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Feb 6 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

The Mystery of Parables 02/05/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning!                   May the Lord be with you!

This week the ornamental pear trees on our campus burst into bloom.  Burst – all of them, overnight, like they heard a shout “It’s Time!!”  They always surprise me, in the middle of winter to be so glorious.  But that’s by their design.  Isn’t it amazing how all the steps of development are programmed into the seed or bulb?  I’m sure that you can picture a pear seed (there are about eight seeds in every pear)—they are tiny.   Each seed is programmed to replicate everything after its kind.  It got me thinking about what is in us, yet to be developed but already programmed in, humans, children of God, after our kind—and I don’t think it’s just physical. 

The book of 2 Peter says that God has granted us by His divine power great and precious promises, so that we may become partakers of the divine nature, having everything we need for life and godliness.

I see that there is power (programming that has been granted us), promises (all things needed for life and godliness), and that we may be partakers of the divine nature.   Also, like trees and flowers in their nature, their “all things” come to be in particular seasons.  The pear seed has the programming for roots, foliage, and flowers, for survival in cold and heat, for how to propagate, for how to be dormant.   And everything doesn’t come all at once; their promises come during their developmental stage and the environment when it’s needed.

Don’t you think that’s how it works for us?  If we have been given everything we need for life and godliness, my question would be: “What is developing now?”  If you feel brokenness, maybe that’s a shell falling away.  If you feel fragile, perhaps it’s a sign of new growth. Perhaps something sprouting is working its way up through a lot of mud.

I love this quote from Ellen Bass: There’s a part of every living thing that wants to become itself: the tadpole into the frog, the chrysalis into the butterfly, a damaged human being into a whole one.  That is spirituality.”

Join me in prayer, will you:

Creator God, you have formed us in a particular fashion, with a design to grow into your likeness.  There’s nothing we want more.  May it be that each day we receive glimpses of your ongoing work and care.  May we be encouraged by knowing that is the way with all your creatures.  We come with a design, after our kind.  Come and attend to your work in us today, dear Lord.  We welcome You and we welcome all of life which you have given.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites. Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. Matthew 22: 15-22

Intro: These Pharisees must have been sure their trick would work

Together they had schemed to create the perfect question
– no matter how he answered, he would offend someone
• either the Romans who occupied Judah
• or the general Jewish population who resented the tax
– it wouldn’t surprise me if the question they decided on,
• was one they hoped they would never be asked
• anyway, even if Jesus refused to answer,
◦ he would still be discredited and lose face with the people

Like the Pharisees, we can marvel at Jesus’ response

We can also draw lessons from this interaction–such as:
– some of our dilemmas aren’t as difficult to figure out as we imagine
• you just have to change your point of view
– or, we must discern the difference between our responsibilities to the government and to God
– or, we need to determine what takes priority in our lives:
• money, which bears the image of national leaders
• or God, whose image we bear

These are obvious potential lessons
– but there are other insights lying within this story
• that’s what I want to delve into this morning
– it is possible to find several layers of meaning in the Scriptures
• some practical and others leading to spiritual revelations
• I want to explore how God might want to enlighten us

In the Synoptics (Mt. Mk. & Lk.), Jesus’ preferred mode of teaching was with parables

In John’s gospel he used “hard sayings” (to the same purpose, but that’s for another time)
– Matthew and Mark clump a number of parables together
• at the conclusion of these parables, Mark says,
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything (Mk. 4:33-34)
– a parable contains a truth interwoven into a story
• the challenge here is that Jesus wanted people to enter the kingdom of God
◦ but it exists in the transcendent realm of spirit
◦ we can’t enter physically or with our rational minds
• the parable’s tool is analogy – comparing what we do know with what we do not know
◦ Jesus often began a parable with, “The kingdom of heaven is like . . . .”
◦ the use of analogy doesn’t mean everyone would understand each parable, but
He who has ears to hear, let him hear (Mk. 4:9)

One way to interpret a parable is to work it like a riddle

We use logic to rationally dissect and interpret all the elements:
– the characters, plot, objects, events, and any dialogue
• but in dissecting the parable like this, we sometimes kill the specimen
• besides, finding a logical meaning the a parable may or may not work
◦ the human mind is very inventive and can produce a surplus of possible associations
◦ there are a number of books on the parables, each offering a different meaning for each one
• how can we know which interpretation Jesus intended?

