Exploring The Pervasive References To Work In Jesus’ Parables -- By: Klaus D. Issler

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 57:2 (Jun 2014)
Article: Exploring The Pervasive References To Work In Jesus’ Parables
Author: Klaus D. Issler


Exploring The Pervasive References To Work
In Jesus’ Parables

Klaus D. Issler*

* Klaus D. Issler is professor of Christian Education and Theology at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, 13800 Biola Avenue, La Mirada, CA 90639.

At first glance the Gospels depict Jesus Christ as personally detached from the world of finance and work. He carried no money, nor owned any private property except his clothes. A number of prominent women financially supported Jesus and his disciples “out of their own means” (Luke 8:3).1 Jesus made requests of Judas, the group’s treasurer (John 12:6), whenever he wanted to buy something or give away money (John 13:29). It is easy to develop an impression that during his short life on this earth, Jesus focused solely on spiritual matters, never personally handling “worldly wealth” (Luke 16:9, 11 NIV) and letting others bother about his own material needs. Yet a second look tells a different tale. In particular, the vast majority of parables reveal someone aware of various work roles and differing details of the commercial world. Such in-depth knowledge is likely drawn from Jesus’ own long years of engagement in the “secular” arena, working on varied building projects paid for by clients of differing economic status, prior to beginning his public ministry.

This exploration of work-related references within Jesus’ teaching begins with a brief orientation to the concept of work and the range of work activities of that day. Part II describes Jesus’ work as a tektōn and matters related to this trade. Then a consideration of Jesus’ knowledge of work is presented through a survey of varied work roles and activities included in 32 of 37 parables (86%), followed by a discussion of some of the commercial terms and imagery employed in his teachings to convey spiritual truths. At end of the article, a preliminary response is offered to the question: Why are references to work so pervasive in the teachings of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?

I. Overview Of Work And Activities
In The Greco-Roman World

A broad definition of work suffices for this exploratory study. R. Paul Stevens suggests that work is “purposeful activity involving mental, emotional or physical energy, or all three, whether remunerated or not.”2 Regarding an overview of work roles of the Greco-Roman era, con...

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