I remember as a relatively young teenager – or maybe even younger –
hearing a sermon that gave the listeners a simple challenge.
When you hear a parable, what you need to do is to work out in one sentence
what the meaning of the parable is, and then hold on to that sentence.
It’s a nice, neat, clear picture:
Turn it in to a sentence and then hold on to that sentence.
So I spent years doing that with parables – coming up with a simple summary
I was mentioning my one line summaries to someone some time after that
when they looked at me and said
“If the point is to come up with a simple one-sentence summary and hold on to that
why didn’t Jesus just do that when he was teaching them. ”
I hate it when people make good sense like that and throw my nice neat world out.
Once a zookeeper said to his monkeys:
“You’ll get 3 bananas in the Morning and 4 in the afternoon.”
All monkeys were extremely upset.
“OK” the zookeeper said.
“How about we give you 4 bananas in Morning and 3 in the afternoon’”
When they heard this, the monkeys were happy.
Parables have a hook.
They are creative ways of opening an area of thought
and to leave you needing to ask, to talk, to think more, to feel disturbed.
Jesus was keen to involve people, keen to get people wondering
And keen to get people to follow and explore the movement of God
and to contribute to it as well
Much more than telling people what to do or what to think,
he invited them in to something deeper
And he did it with a lure, or a hook
that made them, more often than not, just a little uncomfortable
One day, the father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country
with the express purpose of showing him how poor people live.
They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm
of what would be considered a very poor family.
On their return from their trip, the father asked his son,
“How was the trip’”
“It was great, Dad.”
“Did you see how poor people live’” the father asked.
“Yep,” said the son.
“So, tell me, what did you learn from the trip’” asked the father.
The son answered:
“I saw that we have one dog and they had four.
We have a pool that sits in the middle of our garden
and they have a creek that has no end.
We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have millions of stars at night.
Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon.
We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight.
We have servants who serve us, but they serve others.
We buy our food, but they grow theirs.
We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them.
And the father went back inside to work on his business balance sheet
But in the movement from an oral society to a literary society
And in the movement from eastern processes of thought
to linear Greek philosophical ways of thought we tend to lose something.
We can lose their edge. We can lose their creativity.
And we can lose their uncomfortableness
And if we do, we can lose their invitation to be part of the movement of God
and instead, think of it as something to be known –
a nice simple one-sentence summary to hold on to
And, of course, we can run the risk of losing their impact
by arguing around and about them.
Arguing if they were real events. Arguing if they were possible
Arguing if they have been passed down to us accurately.
It’s a convenient way of keeping them at arms length, rather than let them hook us
A scientific convention was held at a lakeside resort.
After the first day’s proceedings, a mathematician, a physicist, an astronomer
and a molecular biologist hired a boatman to row them around on the lake.
As they sat in the boat, they discussed string theory, bubble universes,
the Gaea Hypothesis and other grand topics.
The biologist noticed the boatman looking at them from the corner of his eyes.
He asked him, ‘What do you think of these ideas’’
The boatman replied, ‘I didn’t understand any of it.’
The astronomer asked him how far he had studied.
He told them he couldn’t even read.
‘I hate to say it,’ said the physicist, ‘but you seem to have wasted a good part of your life.’
The boatman remained silent.
By now they were out in the middle of the lake, far from shore.
A sudden storm whipped up.
The waves started churning and heaving.
All of a sudden, the boat flipped over. The boatman started swimming for shore.
The scientists cried out, ‘Help! We can’t swim!’
The boatman called back,
‘I hate to say it, but you seem to have wasted a good part of your lives.’
It’s similar when we get to the stories about Jesus as well as the stories told by Jesus
To take the gospels at their depth, rather than to sit with them at arms length
we could read them largely as filled with parables.
What is the power of the story of Jesus walking on water, if it is thought of as a parable
What is the impact of the Walk to Emmaus, if it is thought of as a parable
What is the twisting invitation of the feeding of the multitude if we consider it a parable
Sometimes we might run the risk of thinking of these stories
and coming up with a simple, neat, one-sentence summary.
“Oh! That one proves Jesus was God’s son”
which of course begs the question about what does that actually mean
“Oh! That one proves that Jesus could do anything he wanted”
which of course can get used as a trump card that just goes round in logical circles.
Let the stories twist. Let them turn.
Read the gospels with a sense of uncomfortableness
to invite us to consider them at depth
One day a farmer’s donkey fell down into a well.
The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally he decided the animal was old,
that the well needed to be covered anyway
and that it just wasn’t worth the cost of hiring a truck to retrieve the donkey.
So he invited all his neighbours to come over and help him.
They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well.
At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly.
Then, to everyone’s amazement, he quietened down.
They kept shoveling, assuming that the donkey had been hit by a rock
or was lying down and accepting its fate
As they kept shoveling, they noticed the donkey’s head appear above the well
And as they kept going, they saw the donkey shake each shovel load off,
pat it down with its hoofs stand on the dirt.
And the donkey got to the top, walked over the edge of the well
and trotted off