THE BAKER OF
a new novel,
plays out in the time of Jesus. How does the baker
of the village perceive the young rabbi?
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3. Remedy for the pain of debt
Debt is a fun-spoiler. To enhance our
happiness, we buy things on credit. After the thrill of possessing that
thing has worn off, we have to start paying the debt we brought onto
Sometimes unforeseen expenses
exacerbate the debt we made in good faith, believing we would easily handle
Knowing how debt ruins many lives,
Jesus told several stories to illustrate the pitfalls regarding debt,
debtors and creditors.
One addresses the unforgiving spirit of
people who have good reason to be merciful toward others. This fellow’s
massive debt was written off by his merciful master when he saw this fellow
was in dire straits and could not pay. Sadly, this lucky guy did not show
the same mercy toward someone who owed him a small amount. He grabbed him by
the throat and demanded payment. When his master heard about his loathsome
behaviour, he reinstalled his debt and gave him over to torturers to force
payment from him.
We despise this character, but he
portrays those of us who have been forgiven by God for massive debts, but
who are unwilling to forgive others who owe us much less. Therefore, Jesus
taught us to pray: Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
Jesus told a similar story to show the
gratitude that should follow on forgiven sins. A former sinful woman washed
Jesus’ feet with her tears, dry them with her hair, kissed them, and poured
aromatic oil on them.
Knowing that his host was offended by
her behaviour, Jesus told the story about two debtors, one owed much, the
other little. Their creditor cancelled the debt of both. Who of the two
would love him most? The one with the biggest debt, of course. Jesus applied
it to the woman: she loved a lot because she had been forgiven a lot.
Another story of Jesus showed that we
can make friends for this life and the next by forgiving people their debt.
A manager was called by his master to give account. The manager knew that
his poor performance would lead to his discharge. He tried to win friends by
diminishing the debt of customers. He hoped that he could depend on their
goodwill in future.
Jesus made the spiritual application
himself: Use your money to spread the gospel, and those who are saved by
your efforts will welcome you in heaven. Blessed are the merciful, for they
will receive mercy.
Paul said that we should not owe anybody anything,
except to love one another. We cannot send our services and money to heaven,
but what time, effort and money we have spent on people in need, will be
reckoned as done to Jesus.
2. Job satisfaction rests on giving and receiving
Having water, food, clothes, shelter,
safety and good health are basic human needs irrespective of culture or
locality. Hunters and gatherers get these from their habitat; farmers
produce the necessary from the soil; and town people have to sell their
labour for money and other benefits.
Jesus told a few stories about earning
a living. Those about talents and minas look similar, but actually they
stress two different aspects of life.
Everyone receives one life (mina) but
different gifts (talents). With your one life you can impact five or ten
others; by developing your talents you may double your efficiency. Those who
do not invest their lives and talents wisely will lose what they have. The
diligent are rewarded and the slothful are penalized.
Jesus repeated this lesson to emphasize
the importance of work ethics. Maintaining your work’s quality and quantity
is part of job satisfaction. Good relationships, prospects and pay will add
Jesus told a story that illustrates the
strange equality in God’s kingdom. Workers assembled on the town square
hoping that someone would hire them for the day. Some were “lucky” to be
hired early in the day; “unlucky” ones were hired late afternoon. To the
surprise of the latter and the shock of the first they all received the same
The owner promised to give each group
one denarius for their work, so there was no breach of contract. He urged
those who worked all day not to grumble because he was merciful to those who
waited all day to be hired.
Because all God’s children are saved by
grace and not by works, they will receive the same eternal life,
irrespective of how long they have been in God’s service.
However, it is unwise to postpone
surrender to Christ to the last moment of your life. That last moment may be
in a crash or disaster where you will have no time to make peace with God.
A hidden lesson in all three stories is
the unnerving reality that much of what we regard as belonging to us are
actually favours granted by the Most High. The minas and talents were given
to servants to work with, and in the end they had to give them back to the
owner. The workers hired at different times of the day were all privileged
just to get a job.
We assume that every day belongs to us
and that we can spend it as we wish. In fact, every heartbeat is a gift from
him who is the source of life. The same goes for everything we regard as
ours: body, mind, work, money, home, church and relationships.
