Wednesday 15 April 2020

What is your favourite parable in The Gospels?

 None so blind as those who will not see

Mine is - as I've said before - The Good Shepherd, in the Fourth Gospel.

Why? Because it is what I regard as Jesus's core teaching, encapsulated.

What's your favourite parable - and why?


jas said...

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

Bruce Charlton said...

@jas - Yes, but why?

jas said...

' If you remain in me and I in you' me this is what Christianity is, it is no longer I/the ego, but knowledge that generates true life, one that is spiritual and no longer burdened by the travails of the material world. However, neither is it a 'new age' feeling of being completely removed from this world, there is grounding in accepting the world as it is and in knowing that you are guided by Christ. Hope that makes some sense...

Francis Berger said...

There are scholars who would argue John contains no parables, but I agree with you - it does contain a couple, and the Good Shepherd is one of them (and also one of my favorites).

I like the parable of the divided kingdom - Matthew 12: 24-30 - especially the last line.

30 He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.

I like the clarity. There's no waffling in it. The ultimate either/or statement. As for the parable, I find it a sound criticism of the type of thinking that fuels much of our contemporary 'discourse', for lack of a better term; it is also sound advice as to how to avoid such poisonous thinking.

Matthew T said...

You know I don't know that I am big on "parables", I can hardly recall any. They often confuse me more than anything.

After glancing at a "list of the parables", I suppose I will have to go with the obvious granddaddy, the Good Samaritan. Such scathing rhetoric delivered by Jesus, in conjunction with the fundamental message of love and caring towards everyone.

Bruce Charlton said...

@jas. I don't think I understand your explanation. Or maybe I just don't agree!

@Francis. Those scholars! Presumably the same ones who are sure that the IV Gospel was written by John, and after the synoptics.

@MT. If you do a word search youll find some interesting discussion on this blog about the Good Samaritan. But surely it can't mean loving and caring for everyone, because that would be nonsense?

Matthew T said...

"But surely it can't mean loving and caring for everyone, because that would be nonsense?"

I agree with you as far as this goes; don't mistake me for subscribing to "we need to feed and clothe all the world's refugees" or what have you. But at the same time I would not like to throw out the baby with the bathwater - there is a general message there that everyone is human and ought to be treated as such.

If that sounds overly basic, "well, obviously" - well, it's not basic or obvious. Several years ago I read one of the enjoyable books by lay history writer Tom Holland, wherein he says something along the lines of, "You know, I used to be skeptical, somewhat disdainful of Christianity, until my study of the ancient world convinced me that people used to treat each other pretty awfully until Christianity came round".

What can I say, I suppose it's the physician in me, my favourite Jesus stories are the ones about caring and healing. On my wall at home I have a print of a painting of Jairus' daughter (this one:

Matthew T said...

Well, I just found and read this:

- and admit to finding it surprising, and yet, I am not sure that it is totally incompatible with what I am saying, viz., that by dint of common humanity, anyone *could* be one's neighbour, if acting neighbourly.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MT - Sorry, but I think I must have been thinking about an interesting comment thread on *somebody else's* blog, not mine - since this has no comments. Maybe it was on one of WmJas Tychonievitch's blogs, or Junior Ganymede... I just can't recall (it was several years ago).

Matthew T said...

Let me try a different tack. I recall that once upon a time, before life's experience made me value other things, as a younger man my favourite parable was The Rich Fool - Luke 12:13-21. This was because, like many young men, I was very ambitious, and found this tale to be sobering.

Hrothgar said...

Two in particular strike me: that of the Tares (among the wheat), and that of the Wicked Husbandmen.

The first, because of how it makes clear how Mercy and Justice truly operate in relation to each other and the activity of supernatural evil from the Divine perspective, when considering the trials of our earthly lives.

The second, because it emphasizes equally how Christianity is both a continuance and fulfilment of the earlier Judaic faith traditions of the OT, and that those who truly wish to follow Christ must necessarily separate from these and (to some degree) repudiate them.

How contemporary Judaizing Christians (Dispensationalists and the like) manage to maintain their beliefs in the face of this parable is something I should very much like to know, because I can't figure it out at all. (To lapse into the bad habits of the previous tenants and even seek to honour them, when the Master has specifically taken the property from them to punish their transgressions and given it to you in order that you may make it fruitful according to his new, explicit wishes, is to set the sacrifice of his son at naught. It does not matter that the people doing this call themselves Christians. To simultaneously accept Christ in words and be willfully blind to the full meaning of his sacrifice is, in fact, to deny him in the heart.)

