Peterson on Parable... with a wee something thrown in by me...

In his book "The Contemplative Pastor" (I'm only 20% of my way through this so there's plenty more to come on this strand) Peterson says:
“Jesus’ favorite speech form, the parable, was subversive. Parables sound absolutely ordinary: casual stories about soil and seeds, meals and coins and sheep, bandits and victims, farmers and merchants. And they are wholly secular: of his forty or so parables recorded in the Gospels, only one has its setting in church, and only a couple mention the name God. As people heard Jesus tell these stories, they saw at once that they weren’t about God, so there was nothing in them threatening their own sovereignty. They relaxed their defenses. They walked away perplexed, wondering what they meant, the stories lodged in their imagination. And then, like a time bomb, they would explode in their unprotected hearts. An abyss opened up at their very feet. He was talking about God; they had been invaded!...

Parables subversively slip past our defenses. Once they’re inside the citadel of self, we might expect a change of method, a sudden brandishing of bayonets resulting in a palace coup. But it doesn’t happen. Our integrity is honored and preserved. God does not impose his reality from without; he grows flowers and fruit from within. God’s truth is not an alien invasion but a loving courtship in which the details of our common lives are treated as seeds in our conception, growth, and maturity in the kingdom. Parables trust our imaginations, which is to say, our faith. They don’t herd us paternalistically into a classroom where we get things explained and diagrammed. They don’t bully us into regiments where we find ourselves marching in a moral goose step.”
(forgive the American spellings - I'm taking this directly from the book)

Nearly 20 years ago I wrote an undergraduate thesis on Jesus' parables as a model of communication, and had a couple of false starts in taking my academic study of the same a bit further... But I am still convinced that we underestimate Jesus' use of parable, not so much for the communication of ideas as such, but as a vehicle of the sort of communication that promotes communion. Every parable is an invitation to ask where we would sit in the story... And as we find our own stories intersecting with these parabolic tales they should set us off on a different trajectory...
This is true not only of the parables of Jesus but the Bible as a whole... So much of scripture is made up of story, yet when it comes to dealing with scripture, so often we reduce it to a series of easily digestible propositions (3 or 5 points depending on your predilection) each one beginning with the same initial letter. Again, I've touched on this before in this blog, but I am puzzled as to why we do it... and I am as guilty as anyone else in this regard... Yes, I often use the stories of scripture for monologues exploring how the people involved felt, indeed I'm leading a seminar on the same in the upcoming Church Resources Conference and  Exhibition, but all too often when I use them in a service, I still feel the need to have a traditional sermon to unpack the scriptures a bit further... Why is that?
Is it because if I don't give people the sermon they expect on a Sunday that they might think they have been short changed?
Am I afraid that if I let people wrestle with the story of scripture themselves there is no knowing where it might take them?
Am I wanting to tidy up what God for some reason left unfinished, with too many loose threads and unanswered questions?

I suppose that's one of the reasons why I am keen that my congregation participates in the Biblica Community Bible Experience over the next few months... Engaging with the New Testament as story, and seeing how that engagement shapes their thinking as actions... Finding that not only were Jesus' parables subversive, but so is the whole of scripture if read free of chapters, verses and theological straight jackets... 

Selah

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