This lesson will look at parables as stories and metaphors. “Story” in the sense that the form is important to the message. Rather than reducing a parable to one main theological point to which all the details apply or even disappear, a story is a multi-dimensional experience; an experience that creates pictures in our heads. Parables are stories that keep us pondering, that surprises us with new insights, that offer us viewpoints through lenses we had not yet considered. These stories remain in our minds to be pondered the next day and the next and even a week or months later.
Parables are “metaphor” in the sense that Jesus begins with a familiar image from the daily life of his listeners, and surprises us with a new perspective on life, values and relationships as they are and will be in God’s Kingdom. Parables are meant to turn our thinking inside out and upside down, pulling us from our comfortable, taken-for-granted worldview of religious faith into God’s Kingdom that demands radical relationships, obedience, and love.
John Timmer in Four-Dimensional Jesus: Seeing Jesus through the eyes of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Faith Alive, 2001, p.58, states,
“Parables destroy the wisdom of the wise and frustrate the intelligence of the intelligent. By equating God’s unfamiliar kingdom with familiar human scenes, Jesus confounds our wisdom with God’s foolishness and challenges everything we thought we knew for sure. Conventional wisdom praises us for building ourselves a beautiful home, then Jesus’ parable whispers in our ear, ‘You fool! You built it right above an earthquake fault.’ Conventional wisdom praises us for making investments. Then Jesus’s parable whispers in our ear, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Who then will prosper from your investments?’ In Jesus’ parables a man sells everything to obtain one thing; a shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep in order to find the lost one; a lord commends his shrewd manager for making a realistic assessment of the crisis he is in. What these people do jolts us and catches us off guard. We are unsettled even more by late-arriving workers being paid the same as early-arriving workers; an extravagant banquet given for the poor and marginalized when the prominent decline to come; a despised Samaritan coming to the aid of a Jewish traveler while upstanding religious folk walk on by. In each of these stories conventional wisdom is subverted by a new wisdom – that of the kingdom of God.”
The challenge, especially if you are already familiar with this parable from Matthew 25:1-13, is to lay aside the main point or allegorical interpretations that you have heard before, and just let the story be with and in you.
Read the story today at least 3 times now and then each day for a week.
- Make a deliberate attempt to ignore the title, “The Ten Virgins”, which was not part of Jesus’ original story, rather was likely added by translators or publishers.
- Notice what unsettles you; what doesn’t seem fair or doesn’t quite fit.
- Each day, try to formulate a question from an unconventional perspective. Here are some examples to stimulate your own questions:
- Wasn’t the bridegroom quite harsh with the 5 who seemed sincere because they had come to meet him and had gone to buy more oil?
- Why didn’t they other 5 share?
- Allow the story to create current parallels in your life and faith journey.
- Listen to God.
- Take notes on your pondering and share these with your small group, a mentor, or trusted sister/brother in your faith community.