Both parables, perhaps not incidentally, warn of the severe penalties that will ultimately be suffered by those who willfully persist in evil courses despite being repeatedly offered the chance to repent - a particularly apt lesson for our own times, perhaps?

Chent said...

Prodigal Son, hands down. Since some years ago, I didn't realize that the son does not repent and, despite this, the father forgives him

Mike A. said...

The Prodigal Son

Luke 15:11-32


From this parable we learn the following:

1). God is literally our Father, and He loves us more than we can comprehend.

2). No matter how far off the path I drift, He is eager and anxious for me to return home.

3). When the son "came to himself" and returned, his Father was on the wall looking for him and saw his son from "a great way off" and *ran* to him. Can you imagine that kind of love and concern for a child? And a wayward one at that!

4). Repentance is required. It is *essential* to this parable. Chent in the comment above says that the son did not repent, but that is not true. The son "came to himself" and promptly returned to the house of his Father. This implies repentance and a change of heart. Or are we to assume the Father would approve of his riotous living in the family home? Of course not.

5). There are great blessings for both those who drift and come back as well as those who remain faithful and never leave. To the older brother who remained faithful his father said "thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine." There was no need for the older brother to feel resentful for the party being thrown for his younger brother. He will receive eventually receive his reward from his loving Father.

I feel that the greatness and mercy of the plan of salvation the Father has prepared for all of His children is perfectly illustrated in this parable.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

The Good Samaritan post you're thinking of wasn't mine. I've written a thing or two about Samaritans, but not *that* Samaritan.

"Favorite parable" would be a tough call, but I'm in the middle of writing a post about the parable of the wise and foolish builders, which should (in theory) be finished soonish.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MT and WMJas - It was 'G' at Junior Ganymede:

Dynamic said...

The Prodigal Son, but not for the usual reason. Often overlooked is that the elder son is a sinner too who needs to repent, but his sins are of a different kind. Possibly this sort of sin is more insidious than the sorts of sins the younger son committed (the parable doesn't tell us whether the elder son eventually repented and entered the banquet; perhaps he'll be left outside forever).

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dynamic - You, and the others, certainly make a strong case for the Prodigal parable.

As you say, the elder son displays sins of resetnment and envy, which are regarded as virtues nowadays and actively encouraged in 'minority groups' - indeed the process of encouraging envy and resentment began as soon as Christianity began to be abandoned, with the rise of Nationalism.

However, this process has now gone so far that perhaps the majority of the population now spend much of their waking life brooding on their oppression and the injustices they suffer - and presumably dream about it as well.

So, the elder son is a kind of saint of modernity.

Lucinda said...

This might break the rules a bit, but I think I like the story of the virgin Mary becoming the mother of Jesus, as a parable. The implausibility, the big trouble surrounding a seriously taboo situation, Joseph’s role as adoptive father. I do have my own idea about what is meant by “virgin” which has allowed me to stop being weirded out by the story.

I guess it’s partly because I’m a woman, and the whole adventure and risks of family formation and child-bearing are very compelling to me. Certainly the story has had the greatest personal impact on my life in terms of my having a lot of children, along with the story of Adam and Eve.

But I’m guessing part of point of a parable would be to simplify rather than complicate? The case you’ve made for the Good Shepherd is very good, particularly the part about the bewildered soul following Jesus because of love through death to eternal life. It motivates toward love of God.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lucinda - I suppose there is room for a distinction between 'the most important' and 'my favourite'.

I am reminded of a story told by Andre Previn (the conductor; in Music: Face to Face) who asked a student of some prestigious music academy what was his favourite composition. The student replied with JS Bach's Art of Fugue; to which Previn said something like: "I asked what was your *favourite* piece, not what you thought was the best."

The point being that maybe all musicians would agree that in some abstract sense The Art of Fugue is the best composition, or the most historically important (this is potentially an objective fact); but firstly AAF is not very loveable so the student may have been pretentious in his claim, and secondly (and more important) that the question was intended to elicit what is *distinctive* about the student, not some opinion he shared with everybody else.

Lucinda said...

That was funny.

While I was honestly trying to identify my favorite, I have noticed the pretentious and fashion-minded tendencies in myself. Not to self-deprecate though. It fits with my theory about men having better awareness of their preferences distinct from fashion and pretension because of being more sensitive to and unembarrassed about positive emotion.

Lucinda said...

