1-5 The Two Carpenters
The Lord foresaw the problems we would have within our community; from
the schisms of the first century to the struggles of latter day believers.
Consider the story He told of the carpenter with a beam in his own eye
who is so keen to extract the splinter from the eye of his fellow worker
(note how he almost forces himself upon his brother to do this!). There
is something grotesque, absurd, over the top in this story. In this story
of the two carpenters there is something not only unreal, but almost cartoon-like.
We read it and think 'The Lord's obviously exaggerating, nobody would
really be so foolish'. But that's exactly how He knew we would think!
Our attempts to sort out our brother really are that absurd! Christ is
effectively saying: 'Now, I know you'll think I'm exaggerating- but I'm
not' (Lk. 6:41,42). Often it seems the Lord intends us to think His parables
through to their end, imagining the necessary details. A splinter will
come out of the eye naturally, it's presence will provoke tears which
ultimately will wash it out. 'The grief of life will work on your brother
to solve his problem, there are some spiritual weaknesses which time and
the experience of life will heal; but I know you people will want to rush
in and speed up the spiritual growth of your brother. But you can't do
it!'. Christ even foresaw how we will stress the fact that our fellow
believer is our " brother" as we try to do this; as if we'll
try to be so righteous in the very moment when in God's eyes we do something
grotesquely foolish. Doubtless the Lord's carpenter years were the time
when He formulated this story of the two carpenters. Significantly they
both had wood in their eye- as if a brother will tend to seek to correct
another brother who has in essence the same weaknesses, but the ‘helping’
brother considers that the other brother’s is so much greater than his.
Perhaps the Lord intends us to take it further, and pick up the implication
that these two carpenters couldn't help each other; but there's another
one who can...
The story of the indebted steward likewise stresses the importance of
true forgiveness. The master commends the steward because he had told
others that their debts to his master were reduced. No human
master would ever commend his steward for acting so irresponsibly (Lk.
16:8). But the Lord Jesus does commend us for forgiving those who sin
against Him, even though our forgiving of those indebted to us and Him
is against all the laws of human common sense. In another parable, the
wicked servant owes 10,000 talents- one hundred million denarii (Mt. 18:23).
This was a monstrous, unimaginable sum- in 4BC, the whole of Galilee and
Peraea paid only 200 talents per year in taxes, one fiftieth of the amount.
The annual income of Herod the Great is estimated at only 900 talents
(New Jerome Bible Commentary). The Lord was using shock tactics to show
how great is man's debt to God...and to throw into strong relief the sharp
contrast with the way the fellow servant has such a trivial debt. The
story is plain. The sins we perceive others have committed against us
should be as nothing compared to the huge debt we feel personally before
God. This explains why the acceptable man prays with his hands on his
breast- when every Palestinian Jew would have expected a story about a
man praying to feature him with uplifted hands, as was the custom. The
unusual element to the story brought out the extent of the man's contrition.
Indeed, the total acquittal of the indebted man, with no further penalty
at all, would have caught the early hearers by surprise. The man, they
imagined, would have walked off surprised by joy, ecstatic, thankful,
relieved. And yet he goes and does something totally unexpected and illogical-
he grabs another man and demands he pay up his debts. The unexpected twist
of the story of course brings out the madness of any unforgiveness on
our part, and the awful nature of human ingratitude for forgiveness- just
as in the two carpenters parable.
The need for peace amongst ourselves as a community is brought out in
the parable of the salt that lost its saltiness. Straight away, we’re
faced with a paradox- for true salt can’t lose its saltiness, seeing that
sodium chloride is a stable compound, free of impurities. Salt was a symbol
in the Lord’s teaching for having peace with one another. If we don’t
have this, we’re not salt. If we’re not any influence upon others, we’re
not salt. It’s as simple as that.