As we wander further into these parables which Jesus offered about the Reign of God, I found myself wondering about what happened next. There are these earthy, mystifying stories about yeast and seeds of all kinds, hidden and discovered treasures, banquets for everyone.
Surely one of the reasons the parables have lasted is that they ask – even require – something of us, and the essentially elusive nature of them is that even though the images and the language appear familiar, there always appears something more secreted within.
So when they heard these parables, did the crowd go home and forget them, or did they wrestle with them? Did they head back to work, or to the pub, or the saleyards and tell their friends what they had heard? When they were shocked by the parable of the Samaritan, or angered by the equal-wage-paying landowner, surely they argued about it after worship?
Parables like this week’s story of the rich man and the beggar, Lazarus, at his door, ask questions of us which grow increasingly uncomfortable the longer we consider them.
It’s not just about money, though it is about money. It’s not about eternity, though eternity gets a guernsey. It’s also about how – and if – we change. The rich bloke is on a rotisserie and he still thinks Lazarus, who is in the harps and angels section of the plane, is his servant. His concern is for his brothers and not for those who suffer in the life he has just vacated. The parable, like so many others, asks us to consider changing how we live.
Surely, it’s the urging of the Spirit of God; it’s reading and addressing Scripture and engaging with others on the same journey. It’s paying attention to what God says and seeking help from God to live it out.
The parables encourage us to talk about our faith, about the implications of God’s action and presence in the world. When the reign of God is measured out in coins, sheep and recalcitrant children, it has something in common with the common things of our lives. Sharing our faith needs to be a conversation, not a shouting match, or an argument with no shared ground.
What if Jesus told them this parable, “The reign of God is like the world wide web. It’s beyond our touch, and yet it is everywhere, influencing our homes, our work, our lives.” Suddenly we have a point of conversation that is relevant to the people we know.
Jesus Christ’s presence in the world makes sense now – not only in an agrarian culture two thousand years ago, or in the highly churched Australia of the 1950s.
Is following Jesus like being on Twitter, or is there something more involved? A young friend once mentioned that “we need to download the Holy Spirit into our emotional hard drives”; that probably makes more sense to most of us than being “baptized in the Holy Spirit”.
When we find ways to converse with our friends about our faith, then we can share about our wasteful, extravagant, generous and forgiving God in stories that are part of their lives and not just ours.
Let’s keep the conversation going.