Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Parables of Jesus from the Inside - Introduction

There has been a major shift in the interpretation of the parables of Jesus in recent years. In simplest terms, several Biblical scholars believe that it is no longer helpful to interpret the parables at all. Why could this be so? While earlier New Testament scholars believed that each parable had a point or a lesson to apply, others have found it more helpful and more true to the force and place of the parable in Jesus’ teaching and presence to concentrate on the experience of the parable, itself. In other words, our task is not to apply the parables to our lives, but to experience the world revealed in the parable, itself.

Discovering the generosity of the owner of the vineyard in the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard may move us to emulate that generosity, but our worlds are untouched. We know from our life in the world that good advice and good examples, while salutary, do not change our basic orientation in the world. One of the things that we do know about the parables of Jesus is that they represent a basic shift in our orientation to the world. In this parable (Matthew 20:1-15) it is when we are involved emotionally and spiritually in the struggle between the workers who were first recruited and worked all day and those who were hired last and worked only an hour for the same wage that we begin to understand the shift in orientation. It is, I believe, when we also become involved in the conflict with others in the parable, with members of Jesus’ party, and with casual on-lookers that we move even deeper into what Bernard Brandon Scott refers to as the re-imagined world of Jesus.[i]

This shift from interpretation to re-experiencing is crucial. To conclude that God intends to treat all people with generosity and in ways that do not necessarily reflect our own cultural notions of fairness and justice is one thing. To live, even in one’s imagination, within this world of shifted priorities and ethics is quite another.

I began to understand this shift when working several years ago with a clown group composed of people with various disabilities. One of the middle-aged clowns was a woman named Maureen, who had been paralyzed for decades by a phobia about being close to men. She had been given reassurance upon reassurance and had been told in counseling that she could find men with whom she could trust herself. No amount of good advice or insight seemed to help at all. However, when Maureen donned her clown suit and went into the community to clown, she found it easy to joke with men, to chuck them under the chin in fun and even to sit in their laps flirting with them in the safety of her clown character. She was in another world, or in what for her must have felt like a parallel universe.

It took less than two years for her let go of the phobia and have relatively intimate relationships with men outside her clowning, because she had experienced another world. She made the switch from one world to another, from one kingdom to another. And so is the hope God holds out for us, in our attachments and orientation to the world the parables opposed. What is important to know is that the parables cannot be reduced to lessons about life or exhortations to live with different values. Gabriel Marcel wrote that life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived: so it is with the world disclosed in and through the parables of Jesus.

Two illustrations of this come to mind. The first is the notion of Jesus as the “Word.” Jesus cannot be reduced to words or images or descriptions: it is his life, his story, his presence which are the “word.” It is all of that which God meant to say. The earthly Jesus and the response of the faithful to him and the experience of the church of the risen Christ is “what God meant to say.” That is the word. Any work with the words and world of the parables ought to take place within the context of the Word.

The second illustration comes from the arts. The great dancer, Pavlova, was once asked what she meant by one of her dances. She replied, simply, “If I could have said it, I certainly would not have danced it.” So, too, with the parables of Jesus. Were the message of the parables possible to list in a series of aphorisms or guides to successful, fruitful or spiritually enhanced lives, Jesus might well have provided such a list. But this is about living in a whole other world or environment altogether – one you cannot understand from the outside. In that way it is like falling in love, living in the circus or even learning how to ride a bike! You know what it’s like when you get there, but you can’t get there without just being there.

The heart of what follows is a series of entry points into the world of the parables of Jesus. Each entry point is suitable for a congregation either at worship or in a retreat setting. With most of the parables, I have stressed the humor inherent in the parable or in its telling or re-enactment. I have done this, in part to honor the humor or comic spirit in the parable and, in part, to allow the different sensibility found in the parables to sneak into our consciousness. Most of the parables are deeply comic – and others do well, I believe, when dressed in comedy’s clothing.

I have introduced each of the parables with an “Outline of the Parable,” in which I have described the parable’s setting, its probable use by Jesus, and an overview of its meanings. Following the introduction, I have provided suggestions for staging or exploring the parable and a sample script for introducing the parable verbally to those in attendance. I have also included “Closing Lines” for use after the performance of the parable, as a way of bringing some closure to the experience. The “Reflections” are further thoughts about the parable and represent my experience within the life of the parable.

[i] Scott, Bernard Brandon, Re-Imagine the World: An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus, Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, California 2001.


