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What we have in each case is an impressive illustration setting forth a great spiritual truth. And how effective these examples are! Men who cannot understand a discussion of justification through faith, look at the Pharisee and publican, and see that God's one concern when men come to him is the penitent and humble heart. The rich farmer, standing with poor and naked soul before God, shows us in a flash the folly and failure of what men call wisdom and
The Good Samaritan.-It was the question of a quibbling lawyer that called forth the story of the good Samaritan. In answer to an earlier question, Jesus had declared that the heart of all religion was the simple law of love. What God wanted, in other words, was just being a neighbor. And now he shows us in a picture what being a neighbor
poor traveler had been plundered and beaten on that robber-infested road between Jerusalem and Jericho. Priest and Levite passed him by, religious men who did not know what real religion was. The Samaritan may have had his natural prejudice against this Jew, but what he saw now was not a Jew, but only a brother in need, his neighbor, no matter how far they were separated in home and in race. To have a heart of love for all men and to show it to the man in need, that is religion. And through all ages, as men think of this, there will stand before them this Samaritan.
THE MISUSE OF JESUS' TEACHING Allegorizing.–Three mistakes are often made in connection with the teaching of Jesus. The first is that of allegorizing. Men have not been content to take the single simple point of the parables, but have tried to find some hidden meaning in every part. So in the parable of the prodigal son men have found a meaning for the far country and the famine, the husks and the swine, the robe and the ring, the shoes and the calf, and many other matters. There is, of course, no agreement among such allegorizers, and no limit except the imagination of the individual, who reads into it his own particular doctrine or system. This system flourishes in the Roman Catholic Church and in certain Protestant circles.
Literalism.—The second mistake is that of literalism. Jesus used vivid phrases to startle men and pictures to make them see. It was the method of the poet and prophet, and men have too often lost the meaning by turning it into dull prose. They declare we must be loyal to the word of Jesus and so take it letter by letter. But where is the Christian who hates his father and mother (Luke 14. 26), who cuts off his right hand, or plucks out his right eye? (Matthew 5. 29, 30.) And what shall we do when he tells us at one time to let our light shine before men, and a little later that we are not to let the right hand know what the left hand does? Or again when he says, "Peace I leave with you," and then, “I came not to send peace, but a sword?” Jesus' teaching has made literalism impossible for those who will really study it. It is the spirit that Jesus cares for in our life, and it is the spirit that we must discern in his teaching.
Legalism.—The final mistake is that of legalism, or the effort to turn Jesus' teaching into a new system of laws. But it was not rules that Jesus came to bring, but life. Jesus' idea of religion was not a better set of laws, but a new spirit in the hearts of men. _All this becomes plain when we look at his teachings. There is no effort to set forth any system of laws; rather he is like the wise physician, prescribing this for one patient and that for another. To the rich young ruler he says, “Sell all which thou hast”; but he does not require this of Zacchæus. One man he tells to leave all and follow; but the Gadarene demoniac he sends back to his people. Systems of law come and go, like systems of theology; they must be suited to conditions and times. But the message of Jesus is eternal; to every age he says, "The words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life.”
DIRECTIONS FOR STUDY
Scripture references: Luke 13. 1-5; Matthew 13. 34; 5. 1316; Luke 10. 29-37; 15. 11-24.
This lesson is mostly concerned with Jesus' picture-teaching. Read carefully the discussion. It is most important, however, to read as fully as possible in the Gospels themselves, testing for yourself every point made in this chapter.
Write out from memory as long a list as you can of the objects used by Jesus for illustration, including the parables.
Make as long a list as you can of the parables from memory. Select two of these parables and give the meaning.
Recall some of the doctrines in regard to which Christian people have disputed and Christian churches divided. Are any of these discussed by Jesus?
What do you consider the most beautiful of the parables or other messages of Jesus?
THE heart of a man's faith is what he thinks about God; from this everything else follows. That is true of Jesus ; once grasp his simple but wonderful thought of God and all his teachings become plain. The men of his day thought him dangerous because he put aside rule and ritual and simply bade men love; but that was because he believed in such a God. When he urged men to pray and not faint, when he bade them face the world without fear, it was because he believed in a God who cared for all men and who ruled all the world. Only one chapter is given here to the special theme of Jesus' teaching about God, but that truth in fact will underlie the whole course. Indeed, we have here the test of all Christian teaching: Does it agree with the character of God as Jesus revealed him in his life and word ?
THE IDEA OF GOD IN ISRAEL In Jesus' Day.—The highest gift that life can bestow on us is a warm, strong faith in God. That was the need of the men of Jesus' day. There was a great deal of religion but not much of God, and so there was not much love or peace or strength. Religion was a round of hard duties, å task rather than an inspiration. The world was very near and very real. Men loved it and feared it, and the love of the world and the fear of the world alike kept them in bondage. God himself seemed far away. They knew that he had once been with his people, that he had led them forth from Egypt and given them their land. Some time in the future they expected to see his power again. Meanwhile he had left men his laws. Religion was not fellowship with God, but the study and keeping of these laws.
The God of the Prophets.-Far richer and stronger had been the faith of the prophets. “Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah,” so_the creed began. These prophets believed in one God. He was the Creator; he had "measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span.” He was the God of history as well as of nature; he it was who had called forth a Cyrus, “to subdue nations before him.” He was a God of mercy toward his people, “a just God and a Saviour.” “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old." He was a God of righteousness, this God of the prophets; his concern was not for sacrifices and offerings, but that “justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream."
THE GOD OF JESUS Jesus and the Prophets.-All this living faith of the prophets we find again in the message of Jesus. God was a living presence. Jesus saw the hard, wicked world as clearly as anyone-more clearly, indeed, than others. But it was a different world for him because in all and above all he saw God. The glowing sky, the sudden tempest, the wayside flower, the little birds, all spoke to him of God. It was the vision of God that had made the prophets; their work began when they "saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up." But Jesus saw this Lord not merely in the glory of the temple, but in all the world's life. He was not merely the God before whom the flaming spirits cried, “Holy, holy, holy,” he was the God near at hand to help even the little child, and without whom not even the
THE KING IS FATHER There are two phrases in which we may sum up Jesus' teaching about God, and the first is this: The King is Father. With that thought he begins the prayer that he taught his disciples: “Our Father who art in heaven." He who is in heaven, who rules over all, is Father.