I greet you in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. There is no one like him. Friends of sinners, healer of broken bodies and troubled minds. The good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Victors over the powers of evil and death. The one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given. The one in whom and because of whom God’s long awaited kingdom is breaking into the world. The smartest person who ever lived and who has the keys to human understanding. Grace to you and peace in His name.
We are living in volatile times. That is an under statement. I have been around a long time, a little over seven decades I will be 72 in October, but I have never witnessed what we are witnessing in our time.
I have experienced a lot of change in my life. I have experienced a lot of turmoil and upheaval, but nothing like what we are witnessing and experiencing all over the world right now.
So why in such a time as this, are we going to do what we are about to do. Why would thoughtful, concerned citizens like you and I, choose to spend ten mornings, suspend all our activities, and spend ten mornings listening to and wrestling with parables? The longest of which only takes three minutes to read.
Why spend 10 days in the parables of Jesus when the world is in such need? Should we not get out there and do something?
What do parables spoken 2000 years ago have to do with what is going on in the world right now? Well, Everything. As we will freshly discover, Jesus parables have everything to do with what we are experiencing. Jesus parables have everything to do with what is going on in the world.
For in Jesus parables he is painting pictures. Pictures of his understanding of what is going on.
Pictures of his understanding of the kingdom of God He is bringing into the world.
Pictures of his understanding of the God of the kingdom and pictures of what a relationship with the God of the kingdom of God looks like.
Pictures of what it means to be human in the image of God.
And we will come to freshly realize that spending time listening to and focusing on Jesus pictures, Jesus parables, helps us keep our balance in the midst of all that is going on.
On my counting the four gospels writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, record 47 of Jesus parables. He probably taught more. But of all that he taught, 47 have been faithfully recorded for us.
In the session I have with you each of the morning of this conference, I am inviting you to give your attention to the parables of Jesus recorded by Luke the physician. And we begin with one of Jesus most famous parables.
Now why does Jesus speak in parables?
He does not only speak in parables, he also speaks in prophetic exhortations like his famous Sermon on the Mount. And oh, how the world needs to hear the Sermon on the Mount right now.
And he speaks in dense theological discourses like those recorded in John. His “I Am” discourses. And oh how the world needs to hear those too.
But mostly Jesus speaks in parables. Why? The usual answer is to make things simpler to understand.
Jesus comes with a message to what he calls “the gospel of the kingdom”, the good news that God’s kingdom is at hand. He wants the full range of humans to understand his message, so he speaks in parables.
The word parable is made up of two words. Bole: something thrown, and para: alongside. Parabole something thrown along side. So he speaks in parables, He throws stories alongside his message to make things easier to grasp.
Right? Well not exactly.
Did you notice the first disciples first reactions to his parables? They did not understand them. Not even the seemingly simple parable of the sower. Or the parable or is it called the parable of the seed? Or is it the parable of the soil? The first disciples first reaction is to ask Jesus to explain the parables.
Read Luke 8:9. And his disciples began questioning him as to what this parable might be. They do not immediately get it. The parables do not immediately make things simpler.
Well, if the parables do not make things simpler then why speak them? Why did Jesus choose this form of communication?
Well, I wrestled with this for years. Clearly Jesus tells his stories, that is what most of the parables are, stories that create a picture. He tells them because he wants to give a new perspective.
We all live with stories that help us make sense of life. Every culture in every era has stories that enable us to order our lives and help us cope with what is going on. And the crisis of our time lies just there, especially in North America.
The stories by which we have been living no longer make sense. The modern and post modern stories are no longer able to help us make sense of what we are experiencing. So whole societies are casting about looking for some story that accounts for and gives meaning to all that we are experiencing.
Enter Jesus with his stories. Stories about his understanding of history. Stories about his understanding of human existence. So clearly he tells the parables to give us his perspective. But not to make things simpler.
Luke tells us that as Jesus teaches the parable of the sower, or seed or soil, see what I mean, he would call out “he who has ears to hear, let him listen, she who has ears to hear let her listen”.
The disciples then ask him to explain what he is saying. He answers Luke 8:10 “to you who has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, in order that seeing they may not see and hearing they may not understand”.
