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Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Child's Life in Parables

Jewish culture is full of stories. In fact, many Jews view the “stories” of creation, Noah's flood and more as simply that—stories, or parables. So when Jesus taught with parables he wasn’t doing anything new or strange or complicated. Telling his stories to everyone instead of just to his chosen few was a little different perhaps, but teaching with stories wasn’t, and the content of his stories must have seemed very familiar to the everyday people around him—you didn’t need a doctoral degree to understand him.

Maybe when the disciples asked why Jesus taught in parables, they were really asking why his stories seemed so simple. They asked him to “explain” the parable of the sower and a child could understand—no deep mysteries to make them feel superior to their neighbors. Jesus’ answer (Mark 4:12) might not mean he’s trying to confuse his listeners after all. Perhaps he’s just saying the only way to miss his point is if you choose not to see it.

Today we read and analyze the parables as if they’re filled with mysterious clues to curiously hidden treasures. Perhaps, if we could see the world and culture they came from, the stories might seem very ordinary, childlike even, and their meanings more clear. So let's look at some of Jesus' parables from the point of view of a child, Jesus, growing up in Nazareth.

I thought we could look at Jesus' relationship with his mother and father in the first lesson, but we only got halfway in our Coffee Break Bible study this week, so I'm moving What fathers do to next week. After that we'll look at parables based on trips Jesus may have taken as a child.

1.       What mothers do: Jesus would have seen quite a lot of his mother in his early life. I wonder how many of his parables came from watching his mother and the other women of their village.

a.       Cleaning: Read Luke 15:8-10
This would have been a very small house—maybe one or two rooms. Furniture would have been very sparse—perhaps a stone shelf for a bed. And cleaning would have involved sweeping the day’s dust out into the street. 

Have you ever lost something and turned out the house—or just the pockets of every coat you can find in the closet—to look for it? What sort of thing might you search for then rejoice loudly enough for your children to notice—the car-keys perhaps? How does this make you feel about the kingdom of heaven? Can you get anywhere without it?

b.      Switching on lights at night: Read Matthew 5:14-15, Mark 4:21-22, Luke 8:16, 11:33

Lamps would have been made of clay (or possibly stone). They’d be filled with oil and a wick would burn in the spout (or possibly spouts). You’d want to be careful your lamp didn’t blow out, so there might be a genuine temptation to “hide” it under something. 

How hard is it to balance different needs in your life—like balancing the need for light with the need not to let the light blow out? How do we balance keeping our children safe with making sure they grow up knowing how to live in the real world?

c.       Mending clothes: Read Matthew 9:16, Mark 2:21, Luke 5:36

You couldn’t just go to the store and buy new clothes in Jesus’ day. New clothes were carefully made and old ones carefully mended. Scraps of cloth would be kept when a garment was completely worn out and might be used to patch something else.

In today’s pick-and-choose society, it’s easy to imagine we can add a bit of this to a bit of that, tie it together with a bit of the other, and create a whole new “look.” But in a world where people didn’t wear three tee-shirts over pre-stressed cutoff jeans and bright socks, Jesus’ story might have been easier to understand. Of course, you might still tie your new robe with a sash made from an old coat though. Remembering Paul’s “unknown god” sermon, do you think Jesus is telling us we can’t include any aspects of any other faith in Christianity?

d.      Baking: Read Matthew 13:33, Luke  13:20-21

You couldn’t go to the store to buy bread either, so Jesus would have seen his mother baking. He would have known how a baker has to patiently wait for the bread to rise—no patience, bread like a rock.

Are we impatient as we wait for God to change the world? When we ask, why does God let bad things happen to good people, are we asking him to bake a loaf that’s not yet ready for the oven?

e.      Storing Food: Read Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:21, Luke 5:36

Wine wasn’t a luxury and Jesus’ neighbors probably didn’t get drunk. Wine was the safest drink available in a world where water was easily polluted and fruit easily went rotten. So keeping the wine safe wasn’t just a matter of not spilling the occasional glass. It was more like remembering the close the fridge is for us. And using new wineskins wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime change.

What do you think Jesus was warning his listeners about? Do we expect our faith to deepen as we grow older? Does that mean we expect change? Or are we threatened by change?

f.        Entertaining friends: Read Luke 14:12-14

Might some of Mary’s friends have been inclined to wonder whose turn it was to invite whom to dinner?

We teach our kids to take turns and respond appropriately to gifts. How do we teach them not to worry about being repaid by others?

g.       Feeding strangers: Read Matthew 25:31-46

Tradition demanded that passing strangers be treated hospitably. While Jerusalem was rather off the beaten track, Jesus may have watched Mary offer food and drink, and even a blanket for the night, to someone passing through.

In the parable, Jesus invites us to ask if we have cared for the needy. It’s probably easy and certainly satisfying to list the things we do, but can you remember an occasion when you failed to do as Jesus asks?

h.      Looking after neighbors: Read Matthew 25:31-46

The community of Nazareth would have been small with very close friendships. Neighbors would have cared for each other in sickness and shared blankets and clothing when needed.

How close are our relationships with the people living nearest to us? Do you think we’re a good advert for Christianity?

i.        Helping neighbors, even when it’s inconvenient: Read Luke 11:5-8

Maybe someone knocked on Mary’s door in the middle of the night one time.

When would be the most inconvenient time for someone to ask you for help?

j.        Supporting friends: Read Luke 18:2-5

If one of Mary’s friends had a grievance to bring before the court, Mary might have offered encouragement.

Does this mean we’re supposed to persist in prayer until we get what we ask for? Or are we supposed to persist until we understand what God’s giving us? When have you been tempted to give up praying for something?

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