Remember Jesus’ story about the guy who was tossed out of the wedding banquet for not wearing the right gear? What was that about?Continue reading “Called or chosen? (Matthew 22:8-14)”
Heard the one about Jesus’ wedding?Continue reading “The wedding of the king’s son (Matthew 22:1-7)”
Jesus’ authority isn’t forced; it’s experienced by living in his story.
The most joyful parade of King Jesus’ life was the day he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey with the crowd acclaiming him as their heaven-sent king: hosanna to the son of David, arriving in the name of the Lord (21:9).
But Jesus’ authority is so different to those who claim power in this world. Last time someone entered Jerusalem in the name of a superpower, it was a Roman general:
Pompey and his army besieged Jerusalem and the Temple, and in the ensuing siege, the city was badly damaged. Aristobulus’ faction was massacred inside the Temple precinct itself, and Pompey himself violated the sanctity of the Temple by entering the Holy of Holies.
— Adam Kolman Marshak, “From Pompey to Hadrian,” in Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 40.
Jesus also went to the temple — not to violate it, but to call the city to honour the seat of God’s reign over the nations. He confronted what was wrong, but Jesus doesn’t pummel the world into submission the way earthly rulers do. He warned his servants of the temptation: You know how the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their high officials exercise power over them. 26 Not so with you! (Matthew 20:25-26).
Why? For Jesus, authority is God-given, not enforced on people. That’s why his authority arrives slowly: it’s received by revelation (Matthew 16:17). It grows like a little seed (13:31-33), as people discover the humble king coming in the name of the Lord (21:1-9). His authority challenges the existing order that is showy but fruitless (21:12-22). It depends on divine appointment, so he’s not desperate for human recognition (21:23-27).
So, Jesus confronted Jerusalem’s leaders not with swords but stories. Their authority is a fiction if God has given authority to his Christ.
By what authority are you doing these things? they demanded (21:23). Three stories overturn their authority:
- The parable of the two sons challenges their public persona of obedience to the Father, and their presentation of Jesus as the leader of the disobedient (21:28-32).
- The parable of the tenants challenges their claim to be God’s managers when they reject the heir (21:33-46).
- The parable of the wedding banquet challenges their restrictions on who belongs at the king’s table (22:1-14).
The content of these stories radically overturned their claims to divine authority, but pause to let Jesus’ method sink in. The pen is more powerful than the sword. Swords fall to stories. The word shapes the world. What is comes from God’s decree, Let there be …
God decrees the reign of his anointed, so no other claimants can countermand it. Not the false sons in the vineyard. Not the self-serving managers of the vineyard. Not the unresponsive guests of God’s Providence. The heavenly sovereign manages his earthly realm. He removes the servants who misrepresent him, and raises up his Son.
The good news of the kingdom is embodied in stories. It’s embodied in the incarnate Son. It’s embodied in the people who live in him (the body of Christ), the living stories of his restorative kingship.
Jesus knew. Matthew knew. The world knows through the people who live in his story. That could define everything the church is and does.
In the previous post, I suggested two reasons Jesus used parables instead of plain talk. (a) He was inspiring imagination for how life could be. (b) He was announcing his kingship, without making the usual power claims.
When Jesus was asked why he spoke with cryptic stories, he quoted Isaiah’s frustration with people hearing but never getting the message, seeing but never comprehending (Isaiah 6:9-10 in Matthew 13:11-17).
To understand why Jesus reapplied Isaiah’s situation to his own, we need to identify what they shared in common. As usual, it’s about God’s kingship.
Ever wondered why Jesus told stories about the kingdom of God? Wouldn’t it be better if he just told us plainly what he wanted from us? If you think so, let me offer you a challenge: put Jesus’ kingdom vision into plain words. Any attempt to reduce Jesus’ message to an imperative (what we should do) fails miserably: it feels lame, heartless, uninspiring.
Jesus’ kingdom vision takes us beyond what is to what could be. You can’t do that with analysis; it requires imagination.
Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.
— Albert Einstein.
Jesus’ parables were cameos of the kingdom of God, visual stimuli for our imagination. They transport us from injustice and oppression to a world where humans are reconciled with their heavenly king, and therefore give each other the same dignity, care and restorative grace that our sovereign has given us. Continue reading “Why parables?”
Can Jesus teach us to present his kingdom in our setting?
Open Matthew 13:51-52.
The final parable of Matthew 13 would be the most relevant and practical of all, if we understood it. It’s the final application, the “so what” of the kingdom parables. Jesus commissions us to do something with the kingdom.
But what is he asking us to do by telling a story about a householder laying out his new and old treasures? Continue reading “Trained for kingdom business (Matthew 13:51-52)”
What would it be worth to have God reigning over us?
Open Matthew 13:45-46.
Did you hear the one about the art lover who found an original by someone she and her husband admired? She texted the details to get his opinion. Between meetings, he rushed back a reply, “No. Price too high.” But his fumbling fingers missed the full stop. The text she received read, “No price too high.”
Did you hear the one Jesus told about the pearl merchant? He found the one he’d been waiting for, the elusive pearl with flawless shape, glistening tone, and perfect lustre. He traded everything away to have the thing he’d been waiting his whole life to find.
