Thursday, June 16, 2016

Lazarus and the Rich Man parable (part 4): The Characterization of the Pharisees prior to Luke 16:19-31

A quick update on the book: I have received the second copy-edited version of the book and am working through it in detail one more time before it is formatted into book-form (the next stage allows limited changes). There are also a number of copy-editor queries through which I need to work. I have to admit, this part of the publishing process, albeit necessary, is the least fun.

Back to the literary context of the rich man and Lazarus parable in Luke. Once again, I must stress that the discussion below is only about the Lukan Pharisees, not the historical Pharisees.

The Pharisees who appear in Luke 16:14 are not a blank slate, because the narrative has already generated quite a pejorative picture of them. They initially appear in a chiastic series of controversies (5:17-6:11) that depicts a progression of hostility (See Gowler, Host, Guest, Enemy, and Friend, 183-215). The progression is clearly seen in the reactions to Jesus' words and deeds: All "glorified God" at the end of the first controversy story (5:26). The final controversy in this series, though, provides a negative response: The opponents of Jesus (including the Pharisees) are "filled with fury" (ἀνοίας) and deliberate "what they might do to Jesus" (6:11). The question remains, though: How will the Lukan Pharisees continue to respond?

The narrator begins to answer that question by the authoritative pronouncement that the Pharisees and lawyers reject the purpose of God for themselves (7:30). The narrator, in a way similar to the "lovers of money" of Luke 16:14 and the rich man of 16:19-31, immediately illustrates his overt evaluations of "all the people and the tax collectors" as opposed to the "Pharisees and the lawyers" (7:29-30) by the differing responses to Jesus by the "sinful woman" (whose sins were forgiven) and (the rather inhospitable) Simon the Pharisee (7:36-50).

The conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees then escalates the next time Jesus dines in a Pharisee's home (Luke 11:37-54; see Gowler, "Hospitality and Characterization in Luke 11:37-54: A Socio-Narratological Approach," Semeia 64 (1993): 213-51). The host Pharisee is astonished that Jesus did not wash before the meal. Jesus, as Lord (11:39), replies to the Pharisee's unspoken thoughts with a string of rebukes. The first two sentences of Jesus' speech are quite damaging: "inside you are full of rapacity and the evil of covetousness. You fools!" (11:39-40). Since Jesus the Lord labels the Pharisees fools, this appellation is of momentous importance. Being a fool is the equivalent of being a denier of God, that is, someone "who contemptuously disrupts fellowship between God and [humankind]" (Georg Bertram, "ἀφρων," TDNT 9:225). The accusation labels the Pharisees as moral failures who disregard their social responsibilities (see Malina, The New Testament World, 2001, 50, which makes the connection to the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 more obvious). This devastating attack against the Pharisees also helps to create a consistent pattern of a higher, ever-increasing level of opposition to Jesus.

The next mention of the Pharisees in 12:1 reinforces this impression. The opposition of the Pharisees and scribes greatly contrasts with the many thousands who come out to see Jesus. Jesus then warns the disciples to "beware of the yeast of the Pharisees." Yeast, of course, has a permeating influence whether for good or for evil, but the warning of Jesus (προσέχετε αυτοῖς) includes the explanatory comment, ἥτις ἐστὶν ὑπόκρισις. Once again, the Pharisees serve as an example of what to avoid.

Other aspects in Luke 11:37-54 have serious implications for our reading of Luke 16:19-31. First, the Lukan Pharisees are rapacious and filled with avarice (11:39). Second, since the Pharisees are also filled with self-righteous pride, they love to exalt themselves over others (11:43). In Luke 14:1-14, Jesus again chastises the social elite for seeking after honor. The narrator explains that Jesus observed how the guests scrambled for "places of honor" (14:7). Thus the narrative again closely identifies the Pharisees with the desire for self-glorification. The suggestion that their tendency to self-advertisement has eternal consequences (ἔσχατον; 14:9-10; cf. 14:11, 14) increases their negative rating even more. The narrative intimately connects such self-aggrandizement to a love of possessions and a disregard for the poor, as Jesus' words and parable illustrate (14:7-24). Instead, Jesus expects the Pharisees—and the rich man of 16:19-31—when they have a feast to "invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and [they]... will be repaid at the resurrection of the just" (14:12-14).

In the next post, I will conclude with some further comments about how the literary context of Luke prior to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus characterizes the Lukan Pharisees. This characterization affects our reading of the parable in its Lukan context: Luke is sending a warning to a particular group of the elite in his society (which does not really reflect the historical Pharisees very well).

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