Friday, January 26, 2018

WHY I WROTE "PARABLES BEFORE JESUS"

Those of us who are Christians associate parables with our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly a master of them, He painted with them clear pictures, not only of the world around Him, but also of the world to come — the Kingdom of Heaven — a realm that lies beyond human experience, yet can be illustrated for us humans with homely, everyday objects and actions that all of us know and understand.

In Christian thought, parables are so closely linked to Jesus that many Christians think that they began with Him. He didn't invent parables; they were teachings with which He had grown familiar through Hebrew Scripture as He heard it in the synagogue and in everyday life. As Jesus used parables, earlier prophets had used them to teach heavenly truths in earthly terms — to explain the unexplainable in stories that would stick in a listener's mind. The goal of a teller of parables was to turn a common object — a bramble bush, a lamb, a linen belt, or a clay pot — into an object lesson reminding us — as bread and wine remind those of us who are Christians of the body and blood of Christ given in sacrifice for our sins — of something greater than ourselves — of the God Who is above and beyond our earthly lives, yet connected with them at every instant.

In Hebrew Scripture, parables were generally told by prophets, persons called by God to reveal heavenly truths to God's people. A parable came amid a crisis in an individual's or in the people's life to teach that person or the people what'd gone wrong. Often, we — for a parable to do us any good, we need to see that it may well apply to each of us just as much as it applied to the person to whom it was originally told — have grown blind to a situation around us and need a parable to help us see that situation with new eyes — with God's eyes, which see clearly what we may wish to hide, however much denial may hurt us and those around us. We can thus think of a parable as a divine wake-up call, which comes to us loud and clear when we've fallen asleep to the truth. If we sleep through the wake-up call, we have only ourselves to blame for the consequences of ignoring a warning meant to save us from ourselves.

The earliest parables, given in the time of the judges (leaders called by God to deal with specific crises among the Children of Israel in the Promised Land) or of good King David and evil King Ahab, dealt with political turmoil among the Hebrews, yet have clear lessons for us today. From "King Bramble," we learn that, if good persons refuse to govern a land, an evil person will govern it. From "One Little Ewe Lamb," we learn that, in God's eyes, a ruler has no right to oppress his subjects for personal gain. From "The Lying Spirit," we learn that a ruler who rejects good advice will come someday not even to recognize it when he hears it. The situations to which these parables responded are distant from our own, and the details of these parables are foreign to our modern world, but the truths that the parables teach are as current as today's headlines.

As the kingdom founded by God through good King David fell and went into exile, Hebrew parables reached their zenith through four great prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. In "God's Vineyard," Isaiah shows us how God cares for us with love, yet we discard his blessings and bring catastrophe on ourselves by doing things in our own way. In "The Yokes," Jeremiah shows us how God works through the world's events, and how what we may see as evil, God may be using for good. In the shocking, scandalous "Two Sisters," Ezekiel shows us that the relationship between God and His people is a spiritual marriage — a marriage that we can ruin, with disastrous effects on ourselves, through our unfaithfulness to our heavenly spouse. In "The Bad Shepherd," Zechariah shows us how a people, grown used to the corruption of bad rulers, may spurn a good ruler when he comes.

In presenting and explaining a selection of twenty parables from Hebrew Scripture, I've tried to give you a chronological picture of the life of God's people, Israel, and the crises that arose among it. When we learn what God was telling His people through these parables, we'll see that they're not dry facts from a distant time, but life lessons for all of time — for us today as we face crises that the Children of Israel would've understood from their own experiences. God's light, regardless of the situation on which it shines, is eternal, revealing to those who have eyes to see truths that are always valid. Let's learn from the parables of Hebrew Scriptures what we can use to live at peace with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with God today.


You can learn more about Parables before Jesus by clicking on Look Inside.

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