebbing away. I am not saying any other interpretation is wrong, only that I think the scenario I offer bears consideration.

Covenant

But what is a covenant?

In the Old Testament, God establishes his covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:8-17), “for all generations to come” (UK NIV). But what really is a covenant?

Almost every one of us probably has a fair understanding of what a contract is. We probably enter into some kind of contract every day. Every time we buy something in a shop, we enter into a contract, in that example a consumer contract, in which every person who buys the same thing gets it on the same terms and conditions.

A contract requires an offer of some product or service, an acceptance of the offer and a consideration, some form of payment for the product or service, usually but not always financial.

Contracts can be express, where every little detail is explicitly spelled out, or implied, where under normal circumstances the buyer has a reasonable expectation that a product or service be supplied in a certain way, for example a meal in a restaurant will be properly cooked.

But what exactly is a covenant? It’s not a promise, because a promise does not require a consideration, or it would become a contract. Neither is it really a contract, with every little detail upheld by law.

I have trouble actually defining a covenant myself, though I think I know a good example, found in the original 1960 film, The Magnificent Seven.

A poor Mexican village has hired a group of seven gunfighters to protect them from outlaw raiders that steal their crops. At a stage where it looks like the hired men might have bitten off more than they can chew, we hear them having a discussion about whether to stay in the village or leave.

A short snippet of their conversation when someone suggests they leave goes:

Chris:  “You forget one thing. We took a contract.”
Vin:   “It’s not the kind courts enforce.”
Chris:  That´s just the kind you’ve gotta keep.

That, it seems to me, is the essence of covenant over contract. A matter of honesty and honour.

The Christmas Interviews: The Guide

The Guide

The 2nd dream, Daniele Crespi, 1620-1630

Reporter: Lastly I  found  the guide Esme suggested I might talk with.

Welcome Shimon. You are a travel guide available for hire, and you have been taken on to lead the astrologer’s caravan?

Shimon: I take work where I can get it. I travel a lot so acting as a guide is one of my lines of work.

Reporter: But I understand you were taken on locally, you have not travelled with them before.

Shimon: Yes that’s right.

Reporter: Do you know why the astrologers hired a guide after arriving at their destination? It’s more usual to have a guide to get to a place.

Shimon: I can’t be sure why but they want a different route out of Israel to the way they came. They have specifically said that they want to avoid Herod’s palace. I was told they stopped there on the way to Bethlehem.

Reporter: And you’ve no idea why they wish to find a different way to return to their home?

Shimon: You must have heard the rumours around here, that Herod is looking for a child. Word has it that the child could take Herod’s throne when he grows. So I’m guessing that the astrologers know something of the child that they don’t want to tell Herod.

Reporter:  Thank you for your time, Shimon.

I wasn’t able to track down the couple with their child, Jesus. The last snippet of information I was able to pick up is that the parents may have taken him out of Israel, possibly making their way to Egypt, lending credence to the story Herod my be searching for them.

If anything new comes to light, we’ll bring it to you first. For now, goodbye.

The Shepherds
The Innkeeper’s Wife
The Wise Men’s Cook

The Christmas Interviews: The Wise Men’s Cook

The Wise Men’s Cook

The Magi Journeying by James Tissot c. 1890

Reporter: It took me a few more days to track down the “well dressed visitors”. They were not from the local area and by the time I found them, they had rejoined their caravan at a camp a little way outside Bethlehem. I wasn’t able to speak with the visitors to the baby personally but I with a little persuasion, a couple of members of their retinue agreed to speak with me.

First Esme, the caravan’s cook. Hello Esme. You’ve been with the caravan for the whole journey I understand?

Esme: Yes, all except when they visited a palace, King Herod’s I think, and here in Bethlehem. We had to camp outside while they went in to the palace and town.

Reporter: I understand your masters came from the East, just to see the child. What can you tell me about them and about the child?

Esme: I’ll tell you what little I can. They’re called Balthazar, Melchior and Gaspar. Melchior seems to be senior. They study the stars. Astrologers I think they call themselves, or maybe astronomers I’m not sure.

Reporter: And do you know what brought them to Bethlehem, Esme?

Esme: Mostly it’s just gossip and rumour but they apparently saw a conjunction forming in the stars. They’d predicted that the stars would coalesce over this town. They didn’t know the name of it until they got here, they just followed the stars. They thought it was some kind of portent.

Reporter: Do you know what they found when they arrived?

Esme: Again only gossip. They found a child, low born but they say he’s destined to lead the people, maybe even become a king.

One other thing, they hired a new local guide. You could try talking to him.

Reporter: Thank you for talking with me Esme.

The Shepherds
The Innkeeper’s Wife