Gospels Week 6: Parables II (Lost Sheep and More)

Reading

Assorted parables (see below)

Questions

  • What about the other 99 sheep?
  • What does Jesus mean?

Last week, we read parables roughly around the theme of growth: parables about how the Kingdom of Heaven will blossom and when it will arrive. This week’s focus is more on who gets to go — what qualifies you to reach it?

The Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1–16)

  • “Are you jealous because I am generous?” Who is the I, who is the landowner, who are the labourers?
  • Perhaps it’s about faith alone; it doesn’t matter when you come to faith, only that you come to faith. As Mephistopheles put it, you don’t get “extra points” for believing in Jesus early.
  • What about the rich/poor distinction, and capitalism? Is God the landowner, i.e., the capitalist?
    • Our Bibles have different translations of this. The NIV and Good News Bible have some version of “I can do what I want with my money,” whereas the NSRV has “with what belongs to me” (i.e., the human souls…).
  • What does Jesus say about fairness here? Uriel points out that in experiments with gibbons, the gibbons who were formerly perfectly happy being rewarded with sunflower seeds started freaking out when the gibbon next to them started getting grapes instead. Surely the idea of fairness is an in-built instinct for humans, as it seems to be for gibbons?
  • Lucifer‘s takeaway is that actually, fairness doesn’t have a lot to do with it. Maybe this is too much like Job, but the end result of a lot of these parables seems to be that God/Jesus is very arbitrary, and a good life is one that accepts that.
  • There’s also a lot of contractualism (“you agreed to be paid the wage”). Again, the covenants!

The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3–7, Matthew 18:12–14)

We read Luke’s version of this, because it crescendoes really nicely into the Parable of the Lost Coin and then the Parable of the Prodigal (Lost) Son.

  • How do we balance out not wanting to encourage fuck-ups, but also forgiving fuck-ups when they happen?
  • Gabriel points out that the argument seems to be very anti-utilitarian, defying the logic game in which the 99 other sheep also got lost, or eaten by wolves.
  • There’s a certain amount of gratitude that losing something inspires — it’s hard to really value something until you lose it.
  • Is Queen Elizabeth II a descendant of the Lost Tribes of Israel? (a kind of random sidebar).

The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32)

  • Lots of parallels with the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin, but also is the longest and most emotional of the parables. We also get a sense of what the other 99 sheep might have said (“Umm hello, I didn’t get lost!”), similar to the workers in the vineyard who wanted more wages than the people who came for a single hour at the end.
  • How do we then read something like the stories of Cain and Abel, or Esau and Jacob?

We finished off with a somewhat confusing discussion of the Parable of the Shrewd Manager. We are still not clear about whether the manager was good or not, or dishonest or what. But: don’t hoard!


Takeaways:

We kind of have to accept that Jesus knew what he was talking about?

Gems from the Convo

Gibbons freaking LOVE grapes.

Uriel

This reads like “Judaism FAQ”

Mephistopheles

Image: “The Lost Sheep” by Yongsung Kim.

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