Saturday, December 27, 2008

Jesus and parables

I have been reading, thanks to a commendation by Internet Monk I once read, Klyne R Snodgrass's Stories with Intent: a comprehensive guide to the parables of Jesus. This book is, in a word, wonderful.

Growing up it was hard to think of any segment of biblical literature more apt to abuse than Jesus' teaching. I once heard a person argue that because Jesus said nothing about homosexuality that meant there was nothing wrong with it. An exceptionally popular parable to abuse is that of the good Samaritan. Many people have taken up the parable as a way to argue that "my neighbor" is the poor, the oppressed, the outcast. One fellow said almost literally that his neighbors are whomever the Republicans persecute. Nice. I told him that his neighbors are obviously Republicans since those are the people who doesn't WANT to have as neighbors. He disagreed. I said he just proved the point of the parable both as Jesus tells it and as Luke framed it. So much for that. Some people like to frame "my neighbor" as whomever they feel they are already helping as though that gets them in on the good side of Jesus. jesus' parable about the Samaritan demolishes our right to ask who our neighbor is.

I would say quite bluntly that if someone left mars Hill in a tiff about things that that person must recognize the people at Mars Hill are their neighbors. Ditto to Mars Hill. The people who leave and are bitter are also your neighbors. This is just a matter of taking Jesus' teaching seriously. For a Republican Obama should be considered the neighbor. For Democrats McCain should be considered the neighbor. Find the person you hate most, the person you least want to be your neighbor, the one who has done the moost to harm both you and the people you love. That's still your neighbor. Jesus didn't sidestep any issues about what terrible things Samaritans had said and done. The Samaritans were still a group that sold out any confession of faith in Yahweh when it was more convenient to claim otherwise to avoid a military annihilation. The Samaritans still worshipped in ways not prescribed by or forbidden by the Law given through moses. They were, in a word, still messed up. But Jesus chose teh Samaritan to reveal to the man who sought to justify himself that he was NOT justified for defining who his neighbor was the way he had.

Snodgrass makes a great point early in the book, that we are often like generations before us tempted to spiritualize parables to avoid the sharp end of conviction they would bring to us. Another equal and opposite reaction is to strip parables of any allegorical or metaphorical function and make them just little aphorisms about moral teaching rather than stories that reveal the nature of God's reign now and in the age to come. There are two equally deadly ways of atomizing the teaching of Christ. In generations past the social gospel was often the clearest way of distorting or misrepresenting the teaching of Christ but it is surely not the only way. We can all too often view the Pharisees as the only group which came under jesus' criticism and forget the Zealots and the Sadducees. But we are often among those, too.

1 comment:

Ian Kirwan said...

What on earth is going on here? you are talking about Jesus as if he existed in a matter-of-fact manner. This certainty is completely unwarranted. Do you have even the faintest of ideas about biblical scholarship? It seems not.

The Bible is a collection of tales that you are behaving as if have been proven to be true. There is no reason to think that these tales are anything other than fiction. There are no contemporary accounts of the existance of Jesus, the gospels were not written by eye witnesses and are hearsay at best.

No-one has ever proven a single Bible story to be true, yet millions of people seem to think that someone has.

By all means behave as the Biblical Jesus would have you behave, but to act as if the Biblical stories are real accounts of historic events is childish and dishonest.