Eventually, we will be held
1. The pearl of great value
Strolling along the beach, a lonesome
person was befriended by a little girl playing in the sand every day. He
enjoyed her spontaneity but her chatter sometimes irritated him. When she
died of leukemia, he missed her on his daily walks, realizing he had lost a
pearl of great value.
In several parables Jesus contrasted
love for material and spiritual things.
A pearl merchant was driven by the
desire to find and own the best pearl in the world. He sailed the seas and
crossed the lands in search of his dream-pearl. When he eventually saw such
a pearl, he sold everything he had and bought that pearl.
Jesus applied the story to the kingdom
of heaven. Making peace with God through Christ can be such a pearl of great
value. He then becomes the driving force of one's life.
Other searches may flow from the main
one. People have sacrificed all they had to fulfill their dreams. They gave
their utmost for God’s highest.
The parable of the treasure hidden in a
field starts on a totally different note. Instead of searching deliberately,
this person discovered the treasure by accident. Maybe he was grazing his
flock or ploughing a field when he noticed something that aroused his
curiosity. As he dug with his hands into the dirt, he found a box with
valuable jewels inside.
He closed the treasure, marked the
spot, and hurried home. He decided to sell everything and buy that piece of
land that contains the treasure. Though he started casually, he became just
as enthusiastic as the pearl trader.
Applied to the kingdom of heaven, it
shows that a person can visit a church or read the Bible as he did many
times before, and then suddenly have that life-changing experience.
Likewise, we can rediscover some people as valuable treasures in our lives.
While we read the Bible casually we
walk over many treasures in the field without realizing it. When we study
keywords with the help of a Bible study, commentary, concordance, or
software, we start to open up many hidden treasures in the word of God. For
example: You may discover subtle but important differences between words.
Assessing Peter's relationship with
him, Jesus used the word "agape" for sacrificing love; Peter responded with
"philo," indicating friendship love (John 21). Why?
David used the word "asavthani"
to express his abandonment; Jesus replaced it with "sabachthani" when
crucified (Ps. 22, Matt. 27). Why?
What are the differences between "the
last day" (John 6:39, 40, 44 and 54), and "the last days" (Acts 2:17, 2 Tim.
3:1-9, and 2 Pet. 3:3-13)?
on "Peter and Jesus," "sabachthani" and "end time" on the left menu.
Credentials of a modest leader
Flamboyant and charismatic leaders are not necessarily better than the
silent, hardworking type. The media and the public like dramatic events and
speeches more than the day-to-day loyal labor behind closed doors.
Bible elaborates on achievements of other “good” kings of Judah, but King
Jotham’s reign is summarized in two short paragraphs (2 Kings 15, 2 Chron.
27). Nothing extraordinary—good or bad—happened during his watch. Six of the
twelve judges are treated in the same casual way, although they ruled for
it is better not to be famous than to be remembered for the wrong reasons.
King Jotham did not make disastrous blunders; to the contrary, he could be
thankful and proud about the modest achievements of his reign.
other king received the credentials he received: he prepared his ways
(walked steadfastly) before the LORD his God. He worshiped the God of Israel
alone. He kept his thinking, feeling, willing, and doing in line with God’s
will as revealed in his word. This is all the more amazing when we read that
many in Judah served idols. He did not drift with the stream like dead
leaves, but stayed the course like salmon.
Anchored to the one true God, he adjusted his lifestyle accordingly: he did
what was right in the eyes of the LORD. His son Ahaz would not follow
Jotham’s example, but his grandson Hezekiah would.
historian recorded five milestones in Jotham’s reign: He built another gate
leading to the temple; he extended the protective wall of Jerusalem; he
built several cities in the hill country of Judah; and in forested areas he
built fortresses and towers. On top of that he subdued the Ammonites and
made them pay tribute, which he used to the benefit of Judah.
reasonable to assume that Jotham maintained the amazing military and
agricultural systems developed by his father Uzziah. Looking at the whole
picture of Uzziah’s and Jotham’s reign, one may conclude that this period of
68 years was a good time in Judah’s history.