By contrast, a person like me, who is more sensitive to negative emotion, would be better at identifying anti-preferences. Fashion-mindedness, in my experience, is a matter of anti-preferences and a sense of taboos.

Jared said...

I think my favorite parable is of the lost coin. A woman loses a coin and she sweeps all over looking for it. She finds it and she tells her friends so they can rejoice.
I like this because we are like that coin. God wants to find us.

Chent said...

This must be a little late, but, in response to Mike C.

The son never repents. I didn't realize this until I heard a sermon about this parable by a Nicaraguan bishop on the radio, which made that point (among others).

The son never says: "I have been ungrateful and unfair with my father. He has suffered a lot because of me. I have insulted him (in the customs of that time, asking for your part of the inheritance was equivalent to say that you preferred your father to be dead). I have dishonored him and shamed him. I have made him suffer immensely". This is repentance

The son never says: "I have done wrong. I have done evil. I have devoted myself to pleasure and not to duty. I have violated God's law committing sins against the Law of the Lord, both with my father and during the sinful life I have lived after leaving my father". This is repentance.

The son says: "How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!". In other words: "I have no food. Where can I get food? My father has food even for his servants. If I can manipulate the old man, I will get a constant supply of food.". This is not repentance, but selfishness. The son only thinks about himself, not about the father, about God, about not being evil. It's all about him.

The son may have REGRETTED having taken a decision that had bad consequences (although the parable never says this) but he never REPENTS. The focus of his actions is completely materialistic: the searching for food. The motivations to going back to his father are exactly the same as the motivations to leave his father: the search for pleasure and avoidance of pain. They are completely utilitarian. The son has not changed. He is not born again. He has no new heart. He is the same.

After this, the son does not go to the father and talks to him with sincerity and honesty. On the contrary, he rehearses a speech to manipulate the old man to get food from him: "I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants."

Please take into account that this was not the real motivation of the son. The son only wants food. He has never thought of the pain of the father or the violation of the Law of God, he only knows that he can get food by saying these words. Since he is not sincere, he has to rehearse the words he has carefully chosen to manipulate the old man, like a cheap salesman rehearsing his speech.

Then he gets to his father's house. Instead of speaking from the heart, he repeats his rehearsed speech word for word, like a cheap salesman: “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

Even with that, the father rushes to forgive him. This seems immensely touching to me. It's like the father is so eager to forgive him that he accepts anything, even this pathetic insincere speech. Being the father God Himself, He knows that the son never repents. The father doesn't let the son finish his speech (he doesn't care about this heap of BS). He cares about: "For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."

The bishop concluded: "The son has not repented and he will leave his father's house again and again in the future, not only once, but many times. But the father will always be eager to forgive him when the son takes the initiative to go back to his father, even if the son's motives are not pure. And, after many of these cycles of leaving his father and coming back to his father, the son will end up dwelling in his father's house forever and he will never leave" (of course, this refers to heaven)· Touching

Chent said...

(Somebody thinks that the current crisis is to get people to repentance so they go back to God. But I don't think that modern people will repent, when seeing the bad consequences of their evil ways. They may regret the bad consequences and go back temporarily to good behavior. But, once they feel safe again, they will resume their evil ways with renewed energy. Like the prodigal son)

Bruce Charlton said...

@Chent - I see the argument - but I believe that the repentance of the prodigal is genuine, but implicit. I think we need to infer what was intended by the story (as it was told by Jesus, not necessarily as recorded and as it comes down to us) and I believe intuitively that repentance was implied. But I could not prove it!

wrt the current crisis; as I've set out in today's blog; I think it is a mistake to assume taht God did this To us; we do it to ourselves.

We are like someone who repeatedly take drug overdoses, in order to make her loving husband feel guilty and to manipulate him. She takes the drug, then immediately calls for help. Every time, she tells her husband - you made me do this; it is your fault. She cannot learn from life. At some point, the loving husband may tell her - your life is your responsibility, not mine. If you do this ever again, I will not come running - you will take the consequences of your choice. She does it again, she calls again for help - but this time the husband will not come. She dies - and as she is dying God grants her a perfect clarity about reality: she is going-to die. Either she continues to blame her husband and thereby chooses hell, or she accepts responsibility - repents - and may choose to follow Jesus Christ.

Sometime, some people (perhaps many people - perhaps you and I) cannot learn from life, but only from death. Sometimes people learn lessons easily, sometimes they need rtough lessons. And sometimes they still cannot learn.

But a loving Father will (if possible) offer the chance of tough lessons before giving up on his children.