Who Understood Jesus’ Parables?

Jesus was a master storyteller, and constantly used them to teach his hearers. In Matthew 13:10-17, following the Parable of the Sower, the disciples ask Jesus why he taught in parables.

10Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. 15For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’
16But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

via ebibleteacher.com

The common understanding of Matthew 13:10-17 is that the result of Jesus teaching in parables was understanding for some, but confusion and misunderstanding for many others. Some call this the result of the parables, whereas others go so far as to say that Jesus intended to teach in a way that would be unclear. I’ve never been entirely comfortable with this interpretation, since it seems to indicate that Jesus was less than concerned with his hearers understanding his message, which seems to run contrary to the desires of Jesus as portrayed elsewhere in the gospels (Luke 19:41-42).

In a recent Theology class, Gerry Breshears suggested essentially the opposite of this common understanding. He believes that Jesus taught in parables in order to make explicitly clear what it is that he was teaching. This is not to suggest that everyone had the same level of understanding, or that people accepted the message, but that Jesus’ parables communicated simple truths that would have been easy for his listeners to understand. There are complexities and nuances of meaning to be sure, but the core message of each parable was clear. The result of the parables was not a bunch of confused listeners, but rather people who understood the point Jesus was trying to get across in his story, and rejected it. I think this makes better sense of the quoted passage from Isaiah, and other similar passages. These were people whose hearts, for the most part, were already hard towards God. When Jesus, in his teaching and his parables, clearly drew a line in the sand, the choice was forced. Some were driven to respond to the radical message with repentance, others with rejection.

What do you think? Did Jesus tell parables in order to obfuscate, so that only those who dug through the murk would understand, or to make his message abundantly clear so that those who accepted the message would repent and those who spurned it would do so knowingly?

for an interesting read on how to read the parables, check out this post by Tim Gombis.

I hear Jesus Calling (Part 2)

from Wikipedia

In Part 1 of this post, I asked a few questions about calling and the validity of some of the ways we use the term today.

So when we say, “God called me to be a missionary”, or “I feel called to ministry”, what are we really referring to, if we have not experienced an external call from God in the dramatic and miraculous fashion that Isaiah, Paul, Moses, and others in the Bible did?

In my Discovering and Developing Ministry Potential Class, Ron Marrs, made this statement:

“God desires that everyone use their gifts, abilities, and talents to glorify him and love people and will sovereignly guide every Christian to a place of kingdom maturity.”

This is relatively standard stuff. As a part of the body of Christ, each Christian has been given spiritual gifts and has natural talents and abilities which they are responsible to use to love God and love people. However, as we discussed this in class, he made the point that this is essentially what we are talking about when we describe our calling.

A few people in our class had experienced what they described as some sort of external call from God, but the vast majority described some form of the leading of the Holy Spirit, often through confirmation of experience, through input from the community of believers, a discovery of a new passion, or by realization of a way to make use of a gift.

He suggests that we should, in order to find our place or places of kingdom usefulness:

  1. Examine our gifts, abilities, passions, and temperaments
  2. Consider the needs of people
  3. Weigh the variety of life’s obligations: work, marriage, family, school, church, etc.
  4. Discuss with trusted friends and family
  5. Pray!
It was evident during the discussion how ingrained the language of “calling” is. We all had a very difficult time talking about the type of ministry which we felt God had prepared us for without resorting to the language of “being called.” It was certainly eye-opening to me to realize that what I had in the past called a call, were things that I was passionate about, or good at, or enjoyed doing. There is nothing wrong with those things, and I think we should be aware of them. However, having never personally experienced a dramatic, external call from God to something very specific, I want to be careful about the language that I use, especially in order to avoid some of the detrimental confusion which I mentioned in Part 1.
I don’t necessarily think everyone should stop using the word “call”, and I honestly don’t have a great term (nor did my professor) for referring to what most Christians term their “calling.” It has been helpful for me to think through these things, and to understand that all disciples of Christ are called to serve him and his people in one unique way or another depending upon how he has made them. I may not have had a vision of the throne room of God, or been specifically sent to preach repentance to the Ninevites, but God has called me to repentance, and to his son, and Jesus has called me to follow him. I pray that I will faithfully pursue the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and to know myself so that I can follow him to the best of my ability.
Should we continue to use the term “calling” to refer to what we feel God has prepared us to do for him? Is there a better term that would preserve the biblical use of call as something more specific than many of us have experienced, and not cause as much confusion to those who have not had such experiences?

I hear Jesus Calling (Part 1)

How often have you heard someone say, or perhaps said yourself, something to the effect of “this is God’s calling for my life” or “I feel like God called me to do this”? It’s incredibly common language among evangelicals which I’ve used my whole life without a great deal of thought about it. In a recent class, my professor, Ron Marrs, suggested that though the language of “calling” is biblical, we usually misapply it.

If he’s correct, and I think he is, what are we called to, and what terminology should we use when referring to something that we believe God wants us to do, but is not spoken of in scripture?

The primary way that the word call is used in the New Testament is the invitation or calling to salvation. It is a call to recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior. All Christians are called! We should live a life worthy of the calling we have received (Eph. 4:1), which is heavenly (Heb. 3:1) and holy , according to grace, not works (2 Tim. 1:9). This is by no means an in depth treatment of the topic, but that will have to be left for another time. We do talk about “call” in this way, but we also use it to refer to God specifically directing us to a particular ministry, place, or position, which is the use in question.

In the Bible there are numerous examples of people who experience a direct call from God to a certain service or position. God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and called him to free his people from the oppression of Pharaoh. In a stunning vision, God called Isaiah to preach a message of judgment and repentance. Paul was knocked to the ground and blinded by the direct call of Jesus Christ.

I don’t want to suggest that God no longer calls to people in this way, because I think that he can and does. However, both biblically and experientially, these types of calls are not normative. Even when people feel very clearly directed and moved by God towards a particular decision or ministry, it is rarely through a direct, external, miraculous call. We may hear an inner voice, feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit, experience peace, or the lack thereof, or see God’s hand opening or closing a door of opportunity for us.

When we use the term “call” to talk about what we feel like we should be doing, we both misapply the term, as well as potentially confuse and mislead others about what it means to serve God. Some feel that they can’t serve God unless they’ve experienced a direct call like Samuel, and when we use the language of calling, we reinforce that misguided belief. Because of the elevation of the term, others may feel as if they are not serving God with their life since they don’t feel “called” to be a pastor or missionary.

What do you think? Does the language of “call” as used in this way help or hurt, or is it neutral? Is there biblical precedent to use the term in the way we do?

I realize I haven’t answered all of the initial questions I asked, but this post was getting a bit long. I’ll do a part 2 soon and explore the rest of this. Feel free to share your thoughts if you have any.

Saturday

Today is Saturday, which is awesome. Autumn is beautiful in Portland, and we’ve enjoyed a few relatively precipitation free days. I walked the 2.5 miles to and from school yesterday and it was crisp and brisk and whooshing, colorful leaves were in the air and underfoot. I love this time of year and the changing of seasons.

Shelby’s mom had us over this morning, along with the grandkids and my brother-in-law, for brunch. There were waffles, and bacon, and quiche, and coffee. Incidentally, if you think quiche is lame, forget the name and realize that it’s essentially a pie filled with bacon, egg, cheese, and caramelized oniSTOP DROOLING ON YOUR KEYBOARD! Now that we’ve upheld the legitimacy of quiche as a food suitable for consumption, we can move on to the point of this post.

Well…really there wasn’t one, but it’s Saturday, which is awesome, and now I know how to post on this blog.