Another way to read a parable, is to hear it like any other story

How do we read fairytales or any work of fiction?
– we suspend judgment – we enter the world the writer creates
• we don’t argue the logic of fire-breathing dragons
◦ we accept whatever fits in a particular story world
– we experience the story – we allow ourselves to feel it
• this is one of the pleasures we derive from stories
– as we read stories, we are exposed to a design or pattern
• pattern recognition doesn’t always happen at a conscious level
◦ years ago, I read The Bourne Identity — I enjoyed it and immediately wanted to read Ludlum’s next book
c the pattern of the first book was repeated in the second — and the third
• writers discover a “formula” that is compelling for readers
• then they will continue to use it for as long as it proves successful

When we read Jesus’ parables as stories,
– whether or not we get the meaning of parable immediately, it plants something within us
• Jesus’ first parable in Matthew’s and Mark’s collection was about seeds and soil
◦ that’s how the parable works, by planting the word of the kingdom in the soil of our hearts (Mt. 13:19)
◦ Jesus seemed perturbed with disciples when they asked him about that parable
Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? (Mk. 4:13)
“all the parables” are used to plant seeds
– so we read the parables – each one, many times
• as we do, its design or pattern is planted in our minds
◦ then, as we make our way through the world,
◦ we come to a situation in which we recognize the pattern
• when it happens, we’re able to respond with a hidden wisdom
◦ parables can open our eyes to things we haven’t perceived
◦ but once we perceive it, we are now able to make a choice
(we cannot choose when we’re not aware of having a choice)
Eugene Peterson, “As people heard Jesus tell these stories, they saw at once that they weren’t about God, so there was nothing in them threatening their own sovereignty. They relaxed their defenses. They walked away perplexed, wondering what they meant, the stories lodged in their imagination. And then, like a time bomb, they would explode in their unprotected hearts. An abyss opened up at their very feet. He was talking about God; they had been invaded.
But the parable didn’t do the work—it put the listener’s imagination to work. Parables aren’t illustrations that make things easier; they make things harder by requiring the exercise of our imaginations, which if we aren’t careful becomes the exercise of our faith.”

My concern is the spiritual enlightenment we are offered

Jesus’ purpose for parables is to open eyes
This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. . . . But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear (Mt. 13:13 & 16)
– I believe that parables have more than one layer of meaning
• that what we get from them depends on several factors:
◦ if we open our hearts to receive their truth and live it
◦ if we are teachable – conceit is not a good listener
◦ our current level of spiritual development
But I . . . could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not with solid food, for you were not ready for it (1 Cor. 3:1-2)
• the parable meets us where we are and gives us what we can digest
– Tolstoy told a parable about a “naked, hungry beggar”
• he was brought into a building and told to move a lever up and down
◦ he later learned that the lever worked a pump that sent water into a garden
◦ then he was told to tend the garden, and later on to gather its fruits
• by doing what he was told and each level, even though he did not know why,
◦ he advanced to the next stage, and there he was given more
◦ that was how he gained enlightenment — by his experience at each level
For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away (Mt. 13:12)

There’s no reason why any story in Gospels can’t work like a parable
(There’s no reason why any story in the Bible cannot work like a parable)

When meditating on Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees, I thought, “Perhaps Jesus’ answer was profound and came quickly because it went to heart of an issue that was near and dear to him, an issue about which he was never confused. For Jesus, the line between worldly nations and the kingdom of God was never blurred. That is clear from his statements in John’s gospel that delineate between heaven and earth, above and below: ‘If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?‘ (Jn. 3:12) ‘He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way’ (Jn. 3:31). It is also clear in what he said to Peter, ‘You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man‘ (Mt. 16:23). It is even possible that Jesus already had strong feelings regarding Roman coins. The Lord was aware of a pattern, a design from which he never deviated. So when the question of taxes to Caesar came up, he already had the answer.”

Conclusion: Henri Nouwen reported a conversation he had with Mother Teresa

After ten minutes of downloading his anxieties, frustrations, and heartaches, Mother Teresa told him, “Well, when you spend one hour a day adoring your Lord and never do anything which you know is wrong . . . you will be fine.”
Nouwen, “I realize that I had raised a question from below and that she had given an answer from above. At first her answer didn’t seem to fit my question, but then I began to see that her answer came from God’s place and not from the place of my complaints. Most of the time we respond to questions from below with answers from below.”
“Jesus answers from above to questions raised from below”

You and I have more wisdom available to us than we realize
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path
(Ps. 119:105)
It’s right here–it’s always here–and it’s alive and powerful

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