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Article Index
The ‘Our Father’ of My Childhood
The Contexts of the Story
The Historical Context of the Our Father
My Historical Context
Blending Contexts in an On-going History
Companions on the Way
The Word ‘Debt/Indebted’ in the Our Father
Main Focus on Luke 11:4
Usual Interpretation of ‘Sin’ and ‘Debt’
Larger Than Sin
Indebtedness in Jesus’ Historical Setting
Where has the Jubilee Year Gone?
Rabbi Hillel’s Prosbul
The Significance of the Word ‘Debt’
The Jubilee Year in the Lk 4:16-30
More Than Sin-Orientation: The Kingdom of God
Breaking Fixed or Petrified Perspectives
Re-reading Lk 11:4 Through Jesus’ Eyes
Re-reading Lk 11:4 Through the Eyes of an Awakened, Poor Jew
Re-reading Lk 11:4 in the Larger Context of Luke’s Gospel
Lk 18: 18-27: a Commentary on Luke’s ‘Our Father’.
Social Justice in the Larger Context of Luke-Acts
Re-reading Lk 11:4 in the Context of Acts 2 and 4
Re-reading Luke 11:4 in My Context
The Need for an Alternative Spirituality
Before We Part Ways: Time to Recharge and Refresh
As We Part
Bibliography
Footnotes
All Pages

Re-reading Lk 11:4 in the Larger Context of Luke’s Gospel. Interestingly, the aforementioned reconstruction of what an awakened, poor Jew might have thought when he/she heard Luke’s ‘Our Father’ is solidly grounded on the larger context of Luke. We then proceed to further substantiate our alternative reading of Lk 11:4 by exploring more on Luke’s gospel.

The ‘Our Father’ was taught by Jesus within the section inclusive of Lk 9:51-24:53 which is called as the Jerusalem narrative or travel narrative because it tells the story of Jesus’ journey towards Jerusalem as well as his activities there. As in other biblical narratives, we find in the Jerusalem narrative of Luke the deep concern of Yahweh with his people especially in terms of social justice issues -- we find this concretely manifested in the stories about Jesus and important Jerusalem characters, notably the elite Jewish leadership.

The elite Jewish leaders who collaborated with the Romans resided in Jerusalem. At this point, it is important to name them. They were the chief priests, elders, scribes (or lawyers) and Pharisees. The phrase ‘chief priests and elders’ referred to the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish council that decided upon all Jewish affairs and concerns. The scribes were also called lawyers. The Pharisees, scribes/lawyers -- who, like the Sanhedrin, were considered as ‘leaders of the people’ -- often enjoyed the title, rabbi or teacher.

In the context of the Jerusalem narrative in Luke, we may say that the ‘Our Father’ was not only taught to disciples who longed for the Kingdom; it had also a radical message regarding social justice which was especially addressed to Jerusalem leaders and the rich who were stumbling blocks or hindrances to the Kingdom’s manifestation because they oppressed the poor in many ways (or caused many forms of social injustice). This message was enlightening to some (like Zacchaeus) but not to others (like the elite Jewish leaders). We follow the stories of these characters in order for us to see the emphasis of Luke on Jesus’ mission of the Kingdom of God as essentially about social justice; accordingly, we can see more clearly the significance of the alternative reading of Lk 11:4 within the larger context of Luke.

Luke 11: 42 portrays Jesus as critical of the Pharisees for their neglect of justice:

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs

of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these

you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.

Also, Luke 20:46-47 portrays Jesus as critical of the scribes because they devoured widow’s houses:

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

The widows in Israel represented the most poor and oppressed inasmuch as they had no husbands to protect them and provide for their needs. The scribes were so greedy indeed that they did not spare even the widows. Yet, ironically, they wanted to appear as religious and respectable.

The tone of the aforementioned passages sounds similar to Isaiah’s critique of the Jewish religious leaders because of their practice of social injustice (recall Is 1:11-17 above).

Luke 11: 46-48 shows Jesus’ critical stance against the lawyers (scribes):

And he said, “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people

with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a

finger to ease them. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of

the prophets whom your ancestors killed. So you are witnesses

and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them,

and you build their tombs.”

The lawyers (scribes) in Jesus’ time loaded the people with burdens hard to bear. This line cannot but remind us of the burdensome prosbul instituted by Rabbi Hillel. Also, Jesus mentions the prophets who were killed by the ancestors of the lawyers. These ancestors were the scribes who served as secretaries, finance officers, advisers to kings, teachers of the Law or jurists since the time of the monarchy (around 1000BCE or Before the Common Era). Let us remember at this point that the elite Jewish leadership (to whom these ancestors belonged) killed the prophets.

Nothing has substantially changed regarding the nature of elite Jewish leadership during Jesus’ time. No wonder Jesus called Temple authorities, that is, the Temple scribes (lawyers), the other leaders of the people and the chief priests as robbers:

Luke 19:45-47

Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him…

At this point, it is helpful to mention that in Jesus’ time, the Temple was not only a center of religion. It was also the center of politics and economic activities. It was where the elite Jewish leaders collaborated with the Romans; it was where money-changing, tax collection and trade took place. It was the center that siphoned the resources of the poor for the luxury of the Roman Empire and the elite Jewish leaders. Hence, instead of being God’s house (or house of prayer), the Temple in Jesus’ time had become a center of social injustice, or, in Jesus’ words, a den of robbers.

Because of their practice of social injustice (which, we recall, has been a great sin of Israel since the monarchy) Jesus pronounced heavy words of destruction against the elite Jewish leaders:

Luke 20:9-37

He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants in order that they might give him his share of the produce of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Next he sent another slave; that one also they beat and insulted and sent away empty-handed. And he sent still a third; this one also they wounded and threw out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they discussed it among themselves and said, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance may be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Heaven forbid!” But he looked at them and said, “What then does this text mean: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.

The aforementioned reading finds affinity with Luke 16: 19-31:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. ? And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, ?who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. ? The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. ? In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. ?He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ ? But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. ? Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ ?He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— ?for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ ? Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ ?He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ ? He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

In the story, we find a rich man who did not practice social justice. Having realized after death that his neglect of the poor led him to torment, he wanted his five brothers to be warned so that they may not go to Hades.[26] Abraham replied that his brothers should listen to Moses and the prophets. In connection with this, it is helpful to know that the Jubilee Year can be found in the Deuteronomic or Mosaic Torah[27] whose spirit was carried out by the prophets in their teachings about social justice. Accordingly, the mention of Moses and the prophets refers to their message of social justice as condition for salvation. We explore this further in the following discussions.

Luke 18: 18-27 portrays Jesus as dialoging with a rich ruler[28] about the way of entering the Kingdom of God or attaining salvation:

A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’ ” He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”

This passage, when read carefully, brings out perfectly the message of our alternative reading of Luke 11:4. Note well that eternal life and salvation, in the context of the passage, are synonymous to the Kingdom of God. Regarding the question about the way to enter the Kingdom, (or to be saved, or to enter eternal life) Jesus, in reply, required the rich ruler to distribute his wealth to the poor. This means that if ever he practiced the prosbul, the rich ruler should cease to enforce it so that social justice may be served. In this way, he could alleviate the poor from poverty. And yes, even if the rich ruler did not practice the prosbul, Jesus exhorted him to radically share his money. This shows Jesus’ strong concern about the Kingdom value of social justice. Seeing the rich ruler saddened after hearing the challenge, Jesus remarked that it is very hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom.



 
 


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