For Jesus, God’s reign over the world is that one thing worth trading everything for. Like the pearl merchant you might recognize it as the thing you’ve been searching for. Or you may not have been searching; perhaps you just stumbled on it, like treasure buried in a field. Either way, when you see it for what it is — the possibility of everything on earth functioning as beautifully as it was designed to do — what value do you place on it? Continue reading “What’s the value of God’s reign? (Matthew 13:45-46)”
What’s your dream? And what will you do to get there?
Open Matthew 13:44.
What’s your dream? And what would you do to get it? Your honest answers to those questions reveal more about you than you realize.
Someone caught up in the first euphoria of love dreams of a beautiful life with that special someone, whatever it costs. The entrepreneur dreams of owning the Monopoly board, driven by a plan that just might give it to him.
But our best dreams are bigger than ourselves. Dreams like clean drinking water for Africa, empowering locals to transform Cambodia, or A21’s audacious vision to end modern slavery. Syrians dream of living in a country where they need not fear being shot, and some young Americans do too. Martin Luther King Jr still speaks, “I have a dream …”
The trouble with dreams is that the how is more difficult than the what. Continue reading “Discovering what counts (Matthew 13:44)”
Wisdom: learning from where we’ve been, to end up in a better place.
Open Matthew 3:34-35.
So why did Jesus speak in parables? He was revealing divine plans that had been confidential since the world was founded.
That’s how Matthew’s community understood him, based on Psalm 78:2:
I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world (quoted in Matthew 13:35).
But why did they think that Psalm was about Jesus? Was it just because the Psalm used the word parable? Continue reading “Parables help us get our bearings (Matthew 13:34-35)”
How is the kingdom of heaven like a woman baking bread?
Open Matthew 13:33.
There’s nothing like the smell of fresh bread in the morning. Flour, water, and yeast go in the bread maker in the evening, and in the morning the aroma of fresh bread helps you rise to a new day.
We have it so easy. Back in Jesus’ day they kneaded the dough by hand, kept aside some sourdough as leaven for tomorrow, waited for it to rise, punched it down again, waited some more, and then built a fire to bake it.
Jesus told a story about a woman who must have been baking for a party. She took her leaven and hid it in three big 8 kilogram batches of flour. How on earth is the heaven’s kingdom like that? Continue reading “Infecting the world with good (Matthew 13:33)”
How can God allow good and evil to coexist and not sort it out?
Open Matthew 13:24-43.
Jesus told some funny stories. The farmhands find weeds in the wheat field, so they ask if they should pull out the weeds. The farmer says, “I sowed good seed, so our enemy must have come and planted the weeds while we were all asleep.” Never in my life have I met a farmer who would jump to that conclusion!
Even funnier is the farmer’s response, “Nah! Leave all the plants growing in the field. We’ll sort them out at harvest time. If I let you lot pull out the weeds, you’ll pull out some of my wheat as well.”
There is no way Jesus could get a position at agricultural college if he gives that advice to his students. Why would he dream up such a story?
Why did Jesus teach in parables? Can his method inspire artists today?
Creatives know the struggle. How overt do you make your art? Do you feed people facts to change their minds, knowing the facts will drown in the data swamp? Do you inspire people with the seeds of what’s possible, knowing that most people won’t grasp your meaning?
There was a time I wished the Bible told it plainly. Just spell out what I must do instead of all that story and poetry. I was wrong, and Jesus knew it.
Jesus constantly went out on a limb, choosing the creative extreme. Not even his close friends understood his stories at times.
One day, they confronted him, “Why do you speak in parables?” Did you expect a straight answer? Here’s what he said:
What’s the point of the sower parable? Is it about the soils, the seed, or the sower?
Open Matthew 13:1-23.
So what do you make of the sower parable? Is it a challenge to respond the way the good soil did? Don’t be like the hard path, or the shallow ground, or where things crowd out the word?
That’s okay as far as it goes, but it wasn’t what Jesus was saying. When he explained the parable, he didn’t say, “You are the soils, so make sure you’re the good one.” It wasn’t about you. It wasn’t even about the soils, although that was the setting of the story. The parable was about the sower and his sowing.
What’s a parable, and why did Jesus use them?
Open Matthew 13.
Like an otter, but with a bill like a duck. If you don’t know what a platypus is, comparisons can help.
Even if you do know what something is, comparisons change how you think of it. “Listening to gossip is like eating cheap candy; do you really want junk like that in your belly?” (Proverbs 18:8 Msg).
Jesus was famous for his parables, similitudes that describe one thing as like another. Sometimes the comparison was a single sentence; other times he spun a yarn with intrigue.
Matthew pulls seven or eight of his parables together in chapter 13. They’re drawn from everyday life: farming, baking, gardening, buying, selling, fishing, entertaining. But they’re all about the same thing. Can you guess? Continue reading “Parables of the king (Matthew 13)”
We dined at the old Guildford on Friday: not so much for its food as its story. Continue reading “Restoration — the Guildford Hotel”