Dear Friends in Christ,
In the next few newsletters we will be sharing some thoughts on “parables” as a well known teaching method in sacred scripture.
“A heavenly story with no earthly meaning” was the answer provided by a student when asked to define the word “parable? While we may not provide this answer ourselves, most of us, at least in much of the northern hemisphere, live in cultures far removed from the rural agrarian world of first-century Palestine. We snootily dismiss as “underdeveloped” people who still live in areas where sowers wander up and down fields, deprived of the glories provided by condominiums, twenty-four hour supermarkets and online shopping. At least theoretically, I could do everything I need to do to live, except go to the doctor, from the safety and comfort of a recliner «and one that even assists me to get up and down, at that.
It’s not just the parables of Jesus that seem to be so obscure. The whole Bible reflects a long-gone world. Consciously or subconsciously, even practicing Christians sign on to the idea that those who came before us were underdeveloped, ignorant, and even bigoted. We judge the writings and beliefs of those who have gone before us, particularly when we don’t agree with them, by our own beliefs and in the context of our own cultures. This is as true of people who say they believe every word of Scripture was dictated through human agents, by God himself, as it is of those who dismiss much of the Bible’s content as being unenlightened, written by primitive people frightened of their own shadows.
It’s now been a couple of centuries since the seed drill replaced hand sowing, and today, “broadcasting” -throwing out seeds –means being on TV. Even fishing is mechanized. Wedding feasts remain, but rings have replaced coins and tokens threaded on gold or silver chains like a huge bracelet. We are more likely to dig up treasure than to bury it or store it in an agricultural shed; that’s what banks are for. What about the boss who pays his workers the same wage even if he just hired some of them ten minutes before closing time? Today, the boss would have a government agent, replete with a stack of forms at the door, or a union strike on his hand.
Thomas Jefferson wasn’t the first to go through scripture with a pair of scissors, cutting out the bits he thought dated, obscure, or plain wrong. We all do it, not only when we think scripture is outdated, but when our consciences are pricked. Our generation has been taught to feel good about itself. Even our clergy tell us that God is all about love, that he accepts us as we are, that his love is unconditional -all true without mentioning that God is just, that God judges, and that we are to admit our fallen-ness, seek forgiveness, and make up with those we have harmed. In fact, we have to accept that we are to be called to account for the people we are and the lives we live before we dare accept that God loves us unconditionally. Once, to use old-fashioned language, we acknowledge that we are sinners, saved by grace, much of what we believed to be obscure about Scripture and the parables Jesus told suddenly becomes clear.