Sermon Series: Stories Jesus Told
Some of my earliest memories of church are from Vacation Bible School about the time I would have been in kindergarten. I can remember lessons on some of the teachings of Jesus called “parables.” We were told that a parable is an “earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” For some reason that definition has stayed with me for six decades. Actually this definition is a pretty serviceable start for understanding the everyday kind of stories that Jesus told his listeners to help them grasp the realities of the Kingdom of God.
This summer at Wellspring we will be focusing on these parables on Sunday mornings. Our English word “parable” is derived from the Greek word parabole which literally means “putting things side by side.” Jesus as the master teacher uses stories from everyday life to point toward or reveal fundamental realities of the spiritual realm. Usually Jesus’ parables have one primary meaning. They differ from allegories, where many of the details of the story represent something else and serve as illustrations of general principles. Jesus’ parables are intended to jolt the listener into “seeing” a truth or reality by forcing the listener to view things from a new perspective. Many of the stories Jesus told are now familiar to us, but they would have shocked the listeners who first heard them. The imagery Jesus uses would have been familiar to his Galilean and Judean audiences, but the endings or punch lines would bring a new perspective to them. We could even take things a step further by describing these teachings as “language events;” in other words the parables reveal the Kingdom of God and when understood and believed by faith they make Kingdom promises and gifts available to the listener. Similarly, when these revelatory stories were ridiculed and rejected by hearers they became an occasion of judgment and hardening of hearts.
The parables come in different lengths, although none of them are very long. Some use the details of agrarian life or nature, others employ familiar cultural customs or circumstances of everyday life. Many of them, we are told in the gospel texts, specifically reveal key truths of the Kingdom of God. And most of these parables reveal the Kingdom to be very different from what 1st century Jews had been taught to expect.
It is amazing what revelatory punch is packed into these very short and seemingly simple stories. They are still to this day some of the most profound use of narrative in any language or culture. Many have called Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son the most powerful short story ever recorded. I can’t argue with that. I still am fascinated by these amazing stories and how they “work” as revealing and making available the very realities that they speak of. They are more than “earthly stories with a heavenly meaning.” In actuality they are stories in human language that reveal and bring near the reality of God’s Kingdom to those who have ears and hearts to hear.
Pastors Kevin and Wes and I look forward to exploring many of these parables together with all of you this summer.
This will be summer reading for the soul.