What Do We Do With This???


“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’
“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. 
                                                                                    -Luke 16:5-18
The dishonest manager has mis-managed the wealthy man’s household. He’s about to get fired. He needs friends to help take care of him after he loses his job. So in an act of desperate creativity, he goes to all of these people who owe the master something and tells them to slash their debts.
The master (who’s losing money in this deal) celebrates this shrewd act as does Jesus after him.  What gives? Some cultural context might help us here.
The Jewish law prohibited Jews from loaning to fellow Jews with interest—all loans were supposed to be interest free.  But what managers of wealthy households did was go ahead and charge interest anyway, while the boss-man pretended not to know that this was going on. 
In this way the wealthy man could have a charade of obeying the law all the while his manager is making him more wealthy.  What this shrewd manager is doing is canceling the interest on the loans which the master wasn’t supposed to know about in the first place.
And so the people who owed the master money loved the manager.  And the master can do nothing but commend the manager for his work, since the amount owed was illegally inflated by interest any way.
Passages like this that remind us that all of this is written 2,000 years ago in a specific culture that Jesus is imbedded in and draws from in order to communicate to his original audience. And so we’re reminded of the importance of doing all that we can in our reading of Scripture to start first with how the original readers would have understood what’s going on in the passage.
Scripture was not written by or for 21st century Americans. It speaks to us today with remarkable clarity and power because the Holy Spirit is at work in it and through it, but every time we read Scripture it is good to remember that we are entering into a cross-cultural experience. 
And the best way to enter into any cross-cultural experience is to remain open, soft, engaged, and to ask questions rather than jump to conclusions about things you don’t understand.
In Scripture’s case we can’t always get to the bottom of what’s going on in the context, but often by remaining open, patient, and inquisitive and sometimes through a little bit of research we can get to the correct understanding of what’s going on and from there make faithful application.
Where have you seen people either give up on Scripture or jump to the wrong interpretation and application due to the fact that it’s a cross-cultural experience?  Where have you made that same mistake? What kinds of tools might you find to help you to get to the heart of what’s actually going on in passages like this?


I really appreciate your great reflections here, Lana. I especially appreciate your additional thoughts around attending to your reactions and asking why we're responding the way that we are. I think there are any number of areas where we get reactive to something that we need to pause and consider but it's challenging something that's hard for us to hold loosely. Great thoughts as always, Lana!
I appreciate your reminding us of this truth.

My experience has been that even one time of seeing scripture in its cultural context can lead to adopting that open, soft, engaged, question-asking stance for future times. (Maybe this is that one time!)

This happened for me and some friends when we heard/saw Walter Wink on YouTube explaining Mt.5:38-41 doing the same thing you have done here--giving us the cultural context of Jesus' illustrations. Dr. Kenneth Bailey is another source of such cultural context, as he lived in, taught in, engaged with and studied Middle Eastern culture for 40 years. This approach especially helped me re. I Tim.2, and, actually, the entire New Testament re. women.

Tool #1 is, I think, to pray. Tool #2, then, is to be aware of my reaction to what I read or hear. If I tense up and reflexively start an internal argument before hearing what is being said, I need to ask God why I am doing that. Have I become more invested in holding to my "right" interpretation, or the "party line", rather than being open, soft, engaged and questioning? (This choice is nothing new for believers, of course; not throughout history, not now, and probably not in the future. So I might as well start engaging with it now.)

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