Many translations of Luke print the words “seeing and hearing” in capital letters. Why? Because Jesus is quoting scriptures. He is quoting the Old Testament. In particular the prophet Isaiah. He is quoting from Isaiah 6. It is a very important chapter in the grand story of God’s work in and for the world.
In the year that king Uzziah died, writes Isaiah, 640 B.C. It’s a time of major transition indeed it’s a time of frightening upheaval. In that year, Isaiah is given a vision. He sees the Lord Yahweh sitting on a throne high and lifted up. Kings and rulers like Uzziah come and go but not Yahweh. He is the eternal king whose kingdom cannot be overthrown.
Isaiah sees these angelic creatures sitting above the throne calling out “holy, holy, holy, is the Lord the whole earth is full of his glory”. As they sing the foundations of the threshold tremble and the temples fills with smoke. The prophet is undone, he becomes keenly and fearfully aware of his sin.
“Woe is me for I am ruined, my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of host”. One of the angelic creatures flies over to him with a burning coal in his hand. He touches Isaiah’s mouth and he says “your iniquity has been taken away and your sins is forgiven”.
And then he hears the voice of Yahweh saying “Who will go for us?” FOR US -the triune God. Who will go for us? “Here Am I, send me” says Isaiah.
And then we hear the words which Jesus quote, Isaiah 6:9-11. God says to Isaiah “go and tell this people keep on listening but do not perceive, keep on looking but do not understand.
Render the hearts of this people insensitive their ears dull their eyes dim Lest they see with their eyes hear with ears understand with their hearts and turned and be healed”.
Isaiah 6 is quoted in the New Testament 6 times. 6 times. By Jesus in Luke’s gospel. By Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. By Jesus in Mark’s gospel. By John in his gospel.
When he tells the story of Palm Sunday, lamenting the fact that all that people has seen great signs, the majority were not believing in him. Quoted by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans lamenting that the very people who should have seen did not see. And then by Paul after arriving in Rome lamenting that he encounters stubborn people who do not yet believe.
What is going on here? Why quote Isaiah 6 about “seeing and not seeing, hearing and not hearing”? How does this inform the reason Jesus speaks in parables.
Okay, listen carefully. “Turn and be healed. Turn and be healed.” If we see and really see, if we hear and really hear, we will turn and be healed. If we see and truly perceive, if we hear and truly understand, we will make a U-turn in the road and be healed.
Jesus wants people. He wants you and me to turn and be healed. But will we? Will we see and hear and turn and be healed?
Now here is where we need to pay very careful attention to the text. In the gospel of Luke Jesus quotes Isaiah 6 saying that he speaks parables “in order that…”. Luke 8:10 “in order that…” (Greek - hina). In order that they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.
Jesus teaches in parables so that people see and not see, hear and not hear. But in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus quote Isaiah 6 saying he speaks in parables “because….” (Greek – oti). Matthew 13:13 “because..” I speak in parables because while seeing they do not see, while hearing they do not hear nor do they understand.
Jesus teaches in parables to enable people to see and see, to hear and hear. So which is it? To obscure or to reveal? To frustrate seeing and hearing? Or to facilitate seeing and hearing? Now clearly Jesus teaches these parables to make us think.
A French philosopher by the name of Paul Ricoeur puts it this way. Parables are used to increase perplexity and to call to question the readers understanding.
But does the perplexity open up the message or hide the message? The message is the kingdom of God. In Jesus and because of Jesus, the long awaited kingdom of God is breaking into the world. Heaven is invading earth. The future is spilling into the present. Now. Today.
And Jesus’ parables are about this great fact. Sometimes more about the kingdom, and sometimes more about the god of the kingdom. Now does the parable help us see God or does the parable hide God? Which is it? Obscure or reveal? Open or hide? Am I making sense?
Now in order to answer correctly we need to pay attention to how Jesus’ parables work? Three words help me: Secular, Surprise, Scandal.
Nearly every parable Jesus speaks began on a secular note, on an earthy note. He begins with something from every day life and any one hearing him will immediately connects because Jesus speaks out of ordinary every day life.
But as he continues speaking, he surprises us. We think we are getting it, when all of a sudden we say, “hey, wait a minute, what did you just say?” And then we experience the surprise as a scandal.
