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THE PARABLE OF THE FOOLISH RICH MAN.
was still unreaped, and might be garnered long after he was dead. CHAP. His life was not sustained by that part of his possessions which were the 'superabounding.' But to this folly was also added sin. For, God was not in all his thoughts. In all his plans for the future— and it was his folly to make such absolutely-he thought not of God. His whole heart was set on the acquisition of earthly riches-not on the service of God. He remembered not his responsibility; all that he had, was for himself, and absolutely his own, to batten upon; 'Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, be merry.' He did not even remember, that there was a God Who might cut short his years.
So had he spoken in his heart-proud, selfish, self-indulgent, God-forgetting as he looked forth upon what was not yet, even in an inferior sense, his own, but which he already treated as such, and that in the most absolute sense. And now comes the quick, sharp, contrast, which is purposely introduced quite abruptly. But God said unto him—not by revelation, nor through inward presentiment, but, with awful suddenness, in those unspoken words of fact which cannot be gainsaid or answered: "Thou fool! this very night'— which follows on thy plans and purposings-thy soul is required of thee. But, the things which thou hast prepared, whose shall they be?' Here, with the obvious evidence of the folly of such state of mind, the Parable breaks off. Its sinfulness—nay, and beyond this negative aspect of it, the wisdom of righteousness in laying up the good treasure which cannot be taken from us, appears in this concluding remark of Christ-So is he who layeth up treasure (treasureth) for himself, and is not rich towards God.'
a Shabb. 153 a, line
It was a barbed arrow, we might say, out of the Jewish quiver, but directed by the Hand of the Lord. For, we read in the Talmud a that a Rabbi told his disciples, Repent the day before thy death;' 16 &c. from and when his disciples asked him: Does a man know the day of his death?' he replied, that on that very ground he should repent to-day, lest he should die to-morrow. And so would all his days be days of repentance. Again, the Son of Sirach wrote: There is Ecclus. xi. that waxeth rich by his wariness and pinching, and this is the portion of his reward: whereas he saith, I have found rest, and now will eat continually of my goods; and yet he knoweth not what time shall come upon him, and that he must leave those things to others, and die.' But we sadly miss in all this the spiritual application which Christ made. Similarly, the Talmud, by a play on the last word Jer. Shabb. (5), in the first verse of Psalm xlix., compares man to the weasel,
14 c, top
a Debar. R.
P. 19 b, line
6 from top
b St. Luke xiii. 6-9
e Kil. v. 4
4 Baba K. 91 a
which laboriously gathers and deposits, not knowing for whom, while the Midrasha tells a story, how, when a Rabbi returned from a feast where the host had made plans of storing his wine for a future occasion, the Angel of Death appeared to him, sad for man, since you say, thus and thus shall we do in the future, while no one knoweth how soon he shall be called to die,' as would be the case with the host of that evening, who would die after the lapse of thirty days. But once more we ask, where is the spiritual application, such as was made by Christ? So far from it, the Midrash adds, that when the Rabbi challenged the Angel to show him the time of his own death, he received this reply, that he had not dominion over the like of him, since God took pleasure in their good works, and added to their days! 2. The special warning intended to be conveyed by the Parable of the Barren Fig-tree sufficiently appears from the context. As explained in a previous chapter,' the Lord had not only corrected the erroneous interpretation which the Jews were giving to certain recent national occurrences, but pointed them to this higher moral of all such events, that, unless speedy national repentance followed, the whole people would perish. This Parable offers not merely an exemplification of this general prediction of Christ, but sets before us what underlies it: Israel in its relation to God; the need of repentance; Israel's danger; the nature of repentance, and its urgency; the relation of Christ to Israel; the Gospel; and the final judgment on impenitence.
