Friday, July 31, 2009

The Church and Story Part 3: Parables

Here is another piece of the original debate--


Just to add some clarification to the discussion.The Dane has already pointed out that there are a number of occassions in Scripture where Jesus uses parables with the clear intent to hide the truth from unbelievers, yet you keep using it as a justification for drama and film in corporate worship. Any response?


The Dane states that obfuscation is the “chief purpose” of Jesus’ parables. While I agree that Jesus did at times speak in parables to keep the dark in the dark (Matthew 13 and Isaiah 6), it wasn’t to make them even more befuddled; and more to my point, it is neither the only nor the chief use of parables by Jesus.

Even if that were the only use of parables, it wouldn’t be an argument to ban use of parables in church – where the congregation is ostensibly not the lost that Jesus was keeping in the dark. While the parable of the sower would be a head-scratcher to the unbelieving, Jesus did expect those with ears to hear to grow from it.

The bigger point is that keeping his teaching in the dark was only one (and by my count, the least used) reason for his choosing to tell parables.

In fact, in the same chapter where he explained that he used parables so that those without sight wouldn’t see, he rattles off a string of parables to the disciples, followed by the question “Do you understand all these things?” (Matthew 13:51) He fully expected them to understand without him having to break it out for them.

Is it really being argued that the lawyer in Luke 10, who was able to state what Jesus meant by “neighbor” immediately after hearing the story of the good Samaritan, somehow didn’t understand the parable?

Or that Jesus taught about prayer (Luke 11), and wrapped up the parables by saying, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"- did so because he was hoping they wouldn’t understand what he was getting at?

There is a belief out there that if something is one thing, it can only be that one thing. The reason we are having this discussion is because a pastor believes that since he gives a certain style of sermon very well, therefore there must be only one “right” kind of sermon for all pastors.

Jesus did not follow that stricture – in fact, he changed styles to meet people where they were at. Sometimes he would talk to thousands; sometimes he spoke in small groups. Sometimes he spoke in riddles, sometimes plainly; sometimes he answered questions, sometimes he ignored them.

The fact of the matter is, Jesus used parables for all kinds of reasons throughout his ministry. Sometimes it was so those that got it would get it and those that weren’t ready wouldn’t; sometimes it was to illustrate; sometimes to reinforce; sometimes to start conversation; sometimes to break down walls (the crowd would never have tolerated the notion of Samaritan as neighbor without the story), etc.

In Matthew 18, Jesus performs a little bit of theater when asked who is the greatest. He calls a little child up to stand with them – a visual representation to illustrate his answer.

In that same bit of teaching, he mixes exhortation (“Woe to the world!”) and a parable of clarification (telling of the 99 sheep).

Later in chapter 18, when Peter ask how many times one should forgive, Jesus gives his answer (70 times 7), but appears to feel that answer isn’t enough, so he tells the story of the ungrateful servant. He wraps up with “This is how my heavenly father will treat you…” This clearly is not a case of trying to mask meaning and muddle the masses.

In fact, this showcases another use of story – sometimes a question can not be answered literally. If Peter forgave 490 times, it would still not reach the debt that had been forgiven of Peter. And, more to the point, if Peter is legalistically counting off “forgive you”s, he is heading in the wrong direction completely.

Let me repeat this notion: sometimes story is needed because mere literal words can not contain the fullness of the teaching.

I would never go so far as to say that a sermon or a service without story is incomplete – no one sermon or service is meant to hold all of the spiritual life.

But I will say that a theology without story is incomplete.

That is why when we tell the good news of the gospel, we don’t just use the red-letter words of Jesus. We also tell the story of Jesus – where he came from, what he did, the miracles he chose to perform, how he lived and died, and how he lived again.

The greatest story ever told contains more than any sermon trying to describe it ever could.


1 comment:

David Goulet said...

Good stuff, Sean.

It's interesting that the Gospel of John starts with "In the beginning," -- sounds like a story is about to unfold to me.