In the third installment of the Will of God series a couple of weeks ago, I made the statement, “while the parables were effective in relating the messages, the primary function of each and every parable was to teach us something new about God. Every parable illustrates how God relates to us, the kind of relationship God wants with us.” I received a request to share some examples addressing the premise, and yes we do requests here at McBurnett’s Musings.
I’ll start with a partial retraction. In my zeal, I overstated the premise. It says, “the primary function of each and every parable was to teach something new about God.” What I intended to say is that each and every parable provides us an insight into the nature of God. In several of the parables, Jesus comes out and expounds the true purpose of the parable, not all of which are about God, but rather about us. Each of them does, however, reveal something about God’s nature. I apologize here for the misstatement.
Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
The most frequently cited parable is generally referred to as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Even the title we have given it places the focus on the wrong character. Yes, there are numerous lessons to be learned from examining the poor choices made by the younger son and the results of his repentance, but the parable is first and foremost about the father. It portrays a father who so loves his son that he acceded to his demands even when he knew they were ill-guided. It tells of a father who waits daily watching the road hoping against all reality for the son’s return. This is a father who rejoices at his son’s return, and at the same time grieves over his older son’s rejection. This, my friends, is indeed about the two sons, but it is first and foremost the Parable of the Loving Father. This is a parable that at its core stands to tell us about our God who never, ever gives up hope that each and every man and woman will turn around and return home to him.
The Losts (Luke 15)
Let’s zoom out and examine the other parables that appear alongside the Parable of the Loving Father – the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son (the lost son being the parable above – the Parable of the Loving Father). We are generally familiar with the Parable of the Lost Sheep where the shepherd leaves the 99 to seek out the one that is lost, never giving up the search until he finds the one and returns it to the fold, but we skip over the Parable of the Lost Coin in our haste to get to the Parable of the Lost Son. Maybe it’s because sheep and sons are more precious to us than inanimate objects like a coin, I suppose. In this parable, a woman has lost a coin, one of the ten she had, and will not rest – cleaning out the entire house in the search – until she finds the one that is missing.
But examine the three in parallel and note the commonalities. In each case, something dear to the principal has been lost and the principal is consumed with finding the one that is missing. The shepherd seeks the lost sheep, the woman scours for the lost coin and the father pines for the lost son. All three portray God as one who will not rest until all mankind returns home to him. It’s a bit easier to see the Parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin as being centrally about God, since there is only one person that appears in each, but don’t miss the point here – we are precious to God and he is consumed with “finding” the lost.
And lest you move on too quickly from this set of parables, note the other commonality. In each instance the principal is not only overcome with relief when what was lost is found, s/he throws a party to celebrate. The shepherd “calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost;’” the woman “calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost;’” and the father “said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry.” When the lost return, our father in Heaven is not only relieved and reconciled, he rejoices calling all to join in the celebration.
Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
If the Parable of the Loving Father is the most frequently cited parable, the Parable of the Good Samaritan is probably a close second. Here we find the story of a man beaten and left for dead. Two seeming colleagues pass to avoid getting involved. A third passerby, a dreaded rival, has compassion and shows the victim great mercy.
Jesus tells the parable in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” He uses it to illustrate that our neighbor is neither the one who lives in close proximity to us, nor the one with which we have much in common. Our neighbor is anyone in need. Here again I see Jesus’ teaching us about his father. This is a God that loves all mankind, even those who have distanced themselves including those who live in rebellion to his wishes. Even those will find compassion and mercy if willing to accept the kindness of a stranger, including one from whom they have estranged themselves.
Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Luke 20:9-18, Matthew 21:33-43, Mark 12:1-11)
This is yet again one of Jesus’ parables where we place the emphasis on us, where we are the wicked tenants. In this parable, the owner plants a vineyard and leaves it in the stewardship of the tenants. When the owner sends his servant to collect the owner’s due, the stewards grossly mistreat the servant and send him away empty-handed, claiming the harvest as their own. This pattern repeats itself three times until the owner becomes exasperated to the point of sending his son to collect in the assurance that they will respect the authority of the owner as represented by his son.
Truly, this parable is primarily about our actions, our refusing to yield to God what is his, but it also provides useful insight into the nature of God.
While in the end, the owner destroys the wicked tenants and turns the vineyard over to others in whom he places his trust, note the patience he shows with the wicked servants. Three times, three times, he sends emissaries to collect his due and then sends his son. This is an owner (God) who gives the people every chance to turn around and act appropriately, to renounce their previous wicked deeds. The first rejection was enough to prompt their eviction, yet God grants them three more chances. Jesus shows us a God of the second (and third and fourth) chance.
Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-8, Luke 8:4-15)
Now, let’s jump to one of his agrarian parables – the Parable of the Sower. Almost every sermon or commentary I have encountered regarding this parable directs our attention to what kind of soil we are. I won’t belabor the point here as I have previously expounded on it (with a huge assist from Barbara Brown Taylor) in previous musing. Suffice it to say that the parable says as much about the sower as it does about the soil. This is a sower (God) that continues to cast seed in all directions, on all types of soil hoping it takes root wherever it falls.
I could continue on through the rest of the parables, but I think you get my drift. I challenge you to go back and pour through the parables looking for what insights to the character of God lie within.
We serve a loving God, a message Jesus brought out of the darkness and into the light.
Pleading with you to dig into the scriptures to learn about your God,