Over the past couple of months each Sunday morning at Hobart Baptist, we’ve been working our way through the gospel of Matthew and looking at many of the things Jesus taught. Sometimes I feel like I understand what Jesus is on about, other times I see new things I’d never seen before. Sometimes I feel like I’m still in kindergarten, starting out all over again.
One feature of the way Jesus taught that always fascinates me is his parables. While it is clear that Jesus didn’t invent the parable form, he is obviously a master of it. Even as we read them today, they are full of insights and truths that are still applicable to us. But it is more than just the spoken parables that intrigue me, it is the enacted ones as well.
In his book The Parables of the Kingdom, Robert Capon suggests that, “Jesus not only spoke in parables; he thought in parables, acted in parables, and regularly insisted that what he was proclaiming could not be set forth in any way other than in parables.”
When we read the gospels we find Jesus doing things like clearing out the temple, turning water to wine, and raising Lazarus from death to life. Each of these incidents in their own way is an enacted parable. As we come closer to the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ life itself becomes an acted out parable. The final week of his life is almost a series of rolling parables. From the entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey right, to his crown of thorns, to his execution on a Roman cross, and his borrowed tomb, each element in the drama is full of meaning – just like a parable.
All parables, spoken or acted are used by the gospel writers to help us see things in new ways. They are designed to reframe our religious expectations, and to turn our understandings upside down. What Jesus did for us through his life and death is so amazing we can only fathom its depth by having our eyes opened. We so easily grow accustomed to the stories and sayings that we miss how shocking they were to the conventions of the day. More importantly we can miss how disconcerting they can be to the conventions of our day too.
“What Jesus did for us through his life and death is so amazing we can only fathom its depth by having our eyes opened.“
Continuing the journey through the gospel of Matthew, looking at both the spoken and acted parables, you can expect to see new insights and have your current understandings tested. After all, when Jesus said, God has “hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them to babes,” (Matthew 11:25) he meant it.
So I’m not concerned that I feel like I’m in kindergarten again. In fact that is perhaps the best place that I, and all of us, can be!
What’s your favourite, or perhaps your most puzzling, parable?
Stephen L Baxter