Posts Tagged With: parables

BONUS: An Introduction to the Gospel of John

Though the book does not say so, there is widespread acceptance that this gospel was written by the apostle John, who often refers to himself in the book as “the apostle whom Jesus loved” (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20, 24).  Though one of Jesus’ inner circle of apostles, John is never mentioned in the book, which makes sense if John wrote the book but doesn’t if he didn’t.

Traditionally, because of its developed theology, the Gospel of John was considered the latest of gospels, likely written around 85 or later.  A good case can also be made that John was written before the destruction of the Temple and much of Jerusalem in 70 because the book refers to places in that city in the present tense.  A developed theology does not have to indicate a late date.

Scholars have argued that John had various goals in writing his gospel.  Maybe he was trying to write a gospel to a Greek audience, hence the emphasis on Jesus as the “word” (logos).  It is certainly possible that John was trying to combat false teaching through his account of Jesus’ life.  But John himself tells us the simple evangelistic purpose of his book:

These are written that you may believe (or continue to believe) that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (20:31)

Therefore, one of the fitting characteristics of John are the seven “I am” statements of Jesus, thought by many to be John’s twist on God’s self-revelation as “I AM.”  John would not have us miss the point that Jesus was more than just a man.  This is one of the reasons why John is often the first book non-believers are encouraged to read.

John is unlike the other gospels in many ways, supporting the belief that the other three were trying to borrow from each other and tell similar stories while John was attempting to do something very different, maybe for a very different crowd.  There are no parables in John.  Miracles (or “signs” as they are called in John) are not as common.  John tells stories not included in the other gospels.   Instead of fast action like Mark, this gospel is full of long teaching sections.  For these reasons and others, John is a favorite of many people.

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Categories: John | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Matthew 25: Stay Alert!

This chapter is nothing but three popular parables: the Parable of the Ten Virgins, the Parable of the Talents, and the Parable of the Sheep & Goats.  They are interestingly placed.  You might expect that Jesus would be done telling stories this close to his death.  I think the reason for their placement is that they follow the exhortation to “keep alert” in 24:42 because Jesus’ future return will come unexpectedly.  Today’s parables pick up that point and advance it.

Like the five wise girls in the first parable, we are to be ready and “keep awake” (25:13).  We are to use the resources we have, like the girls’ oil, in a wise manner because the end could be upon us without notice.

Likewise, we must use the “talents” or resources (as talents were an increment of money not an ability, though the principle would be the same) wisely and responsibly.  The Master is looking for and even expecting fruitfulness, and those who “have been trustworthy with small things” will be put in charge of “bigger ones” (25:21).

How we use our resources is important.  Like the “sheep” who are congratulated by the king for serving him by serving the poor, our resources are given to us in order that we might help others in need, not simply for our own enjoyment.

Time is short.  No one is guaranteed tomorrow.  Be responsible.  Be active.  Help others.

(The following artwork comes from Cerezo Barredo, an Hispanic artist.  I like the way he recontextualizes these parables in a modern way.)

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Matthew 13: The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like

I absolutely love the parables.  They are most certainly my favorite form of literature in the gospels.  Matthew has packed this chapter full of them.

They are wonderful word pictures, for those of us who are more visual than verbal.  They pack meaning for those of us who like a good symbol.  They are memorable and popular.  They also teach fantastic lessons about life and how to live life.  But first and foremost, parables tell us about life in God’s kingdom.

The kingdom of heaven is like . . .

  • a farmer sowing wheat on various kinds of soil with differing results
  • a field of wheat maliciously oversown by weeds that has to wait to be weeded out then harvested
  • a mustard seed that grows of a mere speck to a large, useful shrub
  • leaven that works its way throughout an entire pot of flour
  • a priceless treasure one might stumble upon in a field but then that’s worth selling everything you have to buy
  • a pearl hunter who sells off his fortune when he finds the biggest and best pearl ever
  • a net that gathers all sorts of fish that will have to be sorted out later

Some pieces of art or music or literature are just better appreciated in their original state without much explanation.  I do believe that is often true of the parables.  So, today I am running the risk of ruining great art.  Please forgive.  What is Jesus saying about the kingdom in these parables?

The kingdom of heaven is mysterious:  There is no telling when we will brush up against true Kingdom.  We might be in the middle of our everyday tasks and run upon a move of God that is unlike anything we have ever seen before.  We might simply be walking home, and over there in the corner of a yard under a tree, where we least expected it, will be something more valuable than anything we have.  We just thought it was another hum-drum day, but this is the day that changes our life.

The kingdom of heaven is valuable:  In a world that often lacks any substance or value, when we find God’s Kingdom, we will do anything to have it.  It is worth more than anything we presently have.  We know this is something real and valuable.  It might necessitate a relocation or a restructuring of our life, but we will gladly do it.  There will be sacrifices, but they are small in comparison.

The kingdom of heaven grows abundantly:  The Kingdom usually starts in humble beginnings.  We might look at it and say this won’t amount to much, but often that is exactly where God plants the seeds of His Kingdom and they grow into something that is so much bigger than what we could do ourselves.  And those pursuits bring help and nourishment to others.

The kingdom of heaven is messy:  This isn’t going to go smoothly.  God is working to advance His Kingdom in this world, but there are powers of evil and darkness that want the same soul-territory.  Right alongside Kingdom will be anti-kingdom.  There are people who will swallow up any seed of hope we might plant in another person.  “The world’s worries and the seduction of wealth” choke our devotion like thorns and strong weeds (13:22).  Purification and complete rescue won’t come until the end.

Those with ears to hear and eyes to see will know where Jesus is coming from.  Others won’t.  For some Jesus is just too familiar.  But those who do hear and see are more blessed than even the prophets of old (13:16-17).

Which parable resonates most strongly with you in this reading?  Why?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Mark 4: “This is what God’s kingdom is like”

Vincent Van Gogh, "The Sower," 1888

What is this “kingdom” that Jesus speaks of so often, usually in parables?  (If you aren’t reading the comments, click here to read Eddy Efaw’s comment yesterday on the power of parables still today in our image-rich culture — it’s worth the extra minute.)

  • The kingdom is a message that varies in effect based on the heart-soil of the hearer (4:1-20)
  • The kingdom is meant to be shown to everyone around, like a lamp on a stand (4:21-22)
  • The kingdom is a system of infinite generosity, if you will be a conduit of blessing (4:24-25a)
  • The kingdom has within itself the power to grow without human aid, if simply planted and received (4:26-29)
  • The kingdom can grow from the smallest of beginnings to the greatest harbor of life and protection (4:30-32)

Note that once again this kingdom is described as a here-and-now reality, at least in its beginning.

As with most teachers I know, my favorite verses of all in this chapter are the following:

Once upon a time a man sowed seed on the ground.  Every night he went to bed; every day he got up; and the seed sprouted and grew without him knowing how it did it. (4:26b-27)

I think for those of us who teach — school, Sunday School, or our own children — these words are both humbling and reassuring.  Spiritual growth ultimately does not depend completely upon us.  Thankfully.

What did you learn in this chapter?

Categories: Mark | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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