As regards the details of this Parable, we mark that the fig-tree had been specially planted by the owner in the vineyard, as in the choicest situation. This, we know, was not unusual. Fig-trees, as well as palm and olive-trees, were regarded as so valuable, that to cut them down, if they yielded even a small measure of fruit, was popularly deemed to deserve death at the Hand of God.d Ancient Jewish writings supply interesting particulars of this tree and its culture. According to Josephus, in favoured localities the ripe fruit hung on War iii. 10. the tree for ten months of the year, the two barren months being probably April and May, before the first of the three crops which it bore had ripened. The first figs ripened towards the end of June, sometimes earlier. The second, which are those now dried and exported, ripened in August; the third, which were small and of comparatively little value, in September, and often hung all winter on the trees. A species (the Benoth Shuach) is mentioned, of which the fruit required three years for ripening. The fig-tree was
Phaggim, Shev. iv. 7
8 Shev. v. 1
1 See ch. xiii. of this Book.
THE PARABLE OF THE BARREN FIG-TREE.
a Shev. i. 4
e Shev. ii. 5
regarded as the most fruitful of all trees. On account of its re- CHAP. peated crops, it was declared not subject to the ordinance which enjoined that fruit should be left in the corners for the poor.b Its artificial inoculation was known. The practice mentioned in the Peah i. 4 Parable, of digging about the tree (7), and dunging it (am), is frequently mentioned in Rabbinic writings, and by the same designations. Curiously, Maimonides mentions three years as the utmost limit within which a tree should bear fruit in the land of Israel. Lastly, as trees were regarded as by their roots under- 4 More mining and deteriorating the land, a barren tree would be of threefold 37, apud disadvantage: it would yield no fruit; it would fill valuable space, ad loc. which a fruit-bearer might occupy; and it would needlessly deteriorate the land. Accordingly, while it was forbidden to destroy fruitbearing trees, it would be duty to cut down a 'barren' or 'empty' Deut. xx. tree (Ylan serak).o
e Baba K.
19; Baba K. 91 b; 92 a
8 Kil. vi. 5
Ber. 57 a, wise
* St. Matt. xx. 1 &c.; xxi. 33 &c.
These particulars will enable us more fully to understand the details of the Parable. Allegorically, the fig-tree served in the Old Testament as emblem of the Jewish nation in the Talmud, rather Joel i. 7 as that of Israel's learning, hence of the leaders and representatives of the people. The vineyard is in the New Testament the symbol of the Kingdom of God, as distinct from the nation of Israel. Thus far, then, the Parable may be thus translated: God called Israel as a nation, and planted it in the most favoured spot: as a fig-tree in His own Kingdom. And He came seeking,' as He had every right to do, fruit thereon, and found none.' It was the third year that He had vainly looked for fruit, when He turned to His Vinedresser-the Messiah, to Whom the vineyard is committed as its King-with this direction: Cut it down-why doth it also deteriorate the soil?' It is barren, though in the best position; as a figtree it ought to bear figs, and here the best; it fills the place which a good tree might occupy; and besides, it deteriorates 2 the soil (literally: ypp л). And its three years' barrenness has established (as before explained) its utterly hopeless character. Then it is that the Divine Vinedresser, in His infinite compassion, pleads, and with far deeper reality than either Abraham or Moses could have entreated, for the fig-tree which Himself had planted and tended, that it should be spared this year also,'' until then that I shall dig about it, and dung it,'—till He labour otherwise than before,
1 Not after three years, but evidently in the third year, when the third year's crop should have appeared.
2 KaтaрYEî. Grimm renders the word, enervo, sterilem reddo.
a St. Luke xiv. 16-24
even by His Own Presence and Words, nay, by laying to its roots His most precious Blood. And if then it bear fruit '-here the text abruptly breaks off, as implying that in such case it would, of course, be allowed to remain; but if not, then against the future (coming) year shalt thou cut it down.' The Parable needs no further commentation.2 In the words of a recent writer: 3 Between the tree and the axe nothing intervenes but the intercession of the Gardener, Who would make a last effort, and even His petition applies only to a short and definite period, and, in case it pass without result, this petition itself merges in the proposal," But if not, then cut it down."' How speedily and terribly the warning came true, not only students of history, but all men and in all ages have been made to know. Of the lawfulness of a further application of this Parable to all kindred circumstances of nation, community, family, nay, even of individuals, it is not necessary to speak.
