This is the third is a series of posts exploring why Jesus used stories to convey his message and the implications for us. If you missed the previous installments, you can read them here.
Dichotomy of Right & Wrong
Jesus was a rhetorical ninja. Don’t be fooled by the simple robe and sandals.
In the graphic novel version of the Bible, it would go something like this: a pharisee leaves a group of men talking in hushed tones and approaches Jesus. The tension mounts as the crowd falls silent awaiting the ominous confrontation.
The religious leader strikes a commanding pose in front of Jesus and reveals his carefully crafted question like pulling a sword from its scabbard in a grand show of strength and intimidation.
Like a scene from the Matrix where the fabric of time is stretched in slow motion sequence, Jesus carefully takes the question turns it inside out and delivers it to the backside of the pharisee in the form of a parable that knocks him to his figurative knees as the thought bubble, “WTF?” appears above his head.
Invariably, the religious leaders of the day attempted to present Jesus with a simple yes/no question designed to corner him into betraying the laws of Moses. Jesus most often turned to story in the form of parables to answer/not answer their questions.
This is the genius of Jesus’ teachings. Unlike the 613 laws of Moses that preceded Jesus, the parables offer a richer, layered, and situational understanding of “the kingdom of God.”
We need laws and structure and moral direction regarding what is right and wrong, but too often we seek to oversimplify truth into narrowly constructed parameters. Sometimes you can break a law and still be found not guilty based on extenuating circumstances. Life is just a bunch of extenuating circumstances explaining how we got to where we are and made the decisions we made. That’s why I relate so well to Mister Rogers, who said, “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love if you heard their story.”
This, from the guy whose claim to fame was the question, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” which so perfectly captures the essence of Jesus’ commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.
But we’ve never quite gotten over the influence of the Greeks who came along after Jesus and shaped the way we think about ideas both old and new. Ever since Plato and Aristotle introduced the dualistic paradigm of idea/matter, body/soul, divine/demonic, right/wrong, heaven/hell, we find ourselves constantly falling back into the well worn ruts of those hard and well-formed parameters.
My friend may want to look at parables as simple stories with a moral, but that is not how they were presented. Jesus used parables as rhetorical tools to invite us to bring our perspectives and experiences into the story, to consider the context, the characters and the actions for a richer and more meaningful understanding.
Those stories, as well as our own, deserve to be plumed for their insight, wisdom and truth — the kind that won’t fit on a fortune cookie.