To Have and to Have Not

Luke 8:4-18

Luke’s version of the parable of the sower and the lamp under a jar have a very different setting from the original in Mark.  In Mark, the parables are in a cluster.  The cluster begins with the Sower and the interpretation, but then goes further with an illustration about seed and harvest, concluding with the parable of the mustard seed.

Luke seems to be concerned with secret knowledge, revealed only to the disciples closest to Jesus.  In fact, Luke’s Jesus goes so far as to say that he tells parables specifically to confuse people and exclude them from the kingdom: “. . . the rest get only parables, so that they may look but not see, listen but not understand.”  Luke’s Jesus reflects Isaiah 6:9-10.  The Prophet has just accepted his call, and God tells him to tell the people “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.  Make the mind of the people dull . . . so that they may not . . . turn and be healed.”  God’s judgment is going to descend on the people until “the land is utterly desolate.”

Like all cherry-picking to make a point, Luke’s cherry-picking of Isaiah was probably done for a specific social-political reason that applied to the time and place and circumstances of Luke’s community.  The cherry-picking by the inventors of the Revised Common Lectionary may also have a purpose.  The reference to Isaiah 6:9-10 – which appears in all three synoptic Gospels– is never read throughout the three-year lectionary cycle.  Perhaps this is a good thing.  The phrase when considered alone flies in the face of everything Jesus stood for – especially in Luke’s hands.

There is some hope, however, that the light will eventually shine.  The prophet Isaiah is warning that God’s wrath (justifiable action) will be exacted on the people until there is nothing left but a stump, from which new life may sprout.  Luke’s Jesus says, “No one lights a lamp and covers it with a pot or puts it under a bed; rather one puts it on a lampstand so that those who come in can see the light.  After all, there is nothing hidden that won’t be brought to light, nor secreted away that won’t be made known and exposed.”  The disciples are to take the secrets of God’s kingdom to others.  The seed will fall on rocky, thorny, dry, or fertile soil.

That being the case, Luke’s Jesus seems to be saying, pay attention to how you are listening to the message.  Are you receptive (fertile); rocky (rejecting); thorny (resisting); or dry (uninterested)?  Because . . . but here the non-sequitur called “to have and have not” throws us off the track.  The Jesus Seminar scholars suggest that “Luke presumably wants the reader to know that those who grasp at the initial stages of faith will be given more to understand as they mature” (The Five Gospels  p. 307).

But in Luke’s story of the woman with the alabaster jar (see blog.02.28.10), which comes  right before the parable of the sower, Jesus’ point is that “the one who is forgiven little shows little love.” The placement was probably not an accident.  When the woman appears at the symposium and disrupts the exclusive gathering, Luke’s Jesus stops the host from throwing her out.  He says, “her sins, many as they are, have been forgiven, as this outpouring of her love shows.”  At the end of the vignette with the parable of the sower, he offers a corollary:  “in fact, to those who have more will be given, and from those who don’t have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.”

“It is impossible to know what the original circumstances were when Jesus first told the parables; it is highly unlikely he associated those parables with his observations about the hidden lamp and to have and have not.  But taken in sequence, each of Mark’s parables about the sowers and the seeds builds on the one before it.  The aphorisms in the midst of these parables serve as hints to their meaning for Mark’s oppressed, exiled community.  Mark seems to be using them to explain that Jesus was the Son of Man, as prophesied in Daniel, come to usher in the Kingdom of God, and usher out the Empire of Rome.  All will be made clear, Mark says, and nothing will look like what we expect.  It will be a non-violent shift in paradigm, not a violent revolution.  The Kingdom of God – or God’s Rule – goes on all around us, whether we notice it or not, whether we participate in it or not.  But the consequences of not participating are clear: “to those who have, more will be given, and from those who don’t have, even what they do have will be taken away.”  If we follow the same unjust standards that the Empire follows, the same will be done to us “and then some!” Blog.06.14.09.

The commentary in The Five Gospels (p. 306) suggests that Jesus’s parables are “an invitation to join in, but to do so as continuing “outsiders” (which is what the Apostle Paul also seems to be saying as he interprets Jesus’s life and teachings).  “To be included in the great feast, it is an advantage to be uninvited, so to speak, for it is only the uninvited who finally get into the banquet hall.”

Traditionally, the story of the woman with the alabaster jar is about a penitent whore.  The parable of the sower is about faith, or belief, in the story that Jesus died to save people from personal sin.  In Luke’s mind, personal sin includes wealth and pleasure that prevent people from becoming “mature,” so that they can receive the secret to producing good fruit.  But these interpretations let wealthy, comfortable, liberal folk off the hook.  Luke’s point is piety, not the power humanity has to transform the quality of life on Planet Earth.

Last week’s blog suggested that Haiti was the prefect example of the pariah who crashes the party (liberated itself from slavery in 1804), only to be saddled with crushing debt as reparation for the enslaved people stealing themselves from the French.  To the extent the rest of the world forgives Haiti’s debt, Haiti will be able to contribute to the sustainability – even wealth – of the nations.

This week, the Planet has supplied yet another example, this time of the corollary: “to have and have not.”  Chile is close to joining the club of fully developed nations.  Some of the Chilean earthquake experts, now needed in Santiago after the 8.8 Richter cataclysm 21 miles below Concepcion, were still in Haiti, advising that government how to rebuild.  The President of Chile at first declined the need for international assistance, but then changed her mind.  Chile has much more to offer in terms of expertise, wealth, and resources than Haiti, and will receive far more in both economic and infrastructure assistance as a result.  Already the world price for copper has gone up by $7.  Aid groups are now pulling out of Haiti because there is nothing more they can do for a country that has nothing.

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