What do you let preach at you? Everything has a message to tell us. Whether it is: “buy really strong cheese” “drink cheap larger” “buy clothes from Marks and Spencer’s” “Live more indulgently”. Whether we realise it or not- there are messages all around us. On the bus, on the side of cars, on our television, on our clothes, in the street. It is impossible to escape some sort of message or worldview. And everyone is preaching something. The genre of preaching in 21st Century Britain, is, on the large part, not from the pulpit but it is the television advert, the billboard, the TV show. We live in an era of message saturation. Preaching is everywhere.Over the next few weeks at G2 we’re going to be looking at a genre of ‘preaching’ called “parables”. In many ways, parables aren’t dissimilar to your average TV advert; they are short, viral, provocative stories which play into the social themes and stereotypes of the day. And ultimately both parables and adverts have the same purpose; they want to make you change how you live.
Jesus throughout the four accounts of his life went around telling these short stories called ‘parables’ . There are 37 different parables across the four gospel books. In the same way that today if you wanted to make a point or sell a message you’d create an advert and put it right in the middle of the most watched program on TV- Jesus used a medium which was well understood to his audience. The parable was something that Jesus’ hearers would easily recognise.
And Jesus’ parables were viral- they were short and pithy- intended to be passed around, retold so that others might be effected by them- so they’re memorable and distinctive. I imagine the parables might be trending quite highly on Twitter if they were told today. It’s a little bit like the YouTube phenomenon- in the same way that we have conversations about what we have seen on youtube, I imagine the parables were very talked about in their day.
The way parables function is that they take very familiar characters or stories and they flip them on their head. So Jesus might start a parable today with: “An Irish man and English man and a French man walk into a bar..” Or “Once upon a time far far away there was a beautiful princess….and they all lived happily ever after”. The parables had force because the audience immediately recognised what was going on.
So with Jesus’ parables, often he is plodding down a familiar route and then he lobs a grenade into the room and watches it explode. He takes the audience off guard and says something controversial or uncomfortable by flipping their expectations.
Some of Jesus’ teaching is very head based; it is intellectual and complex. He has long discussions over details of the law, he teaches about how prayer should be done. Parables aren’t like this. They are emotional not intellectual. They appeal straight to your heart- they disrupt something in you, they leave you thinking. It’s the sort of thing that really sticks with you, really gets under your skin.
And most of the parables don’t have neatly packaged explanations- Jesus doesn’t unpack the parables particularly. He lets the story make its impression. The hearer is left uncomfortable and disturbed.
I like to think of parables as an uncomfortable mirror; they show you something that you don’t really want to see in yourself and something you don’t feel comfortable about. The sort of thing you wake up in the middle of the night still thinking about – it makes you want to change. And that is the real point of Jesus’ parables- to change the way we live, to challenge our worldview head on.
And I reckon that Jesus’ parables are still as applicable and uncomfortable today as they’ve ever been if we allow them to be. The problem is; we don’t. Often a lot of their force is lost because we don’t understand their references. And if we just sit and read these stories, it’s easy to ignore what they are saying. The parables have lost a bit of their edge, their bite.
So the aim of the next few weeks at G2 is to discover the Parables in a same way that they were originally heard, but for us today. So I hope you will be left challenged by Jesus’ words in a new way, be left feeling uncomfortable in what they reveal about yourself.