Next week at Prestoncrest (May 2, 2010) I will be starting a new lesson series in the Hearts in Action class called: Jesus and his Jewish Parables. The focus of the study is to realize that Jesus was not the only Jewish rabbi of the first century who told parables and that by comparing Jesus to his rabbinic contemporaries we can learn quite a bit about Jesus’ own use of the mashal (Hebrew for the literary form known as “parable”). Many of the parables of Jesus in the Gospels have rabbinic parallels with slightly different characters or a different ending that can shine light on Jesus’ own use of the same story – why he told it, who he told it to, what made the “punch line” so effective.
While doing the requisite reading and research for this series, I stumbled across a rabbinic parable that has no Gospel parallel but I found it deeply provocative. It’s interesting to me how reading these parables is almost like reading more of Jesus – they look and sound the same. Come with me now as we look at a parable from Rabbi Meir (ca. 90 – 160 AD?).
The King’s Twin Who Was Executed:
R. Meir says: What does the Scripture mean: “For that which is hanged is a curse of God” (Deut. 21:23). It is like two twin brothers, each resembling the other. One became king over the whole world, and the other went out into robbery. After a time the one who went out into robbery was captured and they crucified him on a cross. And all the passers-by were saying: It is as though the king were crucified. Therefore it is said: “For that which is hanged is a curse of a God.”
–Rabbi Meir, Tos. Sanhedrin 9:7
One technical note: notice they translate this verse “a curse of God” rather than “under God’s curse” (e.g. NIV). I find this parable to be incredibly deep. And just like Jesus’ parables it requires a bit of explanation to get the whole picture. This parable leans heavily on the theological idea that man was created in God’s image, as Genesis (and elsewhere) states:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image…”
Rabbi Meir’s parable hinges on the fact that man was created in God’s image, and he is thus in a sense God’s “twin”, though one is king and the other has gone into robbery (sin). And so when a man is hung on a tree, because of the likeness that man shares with God it is as though God Himself were under a curse, thus the translation “a curse of God.” This striking image hits home for Christians who believe that is was not merely “God’s twin” (man) on that tree (cross) in 33 AD, but God Himself. It was almost as if the passers-by who looked at Jesus saw not a man, but the King.
Paul flows in this vein of thought too (at least partially and maybe more than we know since he isn’t here for us to ask him) when he quotes the same verse in Deuteronomy referencing Jesus’ death.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”
I am struck with awe at the brilliance of the parable Rabbi Meir told, and the cool thing is this: there are many more undiscovered (at least, by most Christians) gems found in the plethora of rabbinic parables.
Peace to you,