But What Do They Mean?
We are just about halfway through this summer of parables. We have looked at: The Sower, the Growing Seed, the Mustard Seed, the Talents, the Lost Trilogy: The Sheep, the Coin, and the Son (the prodigal son), and The Good Samaritan. While these stories use different settings, and have different meanings, there is one idea that pervades them all - the straightforward lesson in the parable may not actually be Jesus' message. There is more going on, something to make these stories stand out.
The parables of Jesus must be taken in context of the culture in which Jesus lived. Our culture is different. We do not have kings and princes in the U.S., but we do have business managers, CEO's, and politicians by other titles. The power of the kings of Jesus' time may or may not have been ultimate rule over the entirety of a territory, but at the very least they would be the governor of a city. Business dealings looked different from our context, too. Truly, understanding the parables, hearing the message that Jesus taught, requires a deeper search into the differences of culture and context. Jesus told his listeners that the parables would teach them about the Kingdom of Heaven; all too often, the parables were also a critique of the world in which he lived, challenging different systems of oppression. The parables are subversive, designed to send messages both to those who understood and those who did not. It is important when we read or hear the parables that we step back from our instinctive reading, the way we were taught to read and interpret them as children, and find fresh eyes and ears and minds to understand.
Try to reimagine the parables when you hear or see them. When you see or hear words like "master" or "ruler", instead of imagining those roles as placeholder for God, substitute something or someone else - the CEO of a company, a governor with whom you disagreed with their policies, a school board president or a Superintendent of schools. How does that substitution change how you read or hear the parables? Does that change necessitate an adjustment in some of the other roles and titles in the parable?
~Rev. Andrea Joy Holroyd