6-12-15 - Parables

The parable of the mustard seed might be considered a parable of a parable. For parables are a lot like that seed – they appear small or simple (some of them) but contained in that little package is the fullness of God’s kingdom, waiting to be unleashed.

Matthew, Mark and Luke include many parables among the teachings of Jesus. In fact, they insist that the parable was his primary form of teaching:  

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Why might Jesus have chosen to tell stories about the ways of the realm of God? Maybe because it makes absolutely no sense if you try to say it straight. The values of that realm are so distinct from our “natural” or “worldly” way of operating, that one formed by the world can only begin to grasp the difference if surprised by a story.

And people listen more fully to stories than they do to lectures. Stories engage the imagination, the memory; they often put us into a receptive mode. Stories also allowed Jesus to set up what felt like familiar situations to his listeners – planting seeds, baking bread, tending vineyards, herding sheep, giving parties – and then have characters or events go off in unexpected, even shocking directions. This is a wonderful method for teaching – start with the familiar and lead into the new.

Jesus’ parables run the gamut from one-liners to the paragraphs we read this week, to full on dramas with several characters and scenes, such as the story of the prodigal son. Some are hard to interpret, like the story of the dishonest manager, and some strike many as unjust, like the one about the workers in the vineyard. They invite us to play, to explore, to wonder – what does it mean if this character represents those kinds of people, and this character other kinds? Is God a character in this parable, and if so, who? Who stands in for you in the parable? Are you the sower, the seed, the bird?

If you haven’t played in the parables for awhile, you might make it a summer project to read your way through them (I think Luke has the most…), staying with each one until you feel you’ve mined its depths.

Not that we ever truly get to the bottom of these little gems – they have a sneaky way of revealing new truths to us when we encounter them afresh.

Just like the kingdom of God.

No comments:

Post a Comment