In a previous post on this blog, I asked people for their comments on their favorite book of the Bible. I received thought provoking responses, with readers choosing the Gospel of John, the Gospel of Luke, the Gospel of Mark, the Psalms and even Paul’s short letter to Philemon. If you have not offered your own favorite biblical book, please click on the link above and feel free to add your comments at any time. Today, though, I am proposing a new list and that is of readers’ favorite parables. In the comments section below let us know what your favorite parable of Jesus is and why it is your favorite parable. How has it spoken to you in the past? Why do you think this particular parable has spoken to you? Has your view of the parable changed even as it has remained your favorite? Or have you chosen different parables as your favorites over the years? I would love to hear from you and so I will hold off on offering my own favorite parable at this time, which also gives me a little more time to ruminate on what my choice might be.
I think Jesus’ parables are so powerful because they are in story form and so reach across the divide that is often created by “Scripture,” in which “experts” are needed to interpret the parable “correctly.” Even when some people might find it difficult to offer a coherent explanation of why a parable moves them in such a profound way, the reality of Jesus’ teaching has penetrated through the mode of story. This is why an organization such as the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd uses Jesus’ parables to teach very young children. They “get” the parables because they “get” story and “narrative.” This must have been the case in Jesus’ day, too, that whether a child or adult, a woman or a man, a slave or a free person, an educated or an uneducated person, people could understand the narrative.
More than that, I think parables do not close off thinking and interpretation, but they open it up. Parables are not concerned so much with doctrine and dogma, but with how we treat other people, how we behave, and how God loves us and cares for us. This bridges false walls that human beings set up between themselves and allows us to reflect on what the parable is teaching me, right now.
Apart from that, I think parables were perfect for memorization. How many times do you need to hear “A Priest, a Rabbi, and a Duck walked into a bar” – and I am uncertain if this exact joke exists, so my apologies in advance if it does and is particularly bawdy - before you remember the outlines of the joke? Most of us can remember the joke if we remember the basic narrative and the major characters. Jesus’ parables are identical to narrative jokes in these respects: “Disciples, listen up, a Levite and a Priest were going up to Jerusalem when they came upon a man beaten on the side of the road. They walked on by. A Samaritan came by…” Jesus’ parables were easily memorizable because of their basic nature as story, but also because of their vividness, their grounding in day to day life and the way they play off of and controvert normal expectations for human behavior, especially as it relates to ethnicity and social class. “A Samaritan did what??? Jesus, is that right, a Samaritan? Or did you mean a Sadducee?”
Jesus gets to the heart of human experience by placing us in the lives and narratives of his characters. The parables challenge us to look deeply inside of ourselves and ask how we need to transform ourselves or allow ourselves to be transformed. The images of God in the parables are often shocking because God is so powerfully merciful and loving it overwhelms our defenses by which we wish to keep God at arm’s length, to contain and manage God. In the parables Jesus teaches us not by wagging a finger at us, but by allowing us to confront personally and internally the impact of how his characters behave or, in certain cases, how they do not behave.
There are many parables of Jesus – which is your favorite?
John W. Martens