All the Discourse's a Stage..
The audience of a discourse also serves as a context to highlight the meaning. For example, the parable of the Father and the Two Sons in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 15, there are two audiences: the repentant outcasts who gladly listened to Jesus and the Pharisees who were suspicious of Jesus and had contempt for the outcasts. The differences in the audience parallel closely the experiences and behavior of the younger and older sons.
I'm happy about that.
I think the overall message of Luke 15 has everything to do with what I'll call "The Priority of the Prodigal". Even God celebrates with a party when a lost one is found. So, I was quite pleased with his observation that the audience mentioned in Luke 15:1-2, indeed, all three participants with Jesus in the center, form one of many interpretive keys to the entire chapter.
On the one side we have the "sinners" and "tax collectors". 'Tax collectors" is a poor translation but it is hard to find a better. These people had bought at an auction a tax collecting franchise from the Roman government. By the 1st century CE they were limited to a certain extent at how much they could charge, but they needed to make a return on their investment. If you figure they made about 10%, the money they plopped down at the auction meant they were considerably wealthy to begin with. Perhaps, if measured by today's American standard of living, it would be above a half a million dollars. But being wealthy was not the problem with the "tax collectors"; Pharisees were also frequently wealthy.
The issue was the money they were collecting was Israel's money. And that money was being transferred to an occupying and unwelcomed government. In fact, the government was a Gentile government. Those people had different gods, bad gods. Their god was not the one true and living God--the God of Israel. Tax collectors, therefore, were traitors.
Sinners weren't any better. We now know from archeological evidence that some Jews ate pork. We know that because pig bones have been found in otherwise obviously Jewish homes. I think it likely these people were labeled "sinners". So, it was more than just a label of disdain. "Sinners" were just that--sinners. They broke Torah.
The Pharisees were the successful people of the day. They were successful in their businesses, in their religion, in their government which was centralized in the temple system. They were respected. Though perhaps a little pompous.
The Scribes, or what I like to call, the Torah Teachers, were the experts in the Hebrew Scriptures. Today, we would call these people Theologians or perhaps Scholars. Again, society respected them.
Jesus was in the center.
And he shamed himself by eating with...those...those...those "people."
I won't develop how the participants in the discourse play out in Luke 15 further, other than to say this: Read Luke 15:11-32 and compare the participants with: the younger son, the father, and the older son. I'll give you a hint: one thing you should observe is that the younger son, when he got a hold of his part of the inheritance did not bear his responsibility of taking care of his father. He "gave" it to the Gentiles. And, O! yes, the wonderful, wonderful father--it was quite shameful for an older man to run in public.
Knowing how the participants of a discourse play out in the discourse is one of the tools of good exegesis.
Our God runs.
Categories: discourse analysis