The Lame and Blind Man

by Lois Tverberg

“I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds. ” Jeremiah 17:10

Jewish parables were an effective way to explain complex ideas about life and God. One parable from the Talmud1 gives a clever answer to a difficult question. How does God judge sin, when he knows that the spirit may be willing but the flesh is weak? (Matt. 26:41) How does God judge an alcoholic who has a family tendency toward alcoholism? Or, how does he look at a man who struggles with homosexual thoughts? The rabbis told this parable:

To what may this be compared? To a human king who owned a beautiful orchard which contained splendid figs. Now he appointed two watchmen, one lame and the other blind. One day the lame man said to the blind man, “I see beautiful figs in the orchard. Put me on your shoulders so that we can pick and eat them.” So the lame man got on the shoulders of the blind man and they gathered the figs and ate them.

Some time later, the owner of the orchard came and asked them, “Where are those beautiful figs?” The lame man replied, “Do I have feet to walk with?” The blind man replied, “Do I have eyes to see with?” What did the owner do? He placed the lame man upon the blind man and judged them together. So the Holy One, blessed be He, will bring the soul, replace it in the body and judge them together…. (Sanhedrin 91a-b)

Boy on Woman's ShouldersThe king in the parable is God. (This is usually the case in parables, including those of Jesus.) Each of the two disabled men represent part of a person. The lame man is the person’s will, and the blind man is the flesh. Neither part is capable of sinning on its own — both act together in order to do anything.

The point is that when God looks at us, he sees us as a whole — he knows what we are made of. We are a combination of factors including family history, mental make-up, religious upbringing, etc, and both our background and our own will work together to influence our actions.

Knowing this can give us wisdom. On the one hand, if we know we have a background or personality type that leads us toward a certain sin (like an abusive family or a tendency to anger), we need to go out of the way to avoid what we might do impulsively. We can’t just plead helplessness and give up. You are responsible for what you have done with what you’ve been given.

On the other hand, we should be careful not to condemn others because we can’t know where a person comes from. We don’t know their struggles, insecurities, or what they’ve lived through. Two people may act similarly, but one may have triumphed over many trials, while the other has barely used their abundant gifts. Only God knows the whole picture, and only God is able to judge us justly.

To explore this topic more, see chapter 5, “Greek Brain, Hebrew Brain” in Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, Baker Publishing, 2018, p 83-112.

(1) The Talmud is the compendium of Jewish commentary from Jesus’ time and after, written down about 500 AD.

Photo: Emily Walker

The Golden Table Leg

by Lois Tverberg

Burying TreasureDo not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21

(This story was adapted from a rabbinic parable.)

Once upon a time there was an old pastor who had served the Lord faithfully all of his life. He had an anointed ministry, and people found his prayers were powerful and effective. When he prayed for the sick, they often were healed. But with all of that, he was extremely poor, and he and his wife struggled daily to get by on almost nothing.

One day when they were out walking, after they had seen yet another person healed, his wife said to him, “God certainly must have prepared a rich reward for all of your years of work when you get to heaven, and he always seems to listens to your prayers. Why don’t you ask the Lord to give us just a tiny bit of your heavenly reward here on earth so that we don’t have to live in such terrible poverty?” The pastor thought this was a good idea, so right there the two of them asked the Lord to let them have a little something from what God prepared for them early, while they were still alive.

Immediately the sky opened above them, and a table leg made out of gold fell to earth right in front of them. They rejoiced and thought of all the things they could buy with this gift from God. The next morning, the pastor looked very troubled and his wife asked him what was wrong. The pastor said, “Last night I had a dream that we were sitting at a great banquet in heaven, and every family had its own table to sit around. But ours was missing a leg so that it tilted and wobbled terribly!” His wife sat down and considered this a long time. She finally said, “In that case, we must go quickly and ask the Lord to take back the gift he gave us yesterday.”

They prayed, and immediately the heavens opened, and the table leg rose back up into heaven. And this was the greatest answer to prayer of all.*

(I saw the point of this parable after I became friends with some pastors in Uganda who live in great poverty but have wonderful ministries. Where I live, there are many who do similar good work, but have a comfortable, prosperous life here in America. After seeing all the trials that my poorer friends go through, I think, personally, that the Lord will reward them for all the things they lived without in order to serve him.)

*Adapted from “The Two Legged Table” from the book Theology in Rabbinic Stories by Chiam Pearl, Hendrickson, 1997

Photo: Yelkrokoyade