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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Special Events in Parables

Continuing a journey through childhood events that might have inspired Jesus' parables...

1.       Special occasions: Weddings, parties, strangers passing through, Jesus would have seen them all growing up. What events might have inspired the stories he told?

a.       Surprise finds: Read Matthew 13:44

There was a water source in Nazareth, not a big one, but a consistent one. So people had probably lived there, and travelled through there, for a long period. People often buried things to keep them safe--during war, conquest, etc. It’s not impossible that a laborer might find some ancient artifact in a field as he worked there. Would he go home and gather up his resources to buy the field from his neighbor? It would certainly have caused a stir if he did. Would the land have gone back to its original owner at Jubilee? But who would own the treasure then?

Jesus told the rich young man to “sell all that you have.” Then we imagine he’s being told to sell his house and his farm and his bank accounts etc. But the farmer probably wasn’t selling his house to buy the field. He was probably searching around the rooms for anything removable, selling the pots his wife cooked dinner in, and the woven blankets they slept on. Can you imagine how she’d complain? When we’re tempted to complain about something our church is doing or not doing, does it help to remember how valuable the treasure is?

b.      Surprise Theft: Luke 12:39-40

There probably wasn’t much theft in Nazareth. There wasn’t much there to be stolen. But the man who found treasure might have stayed up late at night to protect what he’d found.

What “treasures” are we afraid that God might “steal” from us?

c.       A Passing Merchant: Read Matthew 13:45-46

Nazareth wasn’t on any major roads, so a stranger passing through the village would be quite an event. Children might run behind him wondering what treasure he carries and maybe even getting the chance to see something new—a pearl perhaps.

Do you suppose our non-Christian neighbors see faith as something of value? Of beauty? How might our interactions with the world—with science, with politics, with community values, or just with each other—affect how our faith seems to them?

d.      Lost son: Read Luke 15:11-24

Nazareth was a real nowhere place. It’s not hard to imagine a teenagers wanting to leave home and try his luck elsewhere. Of course, demanding his inheritance—however small—was a bit like wishing his dad were dead. But Jesus may have seen someone leave, eager to try his luck, then watched his return and shared the celebration. Since Nazareth stands on a hill, the boy’s father may have stood watching the road day by day for the child he’d lost.

Has someone you care for deeply lost their faith in God? If so, how eagerly are you awaiting their return? Does the idea that God is standing there desperately watching for them give you any comfort?

e.      Rejected brother: Read Luke 15:25-32

I’ve always felt sorry for the older brother. After all, it really isn’t fair.

When were you last tempted to tell God “It’s not fair”?

f.        The Guest List for a Party: Read Matthew 22:2-7, Luke 14:16-22

In our world, destroying the village because the people won’t come to a party sounds a little excessive. But in Jesus’ world, where parties cemented alliances and declared allegiances, it may have been more important to be seen to do as you were told.

Can you think of a time when God called you to celebrate and you weren’t ready?

g.       Surprise guests at a party: Read Matthew 22:8-10, Luke 14:23-24

Of course, if Joseph was invited, some of the guests weren’t high-class citizens. Maybe Joseph was the “poor man” invited to show up those who didn’t accept their invitations.

Do you ever feel like the “poor relation” at God’s banquet, or in his church?

h.      The Need for Wedding Garments: Read Matthew 22:11-14

We know Jesus went to a wedding feast at Cana, but there’s no reason to imagine he didn’t attend other weddings as a child. Rather than a king, maybe a rich landowner invited his favorite craftsman and family. Since Joseph was relatively poor (or he wouldn’t have been living in Nazareth), the landowner may have provided wedding clothes for him and his family, and Jesus may have been inspired to think of this story.

We put a high value on individuality and self-expression. How hard is it to remind ourselves that we also have to belong to God’s community? Why might it be dangerous to forget that we can’t make, plan or do anything worthwhile compared to what God has made, planned and done for us?

i.        Finding a place to sit at the wedding feast: Read Luke 14:7-11

Joseph wasn’t a very important person. He probably sat near the bottom of the table when he was invited to a wedding--on the ground floor perhaps, when guests of honor sat at "high table" in a balcony-like upper room. But Jesus may have seen someone else moved to the head of the table.

False humility might lead someone to look for the least important seat and insist on sitting there—even if someone else is already there. What would real humility look like?

j.        The Need for Bridesmaids with Lamps: Read Matthew 25:1-13, Luke 12:35-38

The child Jesus may well have slept during a wedding and woken to see the bridal procession with its lamps. Like any other child he may have asked “What if they ran out of oil?”

Early Christians expected Christ’s imminent return but it didn’t happen. So many centuries later, what might we “run out of” if we don’t keep watch?

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