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Infuriating grace

"Infuriating grace" Continued...

Issue: "Ethiopia's new flower," May 31, 2008

WORLD: In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, what does an understanding of Middle Eastern culture teach us about the character of Lazarus?

BAILEY: Lazarus is sick and unable to work. The community, however, respects him and each day takes and places him outside the rich man's house in the hope that the rich man will help him in ways that the community cannot. The rich man's wild guard dogs show compassion to Lazarus and lick his sores. These dogs are dangerous and are trained to attack all strangers. Yet they know that this quiet, gentle man is their friend. The rich man will do nothing for Lazarus. The dogs do what they can-they lick his sores.

When he dies, Lazarus is escorted by the angels into the presence of Abraham. Abraham spreads a banquet to welcome Lazarus and seats him in the place of honor "on his chest," that is, at his right side. The rich man then dies and goes to hell. Seeing Lazarus at Abraham's banquet, the rich man demands services. Lazarus does not explode with curses and insults. Rather, he is quiet. At the end of the conversation, Abraham tells the rich man that "the one who wants to go from here to there cannot."

Clearly, Abraham has a volunteer. Lazarus is willing to help the man who abused him, but it is too late. From the beginning of the story to the end, we are given a clear, powerful picture of a gentle, caring, forgiving man.

WORLD: What is the key to understanding the parable of the talents?

BAILEY: Behind Jesus' parable is the Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5. In that song, God builds a vineyard and expects good grapes from it. The vineyard produces wild grapes and its owner (God) destroys the vineyard. Isaiah then tells his readers that the vineyard is Israel and that God expects justice and righteousness but receives only bloodshed and a cry of pain. Jesus is challenged by the temple authorities about why he presumed to "cleanse the temple." Jesus refuses to answer their questions and then tells a parable which is a new version of Isaiah's story.

In Jesus' story, God is again the owner who builds a vineyard. He rents the vineyard to vinedressers. When the rent is due, the owner sends a messenger to receive payment. The messenger is treated badly as are other messengers. The owner is expected to respond by reporting to the authorities who, with the owner, will assemble a posse of armed men, surround the vineyard, and bring the violent renters to justice by force. Instead, the owner chooses to reprocess his anger into grace and send his beloved son into the vineyard, alone and unarmed.

The owner's response is love offered in total vulnerability. By so doing he enacts a costly demonstration of unexpected love. Jesus is talking about Himself, the heart of His message and His cross.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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