Anonymous said...


“So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should springeth up and grow, he knoweth not how.”

And the sleep that is death, and the structure of such a death that makes it as if sleep, the nightmare in the midst of the sleep that is death, and not merely sleep now, the nightmare of the loss of all at the point one most loves and/or imagines or thinks he/she/it possesses it—for here, ‘heaven and earth’ have passed away, experienced as the inconceivable loss of all things—and it is the attempted continuity of one’s life, along the way of the attempt first, that gives back to the Father all that the Father has given to the self, a Gift impossible were the Door of the attempt first kept shut and locked against God—and it is this continuity, enacted as giving back to God that balances the loss of all—the giving back, that includes, but is not limited by, the giving back of one’s entire self, as consciousness, to that point, and the guardian of the Inexpressible, which has already released the self along the way of the attempt first, day by day, sleep after sleep—as now’ heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away’—and the structure, and infrastructure of the truth of the Word Himself, that coheres all agreement, and which is experienced as what awakening from death, and the sleep of death now, is, and which was before, eternal death no mere sleep can comprehend or experience—and the Word, given of Himself, of All of Himself, through which Awakening, as The Resurrection is, now occurs—the Word made Flesh—uniquely and universally given to the one who has embodied it through the Door of The Great Command—the narrow gate—and to which comes all of the now released, and formerly captured, inexhaustible freedom that founds and is The Resurrection—and how it now is that “For him that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath”—the ‘sickle’ being death, and the smallest seed, the mustard seed, being the word as “The sower soweth the word” along the way of The Great Command—the Word made Flesh and as accessible to each now as is Jesus to his, and our, Father.


“And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us Passover unto the other side…And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow…”

“As I am in my Father, as he is in me…”, so the storm is in me as I am in the storm, as I am in the word, as the word is in me, and as I am in the world but not of it…

‘I embody the words of the parable of the sower, and of both the parable, and of the understanding later, among my friends, among those who hear my commands and keep them—the seeing and the hearing—of it—asleep on my pillow, in both sleep and in death and awakening, for this is where my Father and I are one, and now here the same as there in death, in sleep, and in the world…’

“And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? And how then will ye know all parables? The sower soweth the word…”

‘And the structure of the word, as my Father takes my place in death, as I take your place in death, releasing first me, and then I releasing you… “Know ye not this parable? And how then will ye know all parables? The sower soweth the word…” ’

‘So the Storm is both here and there, where in death it has already passed through into the Father, and where he and I are one…

“And he arose and rebuked the wind…”

‘…the hatred of all that was offended in him and sought to destroy he and his friends…’

“And he arose ((“And he should sleep, and rise night and day (((in life as in death, “on earth as it is in heaven”))), and the seed (((the word))) should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how (((but that in sleep, he gave all away, and was risen from the death of sleep and the sleep of death, and the wind was no more than the experience of the loss of all things, inconceivable in the day, but in the night, experienced as Hell and eternal death, and awakened from, that “the seed should spring up and grow, he knoweth not how”, but that in the love which The Great Command is as embodied, as Incarnation, he is given into the Father as the Father is given into him, and they awaken together, as the Word that the sower soeth, placing the Storm as both happening and as already having happened, and contained as and through and out of and with, the loss of all things))…”

“And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”

‘All, in truth, is spirit, more concrete than the world.

‘The spirit of the wind and the spirit of the sea, the captive spirits of the mind and imagination, and that The Storm thought to Possess, through and as the spirit of Satan, knows the voice of its friend, hears the word that releases all, and heeds it: “And he said to them: take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto ye that hear shall more be given.” …

“And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?…Know ye not this parable? And how then will ye know all parables? The sower soweth the word…”

‘..and he does so in obedience to his Father…

“And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

““That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them…The sower soweth the word. And these are they by the wayside, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts…Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables…For there is nothing hid, that shall not be manifested; neither was anything kept secret, but that it should come abroad. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear…Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given.”

Anonymous said...

Bush and the Republicans were not protecting us on 9-11, and we aren't a lot safer now. We may be more afraid due to george bush, but are we safer? Being fearful does not necessarily make one safer. Fear can cause people to hide and cower. What do you think? Why has bush turned our country from a country of hope and prosperity to a country of belligerence and fear.
Are we safer today than we were before?
We have lost friends and influenced no one. No wonder most of the world thinks we suck. Thanks to what george bush has done to our country during the past three years, we do!