By scandal I do not mean something dirty, or corrupt or raunchy. By scandal I mean something that catches us off guard. Something that offends our understanding of how things are and should be. The surprise of the parable poses a scandal.
Jesus makes claims about the kingdom of God that surprise us and even offend us. Jesus portrays something of the god of the kingdom that surprises us and even offends us. In everyone of Jesus parable he starts on a secular note, introduces us a surprise and the surprise poses a scandal.
Let me illustrate. Jesus begins with ordinary mundane story line.
The sower went out to sow seed. Everyone in 1st century Palestine could picture it.
A certain man was going down to Jericho. He fell among robbers, they strip him and beat him. By chance a certain priest was coming along the road. Everyone could picture that too.
A shepherd had a 100 sheep, one gets lost he goes out to find it.
A certain man had two sons. The younger son says to his father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me. Give me now what will be mine when you die”. Not hard to imagine, cruel, but not hard to imagine.
A certain rich man had a steward. It was reported to him that the steward was squandering money. So he calls the steward into his office and says, “what is this I hear of you?” That’s not hard to imagine, is it?
A landlord went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. And he agrees with the laborers to pay a certain amount. Okay I know such things we say.
Jesus is using the secular to speak about the kingdom of God and the God of the kingdom. As some scholars put it, Jesus is speaking secularly about the transcended.
And then Jesus takes the story in unexpected ways. He surprises us.
The sower went out to sow his seed. Some fell beside the road where it was trampled under foot. Why is he sowing on a hard ground? Others fall on rocky ground and shallow soil. Why, why is he sowing there? Other seeds fall among thorns. Surely the sower knows better than that. Still others fall on good soil, and they produce a crop one hundred times the normal harvest.
One hundred times? “Jesus, things like that do not happen in our world.” Maybe two times the normal. Or three times or four times, but one hundred times?
The priest sees the wounded man and passes by on the other side, says Jesus. Wait a minute. Is it part of the priest’s responsibility to heal wounded people? A Levite comes along and he passes by on the other side.
But a Samaritan comes upon the man in the ditch and he stops. WOW. A Samaritan? Who supposedly does not know god and god’s way in the world. A Samaritan bandages the wounded man, takes him to the nearest hotel, gives him a nice room, tells the clerk he will pay all the expenses for the man’s recovery.
The shepherd in his desire to find one lost sheep leaves the ninety-nine in the open pasture. What, Jesus? Palestinian shepherd will never do that. Risk the well being of the ninety-nine just to find one?
The younger son has hurt his father deeply when he returns from the far country. And says Jesus, the father was waiting for him. WOW, wow. Waiting? The father was waiting for the prodigal?
The father runs to meet his son at the village gate. Wow, the father runs? Jesus, Jesus, you know the man of his age and status never runs in public for any reasons. The father embraces the son, he kisses the son, he calls for the best robe to put on it, he calls for the signet ring to be put on, and then the father throws a party.
What is this? The son should be punished, instead he gets a party.
The steward of the rich man is exposed for his manipulating and stealing. So he goes to the rich man’s client and rewrite the loans agreement downward. The rich man finds out what he does and he praises the steward for being so shrewd. What? What did you just say Jesus?
The landlord sends the first group of laborers into the vineyard. A few hours later, he hires another group. A few hours later, he hires yet another group. Towards the end of the day, he hires yet another group. And when it comes time to pay them, they all get the same amount. WOW Jesus.
We thought you were talking about the kingdom of God. This is no way to run a kingdom. Especially the kingdom of God.
In every one of Jesus’ parable, he surprises us. He takes the story in directions we would have never thought of. And then the surprise poses a scandal. Intentionally so. Jesus takes the story in a surprising direction to pose a scandal. The scandal of his gospel, the offence of his good news.
The parables are about the kingdom of God. In each of the parable, He tells us something surprising about of the kingdom and something surprising about the God of the kingdom. He surprises us in the sense of “never expected that”. We would never deduce that on our own. And then the surprise offends us.
Not that he speaks offensively. It’s just that what he speaks, offense us.
Why? A surprise calls into question our understanding of kingdom. The surprise calls into question our understanding of God.
The surprise then poses a scandal.
Here is the point. We either embrace this scandal as the way things are in the kingdom of God or we reject the scandal as the distortion of the way of the kingdom of God. We either take our stand on the scandal. Or the scandal becomes a rock of offence over which we trip.
