Since the beginning of July we have focused on the Parables which Jesus tells in the course of his teaching. These Parables are found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, primarily. And these Parables are all focused on the Kingdom of God – or, if you prefer, the Realm of God. God’s Realm has come into this world and into our lives through Jesus, the Word made flesh. The Parables then present different angles or views of God’s Realm. As we study, ponder and pray about the Parables we begin to see different dimensions of what God’s Realm is and different aspects of who God is.
There are a couple important themes which link the Parables with each other and which most of the Parables share. 1.) The parables that Jesus tells are about what God is doing; how the Kingdom of God or the God’s Realm has come into the world through Jesus and how this Realm of God is abundantly present to all the world. 2.) The parables and the Realm of God are not primarily about us. Try as we might to read ourselves into the parables in various ways ultimately Jesus is telling stories about what God is doing – showering us with grace, love and forgiveness – and not what we need to do in order to earn our way into the kingdom. 3.) When we do appear or when Jesus references his listeners he does so in order to try to help his disciples of every age open themselves up to the realm of God which is here; he does so in order to help his listeners to see, to perceive, to recognize that God is here working among us and loving us; he does so in order to invite us to join him in the work of loving the world and reaching out with grace, love and forgiveness to the world – which we cannot do without the Spirit working in us.
And how does Jesus fashion stories that do accomplish these things? Well by creating situations and characters that shock or jolt us out of our comfort zone and suggest a world that is very different than the world we know. And so, Jesus portrays God in some very unusual, surprising and even offensive ways. God is the incompetent judge who is not interested in judging; God is the really bad sower who doesn’t know how to properly sow a field with seed and instead of carefully sowing the seed on good soil (so as not to waste any) God tosses the seed (which is the Realm of God made manifest in the Word/Jesus) every where so that it lands in all kinds of places and it takes root and grows – everywhere; God is the employer who doesn’t know how to manage employees and is way too generous; God is the Father of the prodigal sons who is so anxious to love and forgive that he humiliates himself. And who are we? We are the good soil, the weedy soil, the rocky soil, the hardened soil upon which the seed of the Word is sown and which begins to grow but may not provide a climate where it might flourish; we are the workers who complain and grumble about how generous the employer is, who feel that such generosity is just not fair; we are the prodigals who want the father dead so we can have everything that doesn’t really belong to us and who are so rigid and self-righteous we refuse to attend the feast of celebration.
And then there is the parable of the Good Samaritan in which Jesus is the man in the ditch, and which calls on us to look beyond our prejudices and pre-conceptions and self-interest to recognize that the man in the ditch is our brother/sister who needs our help. Or the parable of the Friend at Midnight which points out that God’s Realm is a place of community, and in this community we are all interdependent and our physical and spiritual health is interwoven with other believers like a huge tapestry.
We are a part of the Kingdom of God – the Realm of God and we have a God who loves us madly and passionately which goes against our human logic. In God’s Realm forgiveness and love and grace are showered upon all of God’s people – with no consideration of the human categories which we use to separate people. Can we accept this? Can we see that through the Holy Spirit, God calls us to love each other in this way, to reach out to others and to be an open vessel of this crazy love?
These are Jesus’ Parables and while we will be returning to the lectionary readings in September – guess what? We will not be leaving the Parables behind. Almost every week between now and the end of November feature a Matthean Parable. So, we are not through with the Parables yet. Which is a good thing! Thanks be to God!