Yesterday, we did a soft launch for our parables sermon series, a string of messages that will stretch out over the next few months towards the advent season. I love parables and the Gospel texts so this series is going to be fun.
The soft launch sermon sought to address the idea of a parable. Specifically, “what is a parable,” and “why was it used,” specifically by Jesus and by the Gospel traditions that record them?
I suggested that Jesus used parables as a means to launch non-violent reactions (flash mobs) in his preaching/teaching ministry. Parables were episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” bending the minds of his hearers with uncommon conclusions to common realities. Jesus used parables to argue, to frustrate, and to disrupt. Parables were assaults upon the ego, provoking deep and undetected changes.
Matthew (writing a few decades later than the Jesus events) provided an interesting conclusion as to why Jesus used parables. Matthew 13:10-17 suggests that Jesus used the parables as a way to confuse his hearers, to throw them off, to leave them in a place of dissonance. Parables were told to outsiders while Jesus spoke plainly to insiders. Parables were a wall to divide two groups of people.
An obvious question: Why did Jesus (or at least Matthew’s account of Jesus) do this? I mean, doesn’t Jesus and Matthew want all to embrace Jesus? Why confuse and create dissonance?
Matthew, I suggest, created a powerful rhetorical device: embarrassment. Matthew’s Gospel has two big ideas: first, Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s story and lastly, the Jews should have seen it all along, but refused it embrace it. Therefore, Jesus is “re-seeding Israel from within Israel and those who are participating in it were the characters that we’d expected God to pass over.”
So, Matthew suggests that parables were used to create a gap, to put a section of people outside (for the moment) in order to include them later on by their own volition, after embarrassment could do a deep work within them, to confront their pride and exclusivity, to want to be a part of the insiders as humble servants and guests.
There are two types of embarrassment: embarrassment that leads to seclusion and the embarrassment that leads to salvation.
Think about that time when you had an out-of-body experience, of sorts, which gave you a perspective about the gap that you had in your life.
Perhaps a time when you were seething with anger or reluctant to respond in a moment of crisis.
Think about that conversation with a friend when they explained that they didn’t feel that they could confide in you any longer because you let them down in the past.
Think about the time you expected a raise, an award, but it was given to someone else.
These gaps, these free falls, could lead to you or I hiding away, living with bitterness, or blaming others.
Or, they can be a means of grace to us. Because, all of life’s experiences belong. God’s kindness always leads us to repentance, even those lowly, embarrassing moments when we’ve blown it. Those moments provide the clarity that we need to make some changes and to keep going.