Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. Jesus said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that ‘looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.’” –Luke 8:9-10
As we enter the last stretch of the Season after Pentecost this fall, the Gospel lessons from Luke will feature many parables taught by Jesus during his ministry.
What is a parable? According to Google, a parable is “a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels,” but, in fact, a parable is more complex than this. A parable is indeed a simple story. One that uses well-known images, activities, and characters from the daily life of Jesus’ audience, but a parable uses these everyday things in unexpected and puzzling ways. For example, who would expect a rich man with many resources and important friends to be punished after death? And who would expect a poor man covered in sores with only a dog for company to be rewarded after death? What does this mean for us as followers of Jesus?
This last question plays an important role in our encounter with parables. Of-ten, we are tempted to break down the parable and extract one correct “moral” or “spiritual lesson” as prompted by Google. Even the Gospel writers fall into this trap! Following the above quote from Luke, the author of Luke gives the reader a blow by blow interpretation of the parable of the sower.
In truth, the beauty of parables lies in their multiple meanings. Godly Play, a Christian Education curriculum for children, offers several lessons about parables, and each lesson begins the same. The Godly Play storyteller shows the children a golden box and tells them how, like the box, a parable can be difficult to “enter” and yet is incredibly precious and a gift to us from God. Then the storyteller extracts the everyday symbols from the box used in that parable and invites the children to playfully imagine all of the different things these symbols could represent.
In the coming month, I invite you to encounter the parables from Luke with playfulness and imagination. What do they tell us about who God is? What do they tell us about what God wants for the world? What do they tell us about who we are called to be as followers of Jesus?
In the quote from Luke, Jesus tells the disciples that he teaches in parables so that some will not understand him. This seems like a strange approach for Jesus: why bother to teach things that people will not understand? But we must remember that Jesus was saying and teaching things that would eventually lead him to the cross. What Jesus had to say was so controversial and so mysterious that it could only be conveyed through parables in which everyday assumptions were turned on their head.
As we enter into a time of new beginnings this fall, let us take imagination and playfulness into our ministry together. As we consider a Capital Campaign for our church, how can we creatively re-envision our buildings and grounds? What new activities could take place in these old and cherished spaces? As we prepare for the Installation Service on September 25th at 4:00pm, how can we playfully enter a partnership of pastor and congregation? What new possibilities can we imagine for our future ministry together?
I have already seen the creativity and imagination of the people at St. John’s at work, and so I look forward to this season of parables and playfulness with all of you.