More and more recently I’ve found that reading the Bible through the eyes of the Jewish context that Jesus lived in opens up a world that often I believed I had received everything there was to gain from, but which in fact I am barely scratching the surface of.
The more I read and more I hear different stories with the Jewishness of the situation brought to the forefront the more I realise how much Jesus was radical and life changing. This for someone who has spent their whole life, like many others, believing everything they heard about Jesus, is incredible.
Case in Point. While reading the story of the Prodigal Son again (incidentally if any one story continues to reveal new mysteries it is this one) I was struck by the idea of why the Prodigal son decided to ask for his inheritance in the first place. Later in the story when his older brother confronts his father on why they are now supposed to celebrate his returning brother’s return the Father kindly and softly (I imagine) replies with the words,
“‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”
Everything I have is yours. Not “just be patient because in a few years you will own all this” but everything I have is yours. Present. Now. Currently.
The prodigal son I assume had the same promises. He didn’t want for anything. So why did he feel the need to leave it all behind and go searching for something else.
It seems that both brothers had forgotten what it meant to be part of a family and the benefits that that entails. Food, shelter, security, guidance, love. One had forgotten and decided that they were going to look for something else, somewhere else. While the other had stuck around believing that they needed to work hard just to remain in the family.
The older brother’s blindness to this is evident from his question/grumble
‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.”
When we live in God’s family we spend so much time wondering how we can be better. Like the rich young man we look for answers to the question what can I do to inherit the kingdom of God. For the first Christians and for the Jewish people the kingdom of God was the time where God would unite the New Heaven and the New Earth. The young man was asking for rules to keep so that he would be able to be part of that new age when it arrived. What can I do today to be part of tomorrow?
In truth we still act this way. We want to know what the rules are that a good Christian should follow to be part of God’s family and get to Heaven. Is it no drinking, go to Church every Sunday, read the Bible everyday, don’t look at porn? But Jesus’ answer to the man reveals what truly is important for us. He told the man to give all his possessions to the poor. A pretty big ask for someone who has a lot. But Jesus point was more than a rule to follow. It was a call to a change in character. A change in seeing what was important. To put the poor’s needs above our own. Jesus often used this Jewish literary tool exaggeration to make a point and get to a truth behind what seemed like an obvious command or statement. Jesus doesn’t really want us to gourge out our eyes if we sin, but he wants us to confront the seriousness of it.
We’re not called to follow specific rules as much as called to changing our character to one where we see where we are going (a renewed Earth with Heaven right in the middle) and starting to follow Jesus into becoming people that inhabit the traits that will exist there, all for God’s glory.
The great news is that this isn’t just something that is coming but is already here. Jesus death and resurrection has brought about the early stages of this. The early Jewish Christian listeners of these ideas from Jesus and later Paul would have understood this. We are in Jesus. Jesus died and is resurrected therefore we are in Jesus and have died and resurrected too. Sin has been defeated and we are called to act, not as if this will be true someday, but because it is, right now.
Just like the two brothers.
They had forgotten what it meant to inherit their Father’s home. Inheritance in Jewish and Greek thought was something that was given as a gift and that you may already have at your disposal.
The younger brother was unhappy with or perhaps had forgotten what he already had. What was already true. So he went searching someplace else for fulfillment. Maybe today we have been taught that God is a strict task master that demands us to give up life and follow rules so we go searching for something more freeing. Or being a person of faith, rather than being about love and hope for the whole world means to be part of a lot of disagreements or fighting, and we decide that we don’t want a part to play in it.
Then there was the older brother who believed he had to work extra hard to stay a part of the family. So today maybe we get bogged down with doing the right things like not missing a Church service, or feeling guilty if we don’t spend time with God. Or even feeling let down when we see people who have ruined their lives have them turned around through God’s grace, while we have never missed Sunday School once in our life and we still don’t get any credit.
God’s gift of new life is our inheritance and it is not something that we need to work at gaining but can accept freely today. It may not be complete yet but it has arrived. We’re called to possess characteristics of the people who will inhabit the New Heaven and Earth simply because it is happening now.
Not like it’s happening, but because it is.