Uzziah’s long reign ended sadly when he tried to take over the role of
priest by burning incense in the temple. He was punished with leprosy for
this zealous mistake. Jotham took the lesson to heart and did not try the
Jotham heeded the lessons of the past and built on them a better future.
Although he was not a colorful figure that grabbed the imagination of
historians, he was honored for the positive things he did as well as the
negative things he avoided.
Attention-seeking people sometimes do stupid things just to be noticed. In
the long run, Jotham’s recipe works better.
Unwavering faith in God paid off
unmarried or childless is tough for those who yearn for a family. However,
losing a spouse or child leaves a void that is even more challenging. Having
been fulfilled and then robbed of what you cherished leaves a devastating
woman from the village of Shunem, north of Mt. Gilboa, went through this
emptying process repeatedly and kept her head and her faith nevertheless.
Elisha moved around in Israel to bring the word of God to the whole country.
He became acquainted with a childless couple in Shunem, where he sometimes
stayed over for rest and refreshment (2 Kings 4). They even added a room to
their house and reserved it for the prophet’s use.
Despite her unanswered prayers for a child, this woman maintained a serving
attitude. She did not serve the man of God for personal gain. When he wanted
to reward her in some way for her hospitality, her answer showed her
contentment: “I live among my own people.”
Elisha’s servant Gehazi urged his master to do something about the woman’s
childlessness. When the prophet conveyed God’s promise to her—that she will
have a child within a year—her suppressed yearning and fears surfaced: “Man
of God, don’t give me false hope!”
cup ran over when the prophet’s words came true. Elatedly and devotedly she
attended to her son’s needs as he grew. Was she idolizing the dream-child?
several years, the son of joy suddenly died after acute headache. The
woman’s plight was now much worse than before. By donkey she hurried to
Elisha at Mt. Carmel, about fifteen miles away.
Although Elisha sent Gehazi ahead to lay his staff on the boy, the woman
vowed that she would not leave the prophet. She reminded him about her fear
that God might give her a child and then take him away. Her emptiness was
more acute now.
Eventually the prophet’s and the woman’s persevering faith prevailed. God
mercifully restored the boy to his mother. She had been emptied and filled
third round started with a severe drought (2 Kings 8). Elisha advised her to
go to another country while the famine lasted. When she returned after 7
years, others occupied her land. She went to the king to plead her case. At
that very moment, Gehazi was telling the king how Elisha brought this
woman’s son back to life. Now, she could tell the king the story in person.
also told the king that she had been robbed for a third time. The king
ordered that her land should be restored to her. Her trusting persistence
prevailed again. This anonymous heroine should be remembered and honoured.
yearning of an unloved wife
Many spouses know the heartache caused by waning affection. Leah, the
mother of the messianic line, started her marriage as an unwanted wife.
After Jacob deceived his father and brother, he fled to his uncle Laban.
Jacob fell in love with Rachel, the youngest daughter of Laban. Jacob made
a deal with Laban to serve him 7 years for Rachel.
When the great day finally arrived, Laban cheated Jacob by letting him
sleep with Leah, his eldest daughter. Jacob discovered the deceit the next
morning. He had deceived Isaac by playing Esau; now Leah deceived him by
Laban knew he had Jacob in his grip and could dictate the rules. So, he
enticed Jacob into another 7-year contract for Rachel. Laban gave
permission so they could marry within a week.
Poor Leah was sucked into all this treachery without a choice. Ignoring
his own cheating of the past, Jacob never forgave Laban and Leah for
tricking him; but it was Leah who endured his contempt for many years
Jacob’s inhumane attitude towards Leah was punished. When Leah already had
four sons, Rachel remained childless. Rachel asked her maid to bear
children for her, and two sons were born. Then Leah’s maid bore her two
sons too. After that, Leah gave birth to another two sons and a daughter.
God heard Rachel’s plea and gave her a son, Joseph.
Within 13 years, Jacob had eleven sons and a daughter. The Bible reveals
some of the intrigues in this troubled family.
