Posted by: pmarkrobb | July 19, 2012

action, not just understanding

Two very different thoughts have been simmering in my soul as I have sat this week with the parallel accounts of the Parable of the Tenants.  The first has more to do with the “parallel” part, and the second is directly related to the parable.  The first is an encouragement, the second, a challenge.

In the three parallel accounts of this week’s parable, there are word-for-word matches, comparable narrative and seemingly divergent details.  For example, all three gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) begin with the same setting and basic plot of a vineyard that was planted, rented to some farmers, and the vineyard owner then moved away.   Matthew and Mark mention additional details of a wall, a winepress and a watchtower, but there is no mention of them in Luke.  Similarly, each gospel mentions three individual servants that were sent to collect fruit for the owner at harvest time.  Each of the gospels, however, sequence things a bit differently and with varying details of the treatment the servants received.  Matthew mentions all three in the same sentence and then says, “he sent other servants to them, more than the first time…” (v.36).  Mark mentions each of the three in separate sentences and then says, “He sent many others…” (v.5).  And Luke mentions each in a separate sentence, but does not mention any additional servants.  Luke also never mentions that any of the servants were killed, while the other two writers do.

Is this troublesome to me? Should it be to you?  It is not.  And consider this … when was the last time you witnessed the same event as a group of family members or friends and had each retell it separately with exacting order and detail?  God has created us in His image but with fingerprints and true selves that are unique to any other.  Although we might be present in a shared story, we will notice and record details that are on a sliding scale from same to similar to very different.

I can “see” a conversation amongst the Trinity about the plan to have human writers involved in the writing of the Holy Scriptures.  I can “see” the consideration of the risk that is inherent in leaving this sacred responsibility to finite and flawed creatures.  I can also “see” God’s reassurance that this is exactly how He wanted it done.  He invited the scripture writers to participate, just as He invites us to be instruments in sharing His good news with the world.  Do you remember the first time your mother or father trusted you to do something really important, even though there was a real risk that you could mess it up?  How good did it feel when you accomplished it, or when you messed it up and they reassured you that it could all be put right and you could have another try at it?  How infinitely better is it to know that God loves you and trusts you to be a part of His plan?  And that if you mess it up, He can put it all right, and you can have another try at it.  In parallel accounts we should not run from nuances or differences, but rather dive deeper to consider them as purposeful contrasts or compliments.

The second significant thought that has been with me this week as I have sat with this parable is a challenge.  The picture this parable paints is a very familiar one.  It seems clear who Christ is speaking of when He mentions the vineyard owner, the tenants, the servants and the son.  What my mind was almost immediately drawn to was the reaction of the religious leaders at the very end of the telling of the parable. 

In context, this is a second storied response from Jesus after the religious leaders question His authority.  It is not a surprise that they would react negatively, however, I do admit to being a bit surprised at how quickly the religious leaders picked up on the meaning of the parable.  When I think of parables, I always “hear” the phrase “for those who have ears to hear” echo in my head.  Jesus had a pattern of illustrating truth in stories that could only be discerned by hearts that were open.  Yet on this occasion, the sharp and targeted meaning was not hidden from the understanding of hearts that were hardened to His message.  The text does not mention others in the crowd, but I am sure there were others whose ears “heard” and hearts were changed in a kingdom way.  It is perfectly clear also that the religious leaders “heard”, and their hearts were moved in a wholly different direction. 

And to me, this is the challenge and truth of parables.  I believe they are meant to inspire action, not just understanding.  Do you remember the story Nathan told David in 2 Samuel 12?  It’s the story of a little lamb taken from a poor man by a rich man.  The treasured lamb was then killed just to be served at a casual dinner for a random house guest.   David responded in anger, just as the religious leaders did to Jesus’ story about the tenants.  Except that David’s anger was in advance of his understanding what the story really meant.  When Nathan explained that he was the rich man in the story, his heart was broken and repentant.  This story was meant for action, not just understanding.  The Parable of the Tenants, was also meant for action.

As you read the parables, I challenge you to consider how they are meant to inspire action, not just understanding.  They were given in a very specific context, but as with all of scripture, they were also “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16) in our lives.  Consume the parables, sit with them, but don’t just leave it at your notes or an interesting new thing you learned.  Let them soak down to your very core, change you and inspire the verb that is your daily walk.

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