3. The third Parable of warning-that of the Great Supper a— refers not to the political state of Israel, but to their ecclesiastical status, and their continuance as the possessors and representatives of the Kingdom of God. It was spoken after the return of Jesus from the Feast of the Dedication, and therefore carries us beyond the point in this history which we have reached. Accordingly, the attendant circumstances will be explained in the sequel. In regard to these we only note, how appropriately such a warning of Israel's spiritual danger, in consequence of their hardness of heart, misrepresentation, and perversion of God's truth, would come at a Sabbathmeal of the Pharisees, when they lay in wait against Him, and He first challenged their externalising of God's Day and Law to the subversion of its real meaning, and then rebuked the self-assertion, pride, and utter want of all real love on the part of these leaders of Israel.
What led up to the Parable of the Great Supper' happened after these things: after His healing of the man with the dropsy in sight of them all on the Sabbath, after His twofold rebuke of their perversion of the Sabbath-Law, and of those marked characteristics of Pharisaism, which showed how far they were from bringing forth fruit worthy of the Kingdom, and how, instead of representing, they mis
1 εἰς τὸ μέλλον. Goebel points to a similar use of eis in St. Luke, i. 20; Acts xiii. 42.
2 Dean Plumptre regards the fig-tree as the symbol of a soul making fruitless profession; the vineyard as that of Israel. For homiletical purposes, or for practical
application, this is, of course, perfectly fair; but not in strict exegesis. To waive other and obvious objections, it were to introduce modern, Christian ideas, which would have been wholly unintelligible to Christ's hearers.
CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH THE THIRD PARABLE WAS SPOKEN.
represented the Kingdom, and were utterly unfit ever to do otherwise. The Lord had spoken of making a feast, not for one's kindred, nor for the rich-whether such outwardly, or mentally and spiritually St. Luke from the standpoint of the Pharisees-but for the poor and afflicted. This would imply true spirituality, because that fellowship of giving, which descends to others in order to raise them as brethren, not condescends, in order to be raised by them as their Master and Superior. And He had concluded with these words: And thou vv. 12, 13 shalt be blessed-because they have not to render back again to thee, for it shall be rendered back to thee again in the Resurrection of the Just.'c
It was this last clause-but separated, in true Pharisaic spirit, from that which had preceded and indicated the motive on which one of those present now commented, probably with a covert, perhaps a provocative, reference to what formed the subject of Christ's constant teaching: 'Blessed whoso shall eat bread in the Kingdom of Heaven.' An expression this, which to the Pharisee meant the common Jewish expectancy of a great feast' at the beginning of the Messianic Kingdom. So far he had rightly understood, and yet he had entirely misunderstood, the words of Christ. Jesus had, indeed, referred to the future retribution of (not, for) deeds of love, among which He had named as an instance, suggested by the circumstances, a feast for, or rather brotherly love and fellowship towards, the poor and suffering. But although the Pharisee referred to the Messianic Day, his words show that he did not own Jesus as the Messiah. Whether or not it was the object of his exclamation, as sometimes religious commonplaces or platitudes are in our days, to interrupt the course of Christ's rebukes, or, as before hinted, to provoke Him to unguarded speech, must be left undetermined. What is chiefly apparent is, that this Pharisee separated what Christ said about the blessings of the first Resurrection from that with which He had connected them-we do not say as their condition, but as logically their moral antecedent: viz., love, in opposition to self-assertion and self-seeking. The Pharisee's words imply that, like his class, he, at any rate, fully expected to share in these blessings, as a matter of course, and because he was a Pharisee. out Christ's anteceding words was not only to set them aside, but to pervert His saying, and to place the blessedness of the future on the very opposite basis from that on which Christ had rested it.
The expression 'eating bread' is a well-known Hebraism, used both in the
Thus to leave
Old Testament and in Rabbinic writings
c St. Luke xiv. 14