Hello, Peter! It is so good to be back with you this week! I keep learning new things about Jesus and find myself thinking about them and how they connect to old things that I knew. Sometimes I even see something in my walks through the city and find it reminds me of something that I have learned that Jesus said or talked about. I think it all comes back to the stories that he told that I keep hearing from our leaders. Did you find Jesus to be a good storyteller?
My friend, it is so good to see you again, as well. Yes, I did find Jesus to be a good storyteller. Something in what you just said was a key aspect of inspiration for a story from Jesus. He would sometimes see something in our midst and make a brief comparison – a short metaphor or simile. “You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.” “The eye is the lamp of the body.” “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed,” and then he would go on to provide a little broader explanation of that connection. He did something similar with the statement, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast.” These would be insightful and make you think. But, they really were not stories. Yet, sometimes he would build an entire story – I have heard a term for them from the Greek, a parable – around something that was said to him or that was visible in our context, or even just something that was a common experience to everyone gathered.
So, he used these stories that connected to common experiences as ways of making hard things easier to understand?
Well, I guess that I would have to say yes and no to that. There were times when Jesus told one of these parables and I felt like I was taken deeper into understanding a spiritual truth. But, there were also times when I and the other disciples heard a story and we were even more confused and asked Jesus to interpret – to make the connections clearer. He would do that, but seemed to find our confusion interesting, as if our lack of understanding meant something to him.
It sometimes seemed that these stories were ways that interested followers could go deeper in their insights, while those who were trying to trap him in his statements could be left perplexed. Yet, other times it was obvious that the story was just a true resource for teaching clearly a particular insight or point.
Did he tell these stories often?
Yes, he did. And some of those stories were so powerful that you never forgot them!
So then, you have some favorites that you might be willing to tell me?
Oh my, “favorites” seems like such a dangerous category! I think that they were so well told and were so wisely connected to everyday life that certain situations inspire a story that is my favorite in that context.
Well, still, what would be some that you would want me to be sure to know about.
I guess I would confess that I am better able to talk about them than tell them again myself. That would be my way of passing these connecting stories on to you and hope that you will hear them in your worship times with new ears!
I remember a time when a lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus put it back on him as one well-versed in the law, “What is written in the law?” The man’s answer reflected key emphases that Jesus had made to us in our time with him. The man came back with quotes from scripture regarding loving the Lord our God with all that we are and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus affirmed this response and basically told him that if he carried those out faithfully, he would be embracing a journey into eternal life.
This willingness to lift up keeping of the law with high expectations was typical of Jesus. I found that Jesus often lifted the law so powerfully high so that we could realize that we had no chance of living lives of perfection under the law. Jesus was willing to let us wrestle with a statement like, “You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It was his way, it seemed, to drive us toward the understanding that our trust in him would yield the forgiveness and life that we wanted.
This is the Gospel. We find that we are less than God would have us be in small and large ways. Thus, we sin. Jesus died for us on the cross that our sin might be forgiven through his sacrificial death for us. He rose again that we might also have new lives in him. Through our faith in him, we have new life each day and even on through death into eternity.
This lawyer seemed to pick up on the sticky aspect of Jesus saying so simply, “do this and you will live.” He asked Jesus to clarify or define exactly who was his neighbor.
This led Jesus to tell one of his most powerful parables. It was about a man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho who fell among robbers and was left for dead. A priest came by and avoided any contact with him, passing by on the other side. A Levite also came by but did the same. Key religious leaders who had great exposure to the law found themselves able to pass by and leave that man for dead.
But then, Jesus introduced a third traveler into the story. It was this traveler that left us all wrestling for the depth of truth he was revealing. Jesus revealed that a Samaritan, the most hated group of people for Jews in our time, came by. This Samaritan was moved by the man’s need. The Samaritan cared for the man, bandaged his wounds and even poured oil on them to help with their healing. The Samaritan placed the man on his own donkey while he walked until they found an inn. The Samaritan took care of him there that night and then paid the innkeeper to continue the man’s care until the Samaritan’s return. The Samaritan promised the innkeeper that he would cover any other costs at that time.
Then, Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man?” The lawyer responded with the obvious answer, “The one who showed mercy.” He could not even say the word Samaritan with the answer. Jesus told him to “go and do likewise.”
Did you notice that Jesus emphasized, in his answer, the loving, costly actions taken by the Samaritan and not the needy man as to who was the neighbor? Neighboring was all about the active response to a person in need.
Wow! There is so much there to think about.
There you are. That is what happens with these stories of Jesus. There are so many connections that they make into one’s life and into one’s experiences. In a powerful and meaningful way, they can haunt you with their meaning.
Can you walk by a beggar without this story working on your heart? Can you carry a prejudice in your life toward a group of people and not have this story work on your heart? Can you think about what it means to love God with all that you are and your neighbor as yourself and not have this story come to your mind and make you think and feel new things? Might it inspire one thing at one stage of your life and another at another stage? And this is just one story!
Yes, you said and I have heard that there were many stories.
Absolutely. Too many stories to be told this evening. But know that Jesus talked about a shepherd who left 99 of his sheep behind and went and searched until he found one lost sheep of his hundred. All of us matter in this gracious, good news search of God for us.
Jesus talked about a sower of seed whose seed fell into many different soils and how the different contexts left little yield except when the seed fell upon good soil. It has been so accurate to my experience of how this Gospel message touches lives and how people respond to it. It also has spoken personally to me about how I have received God’s word in my heart in different stages of my life and on different days.
Jesus told a parable about God’s judgment and how our interactions with people in need are really like interacting with Jesus himself. Jesus said in the story that people have found him, Jesus, hungry and fed him, thirsty and gave him drink, a stranger and welcomed him, naked and clothed him, sick and cared for him, AND you should note this evening, imprisoned and visited him! He said that those who had cared for the least of the world had cared, actually, for him.
Jesus told stories that live in one’s heart and rise to one’s mind as one lives every day. He made connections to real life – connections to the calling of being a follower, a disciple of Jesus. He made connections that inspire one to a more caring, faithful life that responds to the people we encounter every day and their challenges and needs.
Connections! I see it. I have experienced it a little in just the few stories that I have heard. Now I see even better how I need to hear more and really listen. I want those stories in my life. I want Jesus deeper in my life. Peter, you help me to yearn for a closer journey with Jesus. Thank you so much! I will be back!
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER FOR PERSONAL CONTEMPLATION OR GROUP STUDY:
1. As you think about the parables of Jesus that you know, what are some of the connections that you have experienced or that you see between the stories and real life?
2. What parables reveal possible contexts in which Jesus and the disciples were experiencing? Are there contexts in your everyday life that could yield some parables for thinking about the faith? Metaphors and similes make helpful connections as well. Are there just some simple statements that could be made like “The Gospel is like a refrigerator,” or “Following Jesus is like being on a baseball team.”?
3. The Cottonpatch Version of the Bible by Clarence Jordan shares Jesus’ parables in a more modern context. Would you have a way of updating or adjusting the Parable of the Good Samaritan that would bring it into our times?
4. What parable would be a favorite of yours and why?
5. Is there a parable that you have always wondered about or left you confused? This is a good opportunity to think about it, talk about it, or even research it online.