Monday, March 24, 2014

I love a good story

Crash Course 7

            I barely tolerated the non-fiction cards in the SRA reading program we used at East Brook Elementary School in Park Ridge, NJ. I happily worked through the fiction cards and then begrudgingly read non-fiction when I’d completed fiction. 

            As I matured, I developed a tolerance and then an appreciation for non-fiction. But stories are still best. For every non-fiction book I read, I probably read twenty novels. 

            Jesus told great stories; we call them parables. 

            I relied on William Barclay when preparing to teach my students about parables. Barclay taught me how to recognize a parable. The most obvious way:  The Gospel writer says it is, like “And he taught them many things by parables…” (Mark 4:2) Some other good ways:

  • ·         It sounds like a story:  “A certain man had two sons…” (Luke 15:11)
  • ·         It makes a comparison:  “It is like a mustard seed…” (Mark 4:31)
  • ·         It begins ““What shall we say the kingdom of God is like…?” (Mark 4:30)    
           Barclay also gave guidelines for interpreting a parable. Sometimes Jesus comes right out and says what everything means, like in the parable of the farmer and the soils in Mark 4.

  • ·         If Jesus doesn’t explain it, look for one main point, usually at the end.
  • ·         Parables are not highly developed allegories where every blade of grass stands for something. In the parable of the two sons, starting at Luke 15:11, the pig slop was just pig slop, a great detail to add description to the setting. No secret meaning, just pig slop.
  • ·         What circumstances or questions led to the parable? The three parables in Luke 15 are preceded by the complaint, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Verse 2)
  • ·         Finally, notice how the original audience reacted to the parable. In Mark 12:12, “Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them.” 
            Jesus told three stories of lostness—is that a word?—which are recorded in Luke 15. He told about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. 

            The sheep was naively lost. It just wandered away. I’ve heard that sheep are not the brightest animals. 

            The coin was unwittingly lost. We can’t even give it as much blame as the sheep. The coin was not even alive and self aware.

            The son was willfully lost. He chose to get lost, to get away from rules and responsibilities.

            I see two threads connecting the three stories:  The desire of the owner to find each lost item and the overwhelming joy when each item is found. 

            Whether we are naively lost, unwittingly lost, or willfully lost, we are valuable to God and he wants us back. Jesus not only hung around with people disapproved of by self-called good people, he also told these three stories comparing sinners and tax collectors to items of great value in his day—livestock, gold, and sons.

            If we doubt God’s joy at finding us, look at the tenderness of the shepherd toward the found sheep:  He carried it home on his shoulders. Look at the tenderness of the father toward the returning son:  He ran to greet him, hugged and kissed him, cleaned him and clothed him, and barbecued a huge rack of baby back ribs.

Luke 15
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
The Parable of the Lost Son
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Luke 15, NIV, via

1 comment:

  1. Your post on "story" caught my eye since I blog a little about story (Penned Without Ink). And I appreciate the stories Jesus told, too. They touched people in wonderful ways - and touched a few nerves as well.

    I haven't thought about SRA in a long time! We are a family of readers.
    Blessings to you in your ministry - and congratulations on your new book!