Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Bible Study: Sometimes, It's not Love, but Honour

The Luke 11 "Ask, Seek, Knock," passage has been on my mind recently. Especially the story about the man who wakes his neighbour. And I think that strange mistranslation has crept into most of our bibles in this story. The point of the story is not the knocking friend's persistence. The story is not about persistence at all or repetition or even as one bible puts it, impudence(!)

As a non-scholar in Greek, how can I say this? Well, compare the story with that of the father giving scorpions for fish. The two stories are a unit, that much is obvious. And equally obvious is that the intent of the second story is to horrify the listener with the idea of a father who will not supply his children with that which good, sustaining and life-giving, but rather that which indigestible, unclean and poisonous.

So I would propose that the first story was also horrifying (probably slightly less horrifying -- we are leading to a climax here) to Jesus' listeners. The idea that a friend and fellow villager would not help to take care of the newly arrived traveller was received, by this line of reasoning, was to them a horrifying thought. And as an aside, I'm not being very original here. I've heard this elsewhere, in some sermon or Bible School lecture. And five minute's googling turned up ample evidence that my memory is not faulty and that wiser heads than mine have said the same about this passage. Historically, care of travellers was a matter of honour. The whole village's reputation was at stake. The selfishness of the so-called friend's reply in the first story is a rhetorical device. He is saying what would never be said! --in the very same way that the earthly father in the second is doing what what would never be done. So whatever the word ought to be, it can't be 'persistence.' Hopefully, Greek scholars will bear me out on this.

So where am I going with this? It's clear to me that ultimately these two parables are pointing to one idea, which is that it concerns God's honour to answer our prayers. And to complete the thought, it concerns his honour to give the Holy Spirit to his children when they ask. I have to say that this is my favourite part of the passage, that it all points to the availability of the Holy Spirit to us and that it would be as horrifying for him not to give the Spirit as a father giving a scorpion when asked for an egg. But that's not what I'm getting at here. There's no mention in this passage of his love for us, great though that is. It's his honour, that is, his righteousness, that is highlighted here.

God is not a one-dimensional character. Yes, I'm being a bit hobby-horse-ish here but I defend myself by saying that it's only in reaction to others hobby horses. I see very much posted these days that filters everything through an all-encompassing idea of God's love. And I'm saying that even that single idea, grand though it is, is just like every other single idea when made the only lens through which God and all his acts and commands are viewed. Distortion ensues. Here's a passage about asking and receiving good things from our Father. Surely, some mention would be made about his love for us. But Jesus even downplays the friendship -- the love -- in the first story and makes it about the honour of the village (or so I argue above.) Well, I could go on and on about what I've covered in earlier posts about the necessity of God's wrath along with his love, assaulting motherhood, yeah, and apple pie with all the orneriness in me but instead I'll say this: I'm personally glad God has pledged not only his love, but his honour to being our good Father. It's something to take to the bank.

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