So back to the question. Why did Jesus speak parables? “They who have ears to hear, let them hear. They who have eyes to see, let them see”.
Hear and hear and turn and be healed. See and see and turn and be healed.
Or see and not see and not turn and not be healed. Hear and not hear and not turn and not be healed.
It all depends on what we do with the scandal. Press through it and see and hear and turn and be healed. Or back off take offence at what Jesus says. And not see and not hear and not turn and not be healed.
Jesus teaches the parable to reorient our understanding. But to accomplish the reorientation, He first disorients us.
The disorientation leads us to the reorientation. But first comes the disorientation. And we will discover in the days to come that the surprise leads to the scandal of extravagance.
It is this extravagance of Jesus that we will be tempted to trip over. Did you hear the note of extravagance as I retold some of Jesus parables?
Throwing seeds everywhere.
The Samaritan paying the full cost of health care.
Seeds growing up with a hundred fold harvest.
The vineyard owner paying every one a day’s wage even if they did not work a day.
And the father throwing a party for the prodigal son. The kid should admit and have been sent to his room.
But, no, not the God of the God of the kingdom.
A sinner comes home and God throws a party. Fat and calf, music and dancing.
And the older son is scandalized. This extravagance is too much for him. He will not join the party. He will not enter the father’s joy and having the prodigal home. He is offended by the extravagant love of the father.
And those who are hired by the vineyard owner early in the morning, are scandalized. They cannot handle the extravagance of the owner. He paid the late arrivers as much as the early arrivers. And they cannot handle the generosity of the god of the kingdom.
You see, you hear? In his parable Jesus is creating a crisis. A crisis of understanding.
But of course for as the Lord says to the prophet of Isaiah, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways your ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than yours, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts”.
The first disciples did not immediately understand Jesus because they experienced Jesus’ teaching as colliding with their understanding of reality. And that collision either results in faith or it result in being offended.
Saving faith is borne in the face of crisis. Am I making sense? You think so? Okay. Good. Cause I can start all over and repeat everything if we need to.
Now it turns out that Jesus himself is the scandal. Not only what he says, but Jesus himself. His mere presence in the world calls into question everything we understand.
Everything about what it means to be human. Everything about what it means to do justice. Everything about what it means to love. Everything about what it means for the kingdom of god to come. And everything about what it means for God to be God.
This is why the apostle Paul says the gospel is a scandal.
Jesus the man from Galilee, GOD in our flesh and blood?
Jesus who knew no sin became sin for us that we might be reconcile to God?
Jesus who through utter weakness overcomes the power of evil and death?
Jesus by dying conquers death?
Jesus the servant the one through whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess you are Lord?
The carpenter, the One by whom and for whom all things were made, in whom all things hold together?
Just by being who he is He poses a great scandal. Whom we either embraced and are healed or over whom we trip and continue in our brokenness.
John the Baptist, had the privilege of being the one to introduce Jesus to the world. He carried out his role with great zeal and joy. But not long after Jesus began his public ministry, John was disappointed with Jesus. Jesus was not acting the way John expected him to act.
Jesus was not bringing the kingdom in the way John expects kingdom to come. It was too much mercy, and not enough judgment. So he sends envoy to Jesus asking, “Are you the coming one or should we look for someone else?”
Jesus reveals to John all that has been happening. People lives are being changed. Grace is abounding to the broken. And then Jesus says, “blessed is the one who keeps from stumbling over me”. The word is scandalize. Blessed is the one who is not scandalized by me.
So why does Jesus speaks his good news in parable?
To see and really see. To hear and really hear. So that we will turn and be healed.
But we will only see and really see, we will only hear and really hear, and turned and be healed when we embrace the scandal, which we do by embracing Jesus himself.
And surrendering our perspective to His. And letting Him bring us into the surprising, scandalous extravagance of His new world order.
See, hear, turn, be healed. Let us pray.
Lord Jesus, there simply is no one like you in all the universe. No one has the wisdom you do. No one else knows what it means to be human like you do. No one else knows what it means to be God like you do. So to the best of our ability, we surrender our minds and hearts to you. So that we might have your mind and your heart. All praise be unto you. Amen.