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SEPTEMBER 2018

 

 

How Jesus Taught 

 

 

Of all the forms used by Jesus in his teaching, by far the most familiar and striking is the parable.  The amount of parable material contained in our Gospels is quite impressive, for it is estimated that over a third of the teachings of Jesus found in the first three Gospels is found in parables.  In church school, children are taught that a parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.”  This is only partly true.  The dictionary defines parable as “a short allegorical story designed to convey some truth, some moral or spiritual principle. 

Parables are stories describing situations in everyday life which, as Jesus used them, convey a spiritual meaning. The function of Jesus’ parables – proclamation of the realm (kingdom/queendom) of God.  The special message of Jesus is summed up in Matthew 13.34:  “All this Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed he said nothing to them without a parable.”  Was Jesus being exclusionary when he answered the disciple who asked him why he taught in parables and he responded, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom?” (13.10-11)   There is common academic agreement that Jesus used parables, not to obscure truth, but to present it.  Jesus used parables to give vivid, understandable expression to his teaching.  Jesus used parable to allow the listener to interpret his words within the listener’s experience.  And Jesus probably used parable to  protect himself from the hostile powers in Jewish and Roman community. The historical Jesus used parable to both mystify and clarify his hearer’s understanding of the kingdom of God.  Jesus used parable because as a Hebrew scholar, he was taught in parabole, the Greek translation of the Hebrew mashalim.  Mashalim was the predominant form of his Hebrew teaching and it included story, riddle, paradox, and proverb.  And the central aspect of Jesus’ teaching concerned the proclamation of the realm of God.

Jesus did this by employing parables categorized by New Testament scholar John Dominic Crosson as parables of advent, reversal and action.  In their totality, the parables challenged humanity’s concept of time as their future.  Humanity’s concept of owning time.  This view of owning time, time as man’s future, Jesus opposed in the name of time as God’s present—in advent, reversal and action.  Advent as a gift of God, reversal of the recipient’s world, and its empowering to life and action in the present time.  We shall experience examples of each from our text.

In the parable of the mustard seed, an advent parable, the beginnings of
God’s realm are small, coming from a plant that farmers considered noxious, but it is a beginning that will grow into something startling and different.  In this timeless story we can see our own
beginningness in God’s time. 

Parables of reversal challenge our wisdom and our prudence.  The Samaritan, whose heritage made him an outcast, is glorified as good.  The vineyard laborers who worked least were paid most, the prodigal son honored, and the dutiful son ignored.  Jesus used reversal as the proclaimer of paradox.  He was introducing us to a “new scheme of things, in which ordinary values are reversed and reasonable judgments disqualified.” 

The parables of Jesus demand action.  If we listen we hear “repent,” “follow me,” “believe,” “take up the cross,” “confess,” “lose one’s life,” “take up his yoke.”  By far most of Jesus’ extant parables are those calling us to action.  They challenge one to life and action in response to the advent of God’s realm. In the parable of The Treasure the finder discards his entire past in order to secure the field and its hidden content.  Jesus teaches through the parables of action that we must be ready and willing to respond in life and action to the advent of God.  In this time, now, even though our wisdom and prudence tell us otherwise.   

At the beginning and the end of the parable discourse Jesus is concerned with being understood. The disciples heard and accepted Jesus’ message and by their faith had access to deeper understanding.  The parables do not obscure truth but present it.

The issue of understanding, which began Matthew’s parable discourse (13.10-17), comes to the fore a second time in vs. 51.  “Have you understood all this?” Jesus asks.  Then, Matthew gives us Jesus’ saying about the scribe trained for the Kingdom.  

“Every scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” The scribe, an expert in the Mosaic law, having become a disciple of Jesus, is able to preserve past insights and enlarge them.  Remarkably, the order of the householder bringing goods from his treasure reverses the normal manner of stating things:  not old and new, but new and old.  The fresh takes priority over the preserved.  This image is most fitting for those who hear Jesus’ call to discipleship.  Jesus taught, above all, that truly vital faith is current, forward-looking participation in the kingdom/queendom of God.  “Have you understood this?” Jesus asked the disciples.  Can you imagine the silence among them?  Wouldn’t you have died before you’d say “no” to the Great Teacher.  That you did not understand.  The disciples were intimidated into saying yes, because, just like us, each yearned to understand, yet understood them differently, and some, not at all.

         Parables are tiny bits of coal squeezed into diamonds, condensed metaphors that catch a ray of something ultimate and glint it at our lives.  Parables demand interpretation, and multiple, diverse interpretation is their destiny.  Parables cannot be exhausted; they are always more than we can tell.  Faithful interpretation of a parable will be plural, not singular.  The fact is that there is no one point of entry into these parables, and no single exit.  That is precisely why they are so timeless, so universally potent, so masterful—to all the people, lay and scholar, adult and child.  Parables are like the woman and the lost coin.  They seek us out and they find us where we are.  Even though the parable risks losing control over the hearer, the parable invites us to participate.  So that “our eyes would be blessed to see, and our ears to hear, blessed so that we would understand with our hearts”(13.15-16).  The parable invites us to participate with our own life, our own experience and our own intellect.  It invites us into our own experience of God’s realm, and to draw from that experience our own way of life.  It invites us to participate—just as Jesus invites us to participate—in the realm, the basilea of God.  

 

greetings to you and blessings through Christ,

Pastor Cindy Jean Saul

_____________________________________

John Dominic Crosson, In Parables, The Challenge of the Historical Jesus, Sonoma, CA:  Polebridge, 1992.

Robert H. Stein, An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus, Philadelphia:  Westminster, 1981.

ibid, 76.

Walter Wink, Transforming Bible Study, Nashville:  Abindgdon, 1989,  p. 159.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Presbyterian Church of Bull Shoals
903 Walnut Ave.
P. O. Box 305
Bull Shoals, Arkansas 72619
Phone 870-445-4622
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HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

September 1 - Tywllah Schauer

September 12 - Gloria Wiles

September 29 - Pamela Hobart

October 12 - Elaine Miller

October 17 - Nancy Soares

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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September 1 - Dick and Jeni Sass

September 2 - Ken and Pam Hobart

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