Friday, January 21, 2011

Unsmudged Paper

I am overdue for a post, so let me begin “post-haste.” 
The FFOZ Torah Club study that I’m attending is using volume 4 - the Chronicles of the Messiah. The last two Parashah were called Shemot and Va’era, which are the names of the Torah portions. Since volume 4 is actually going through the Gospels, the key texts for these two weeks are Luke 5:12-39 (Shemot) and Matthew 12:1-14 (Va’era). The commentaries in both have done an excellent job of shedding new light on the words of Jesus. I’d like to present a few examples.
Parasha Shemot - Gospel: Luke 5:12-39   New Wineskins
Context: In Luke, chapters 4 and 5, Jesus heals a man with an unclean spirit on the Sabbath, he heals Peter’s mother in law on the same Sabbath, heals a leper by touching him, and then there’s the famous story of the paralytic being lowered through the roof of Peter’s house. In the latter, the demonstration of healing and forgiveness of sins takes place before the astonished eyes of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. Just as in the healing of the paralytic by the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath, the response is not joy that someone has been made well, but rather ridicule and condemnation, which totally misses the point of what God had intended: the health of a person is more important than a rigid interpretation of the Torah.
In Luke chapter 5, Jesus has selected his first few disciples. Four fishermen: Simon Peter and Andrew (sons of Jonah), James/Jacob and John (sons of Zebedee), and Matthew the tax collector. Matthew was so excited about being selected that he held a great feast at his house and invited all of his friends and Jesus’ retinue of followers. A few Pharisees and scribes were there as well. 
Amidst the feast and celebration, the “Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
He also told them two parables: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But the new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking the old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”
What does the parable of the wineskins mean? The approach that is typically found in Christian commentaries is:
1. Old Wine = Law/Judaism/Old Covenant/ vs. New Wine = Grace/Christianity/New Covenant. The Gospel of Grace in the New Covenant has come to replace the Law and the Old Covenant; this is analogous to the fact that old wineskins can’t handle new wine without breaking.
Here is a sampling of comments of this type of thinking from various sources:
“The point of these two metaphors is that one cannot mix the old and the new covenant and that the new covenant era inaugurated by Jesus’ coming will require repentance, and new forms of worship.” ESV Study Bible
“The old covenant prepared the way for the new and must disappear to make way for a righteousness and a Kingdom from heaven – a new and living way from above that is not from the earth but which fills the earth with God’s glory. To reject this is to wander in the wilderness and die. But to embrace and live in Jesus is to live as a son in the Spirit without limit.” Without Human Hands From NEW WAY, NEW WINESKIN, NEW COVENANT Keith Allen 11/20/2010
“Gases from new, fermenting wine force brittle, old wineskins to expand and burst (Matt. 9:16–17). Likewise, the new covenant cannot be contained in the forms and rituals of the old. Jesus fulfills and thereby changes the forms of old covenant piety (Heb. 7:11–19), and only those who fail to trust Jesus have the audacity to protest this transformation.”
“Old wineskins were fitting for the old wine.  The Law did its job, and it did it well (Romans 7:12).  But its job was to point people to the cross and to Christ, Who had come in the flesh.  If new wine was available in Jesus, then it made no sense to put it into old wineskins which would break as soon as the wine was poured in.  The Law had done its job, and the new wine needed new wineskins.  The new wine of forgiveness in Christ needs to go in the new wineskin of grace.  We were under law, but now we are under grace (Romans 6:14).  The old covenant is over, and the new covenant has been established.  Christ is the centerpiece and the focus.  We must drink of Him (John 7:37).”
These types of comments miss the point of the parables because they are based on an anti-Law prejudice that came later in history; i.e., they are anachronistic. The first century believers at this time (including Yeshua!) were all Jewish and they all agreed that the Torah was important. This disagreement between Rabbi Yeshua and the Jewish contingent from Jerusalem has to do with his choice of disciples. Their question, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” is in effect saying, why did you choose uneducated, undisciplined, common people for your disciples? We would never do such a thing.” 
Jesus replied that Jews that are righteous don’t need a physician. He is saying that Jews who believe in God and obey the Torah for the right motives (within a reasonable level, since no one can do so perfectly), are “righteous”. This is before Jesus has completely revealed himself as the Messiah, so accepting “Jesus as their personal Savior” isn’t an option at this point. Jesus is telling the Pharisees that He came to save people like Matthew because they have drifted away from the center of Biblical faith. They are the lost sheep that He is seeking. Then come the two parables; I’ll concentrate on the wineskin one. 
Jesus came to inaugurate the Kingdom. He is about to go through the villages of Israel to preach repentance and announce that the Kingdom of God is here. But Jesus doesn’t intend to do it all; He will need to send disciples throughout the country and eventually the world to spread the Gospel. Who can do this best? Disciples who are young at heart in that they have minds that are like clean slates or unsmudged paper; easy to teach and anxious to learn. The rabbinic document Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers) uses similar terminology, as FFOZ points out in their excellent research on the topic: 
“Elisha ben Avuyah said, “He who studies as a child, unto what can he be compared?? He can be compared to ink written upon a fresh [new] sheet of paper. But he who studies as an adult, unto what can he be compared? He can be compared to ink written on a smudged [previously used and erased] sheet of paper.” Rabbi Yose be Yehudah of the city of Babylon said, “He who learns from the young, unto what can he be compared? He can be compared to one who eats unripe grapes, and drinks unfermented wine from his vat. But he who learns from the old, unto what can he be compared? He can be compared to one who eats ripe grapes, and drinks old wine.” 
Rabbi Meir said, “Do not pay attention to the container but pay attention to that which is in it. There is a new container full of old wine, and here is an old container which does not even contain new wine.”(m.Avot 4:20)
“The discussion in Pirkei Avot compares different types of teachers, disciples, and the quality of their scholarship. It uses some of the same symbolic language as Yeshua’s double parable...The vessels containing the wine are individual disciples and teachers. The wine is the teaching that an individual teacher presents and the disciple consumes. Applying the same symbolism to the parable of the wineskin works as follows:
New wineskins = uneducated students
Old wineskins = previously educated students
New wine = a new teaching or interpretation of Torah
Old wine = a previously learned teaching or interpretation of Torah
Meaning = New teaching requires previously uneducated students because previously educated students prefer the Torah they have already learned.” Torah Club Volume 4 Chronicles of the Messiah. page 316 FFOZ
This is not to say that old scholars are not good people; the issue is not salvation but effectiveness. Jesus’ job description may seem to have an age prejudice. As someone who is nearing retirement and looking for a job, I’m well aware of the stigma that age can have with those who are hiring. Fortunately, Jesus has openings for all ages and skills. It just makes it easier to learn from our Rabbi if we come to the Kingdom like a child, with our paper unsmudged and our slate as clean as we can make it. 
Next: “Greater than the Temple” from Parasha Va’era. Upcoming attractions:
I will write about an interesting tie-in between The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels and my Lutheran heritage. I’d also like to comment on how Lutherans look at prophecy. And finally, I’m going to produce a short video on the Biblical festivals.

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