Jacob made no secret of his favour for Rachel and Joseph (Gen. 33:1-2). He
would later pay dearly for that when his less loved sons ganged up against
Joseph, sold him as slave to Egypt, and so robbed their father of his
Leah carried many burdens. She hoped to win Jacob's love by childbearing.
By the names she gave to her sons we sense her yearning for love and her
anguish about rejection: “now my husband will love me…God heard that I’m
unloved…now my husband will become attached to me.”
top of that, Leah had to watch how her first three sons were rejected by
Jacob for mistakes they had made. God chose Leah’s fourth son, Judah, to
carry forth the messianic line—not the beloved Joseph.
Leah also shared in the burdens of others. She probably sympathized with
Rachel’s unfulfilled motherhood, and when Joseph disappeared, Leah shared
in her husband’s grief.
Would he ever love her back?
Rachel was buried near Bethlehem and Leah in the Cave of Machpelah at
Hebron. Jacob asked Joseph to bury him with his father, grandfather, their
wives, and with Leah—yes, Leah! At last, united in death.
1. Why did
Jacob not realize he was sleeping with Leah until the next morning? Weigh
these possibilities: a. the bride was veiled; b. the room was dark; c.
Jacob did not expect such a trick; d. Jacob's mind was dulled by wine; e.
Rachel knew she could not marry Jacob if he did not marry Leah first, so
Rachel could have have told Leah about some "secret signs" to fool Jacob
(Jewish legend); f. any other reasons?
had seven children with Leah. Does that show he had some affection for
her? Or did he use her only as a standby when Rachel was not available?
After Rachel's death Leah was Jacob's only confidant in the family; could
their relationship have improved because of need?
Bethlehem and Hebron are about 15 miles apart. Why was Rachel not buried
at Hebron? Or why did Jacob not ask Joseph to bury him with Rachel near
lessons does this sad history hold for husbands and wives?
legacy of a trusted manager
17th century Dutch painter, Rembrandt Van Rijn, often highlighted
central figures against dark background. The vague figures in the background
were usually part of the story.
Background figures in the Bible tell a story of unsung heroes and heroines,
who were the salt of the earth though they did not reach the headlines.
Eliezer of Damascus was such a person.
received the divine command to leave his extended family in Haran, and move
to an unnamed foreign country. With trust in God’s guidance and protection,
he trekked in the direction of Canaan.
a lone traveler approached his caravan near Damascus. Eliezer made a good
impression on Abram. As this man knew the lay of the land, Abram invited him
to join his camp. His leadership skills soon showed, and Abram promoted him
to manager of all his servants and animals.
provided the right person at the right time. Canaan was in the grip of a
severe drought; grazing was scares. They had to avoid disputes with the
local farmers over grazing rights. Desperately they moved on to Egypt.
Eliezer stood with Abram during the testing time when the Pharaoh took
Sarah, Abram’s wife, into his harem. Although aware of the painful discord
in Abram’s family regarding Hagar and Ishmael, Eliezer kept out of it.
During Abram’s sojourning, Eliezer managed his employer’s camp and livestock
so well that Abram became rich and influential. While Abram mustered a small
army to rescue his nephew Lot from foreign invaders, Eliezer probably kept
watch at Abram’s camp.
entertained the idea of making Eliezer of Damascus his heir in case he
remained childless (Gen. 15).
years later, Abram, then called Abraham, entrusted the task of securing a
wife for his son Isaac to Eliezer (Gen. 24).
this point, it became clear that Abraham’s faith had rubbed off on his
manager. Eliezer undertook this mission with complete trust in Abraham’s God
who had become his God.
the well in Haran he prayed for God’s guidance: “Lord, let the woman who is
willing to draw water for me and the camels be the one you have chosen as
wife for Isaac.” He entrusted himself and his mission completely into God’s
prayer was heard. God sent Rebecca at the right moment to the well in a
spirit of cooperation. Eliezer gave gold jewellery to her to get the
family’s attention. Eliezer negotiated a deal with them. They recognized
God’s hand in all that had happened, and Eliezer returned home with a wife
for his master’s son.
Through this unsung hero God procured the messianic line. Rebecca became the
mother of Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.