Death – Fourth Sunday Of Lent
This Sunday’s Reading is the Parable of the Lost Son. Twice the father spoke of his son being dead. (The verses left out here are the Parable of the Lost Sheep.)
 Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.  And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.  And he spake this parable unto them, saying,
 And he said, A certain man had two sons:  And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.  And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.  And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.  And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.  And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.  And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,  And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.  And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.  And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.  But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:  And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.  Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.  And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.  And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.  And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.  And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:  But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.  And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.  It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
Now this parable contains a wonderful promise. No matter what you have done, no matter how you have strayed, your father who is in heaven will receive you, if you return to him in faith!
But now concerning death, there are two Biblical ways to consider the topic, from the biological or maybe I should say metaphysical point of view and then from a purely spiritual one.
Metaphysics just deal with what exists and what does not. This has developed on into scientific physics and it deals with questions like, what are the smallest particles of matter, what other important quantities are there? E.g.: Energy. What is it? There is a very specific meaning to this in science.
The answers to these questions obviously involve the use of sophisticated scientific equipment which the Ancients didn’t have, so let us look at the metaphysical side of death through their eyes.
In the beginning people were not aware that they would die. Animals are not aware of death. When God said to the man (or maybe better mankind) in Gen. 2: 17, ‘But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,’ that did not necessarily mean that man understood at that time about what God was talking. The limit between life and death was quite floating. Is there life after death? What are these shadows and ghosts that you can see in the semi dark?
Gen. 5: 24, ‘And Enoch walked with God: and he [was] not; for God took him,’ does not use the word death. Just ‘he was not.’ In the Sumerian king list there is a record of Mesh-ki-ang-gasher, who entered the sea and disappeared. Did he drown? Was he carried away by a storm and landed in a country far away, from where he could not find his way home? Was there any difference for the people he had left behind?
Does the phrase, ‘and he was not,’ mean God took him alive to heaven? It just means, he is not anymore in the presence of the people. It may indicate death, but it really indicates the lack of knowledge and uncertainty about what happens to people after dying.
In Gen. 42: 36, Jacob laments, ‘Joseph [is] not, and Simeon [is] not, and ye will take Benjamin [away]: all these things are against me.’ He thought that Joseph was dead, since his brethren had sold him in Gen. 37 and had brought Jacob Joseph’s coat dipped in the blood of a kid of the goats. Simeon, on the other hand, had been kept as a hostage in Egypt and Jacob was to send Benjamin to prove that his children had not lied about their family. So the phrase can mean either.
However, do men live after death? I wrote men, not women! One way the Ancients looked at life was that it is passed on from father to son, while the woman was either seen as an empty vessel or a field where seed is sown. It is explained in Greetings from Paradise in the chapter on the Original Sin how people became aware of how women become pregnant.
Since then it was believed that the ejaculation of a man was the complete child which had to be placed into a woman so that it would develop into a human being. That’s why it says in the Hebrew text of Gen. 3: 20, ‘And the man (commonly left untranslated as adam, but it says ‘the adam’) had called his woman’s name life (eve), but he (it does not say she) was the mother of all living. (See Greetings from Paradise for a detailed analysis of this verse.) Why the mother and not the father? Because the word father just meant counsellor until then. It had not been known that men have anything to do with children.
That it was believed that the gooey substance that comes from the penis is an early form of the complete child is not as farfetched as it seems today. After all these people did not have microscopes to see that there are Millions of sperm cells in one ejaculation. When a chicken egg is cracked open, there is a gooey substance inside, but if it is left undisturbed, this gooey substance must change into the little chicken that will come out of it. By the same token, the gooey substance coming out of the penis was seen as an early form of the complete child. This was the reason for the death penalty for male homosexuality in Lev. 20: 13. If the child, the ejaculation, is put into a man, the poor child will die. It was seen as murder. Female homosexuality is not forbidden in the Bible.
The conservative members of the nation Israel still regard women as empty vessels today and they see themselves as this man, Israel. Jacob, his former name, said himself (Gen. 32: 10), ‘…with (nothing but) my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.’ He saw himself as having become his descendants!
Does this explain why fathers are seen as being punished in their fourth generation? In 2. Kings 15, Shallum killed King Zachariah. Verse 12 says, ‘This [was] the word of the LORD which he spake unto Jehu, saying, Thy sons shall sit on the throne of Israel unto the fourth [generation]. And so it came to pass.’ How does this punish King Jehu except, if it is supposed, that he lived on in his sons. What we would call the hereditary outcome of these great great grand children was seen as the same as King Jehu himself, as his continuation in another body.
Is this what was meant by Eternal Life?
The word eternal in all languages, including Ancient Greek, means without beginning or end. Do people live before their birth? Does the soul exist before and after life?
The other, purely spiritual way, of looking at eternal life is the continuation of customs and ideals through generations without necessarily being a biological line.
This is a rather modern view which coexists with the conservative Jewish view described above. It is actually Jewish law, that somebody born to a Jewish mother is a Jew. No Jew shall be allowed to say to the child of his wife, ‘You are not mine!’ In Roman Law, which was in force at Jesus time, there was a law regarding parentage, ‘The mother is determined by birth, the father by marriage.’ This was at the time of the orgies, when married couples would attend festivities during which they would have sex with random partners attending the feast.
Also the Gospels hint at a non – biological meaning of the word father. The forefathers of Jesus are listed in two places: in Matt. 1: 1 to 17 and in Luke 3: 23 to 38. Matthew begins with Abraham, ‘Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat etc. ….’ Then in verse 16 it says, ‘And Jacob begat Joseph the man of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.’ Luke 3: 23 says, ‘And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph,’ according to King James. The Revised Standard Version says, ‘Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son, as was supposed, of Joseph.’ This translation is much closer to the Greek. There are no brackets in the Greek text. Then Luke follows the genealogy backwards to Adam and God. Neither Matthew nor Luke claimed that Joseph was the biological father of Jesus. Also from the stories about Jesus’ birth, e.g. Matt. 1: 18 to 25, it is quite clear that Joseph was not the father. Nevertheless the genealogy of Jesus is listed through Joseph back to Abraham or Adam and God. These genealogies do not claim, that Jesus is a descendant of Abraham or, what is also often mentioned, of David, but still it is listed. These cannot be biological genealogies. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1. Tim. 1: 4, ‘Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, (many others translated, cause speculation or dispute) rather than godly edifying which is in faith.’ These genealogies must be cultural about cultural identity, which was passed on by the ‘father’, the person who was determined by owning the mother, the man who educated the child. In the Gilgamesh epic the Ale – Wife said to Gilgamesh, ‘… Pay heed to the little one that holds on to thy hand, ….’ Who knows how many other ‘sons’ in these Biblical genealogies, were not biological sons. This also can be seen in the Specualtions on the Birth of Isaac. Gen. 38: 5 reports that Judah was in Chezib, while his son Shelah was born. This place is not mentioned elsewhere in the Tanakh and the word Chezib means ‘false’. According to conservative Jewish law, Judah’s sons would not be Jews, since their mother was a Canaanite (Gen. 38: 2), likewise the mother of King Rehoboam of Judah, Naamah, was an Ammonitess (1. Kings 14: 21 & 31; 2. Chr. 12: 13).
So is Everlasting Life the propagation of culture?
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.