Parables as Imagination 1

Parables sometimes get a bum rap. For too many and for too long Christians have read the parables as illustrations of propositions found more clearly in other texts. So, it is argued, Jesus gives a parable about the pearl of great price — a parable that seemingly tells his followers to give it all up for the value of that pearl. The story, so it is understood, is almost cute and surely it is clever, but if you want the real stuff, go to Luke 9:57-62 where Jesus tells people point-blank to follow him regardless of the cost.

In other word, parables are “just” stories. Just illustrations. The real stuff can be found in more didactic passages.

Not so. Not so. And this approach to parables is a serious blunder. Jesus told parable after parable, and the parables are not just illustrations. Parables are fictional stories depicting an alternative world. The essence of his parables probe into this mindset he wants from his followers: Imagine a world like this. The story, the parable, takes you into its world where you will encounter a short or a little longer sketch of a reality, of a world, of what the world could be — if people were to live like this. The parable invites you into an imagined world.

How have parables been read in your context? What has helped your understand parables the most?

In other words, perhaps the propositional statements of Jesus, like Luke 9:57-62, are the bare  bones and the parables put flesh and bones and real world life on that outlined set of statements.
Hence a new series beginning today: Imagine a world (like this). If we have eyes to see and ears to hear and a mind to imagine, when we get into the world of Jesus’ individual parables, we will be challenged to live in a world that is only beginning to come into existence in this world. That world is called “kingdom of God.”

You know what it’s like to enter into the fictional world of a novel, say To Kill a Mockingbird or The Help. Two things happen: you are engrossed by that world and that world engrosses you. You enter, it changes the one who enters, and you re-enter the world a new person with a new vision of what life can be.

Who’s not had that happen by reading a novel or entering into the fictional world of a move or a song?

That’s what happens in the parables of Jesus. We enter into the storied world of Jesus, we see the world through that story, and we come away with a new vision of what might be … and we begin to live it out.

The secret to Jesus’ “imagine a world” stories are that they are short and they do their work in a just a few lines. So we have to listen carefully and we have to imagine deeply. When we do, we come in touch with God’s kingdom. We come in touch with Jesus. We come away changed.

We will be reading through Klyne Snodgrass, Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • jonrvenema

    Preaching through the parables (9 weeks so far) and Stories with Intent is excellent! How timely is your series. I will read with interest, Scott!

  • Susan_G1

    This is exciting! I am looking forward to this series.

  • NateW

    More and more I’m learning that Jesus is very much like Mister Rogers (although it is clearly the other way around you know what I mean. : )

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFzXaFbxDcM

  • jeffcook

    Robert McKey, one of the foremost experts on film says this about story tellers, “The storyteller’s selection and arrangement of events is his metaphor of the inter-connectedness of all the levels of reality: personal, political, environmental, spiritual. … Story structure reveals [the Story Teller’s] personal cosmology, his insight into the deepest patterns and motivations for how and why things happen in this world, his map of life’s hidden order.”

  • http://davidbrush.com mrdcbrush

    Parables can annoy those of us who are more concerned with the theoretical than the real. Take, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ for instance. The expert in the law was looking to entrap Jesus in some apologetics argument; instead Jesus replied with an all-too believable scenario that deconstructed and exposed the flawed and vain philosophy guiding the expert’s intent.

  • Matthew G. Zatkalik

    Oops.. us anal people find typos as well as wisdom in the writings of others: “Who’s not had that happen by reading a novel or entering into the fictional world of a move [sic- movie} or a song?” Thanks for providing us with grist for the mill.

  • trin

    “Imagine a world where . . . ”
    So simple yet it makes this huge shift in what I hear Jesus saying.
    Thanks, Scot.

  • Ken Braun

    What has helped me in understanding or hearing the parable better has been to imagine myself being someone in the crowd listening to Jesus as he told the parable. I have used this approach sometime and written brief solo response drama’s to also help my congregation hear the parable as living words from Jesus. Thanks for challenging us to continue to imagine a world Jesus saw as the world he wants to introduce us to and give us a hunger to see realized.

  • Carl Oscar Isaacson

    It seems to me that we make a huge mistake when we try to make all Jesus’ parables all of the same kind. Today’s lectionary (8/4/13) contained a parable that was linked, I think quite appropriately to wisdom literature. Some of the parables are wise sayings that don’t require the listener to imagine new worlds so much as listen carefully to what the master is saying about what he has seen in this world

    Others do invite a new world – The Kingdom is like – invites us to consider that new thing that has not yet been fully realized. And some of illustrations of behavior that believers ought to adopt: “Which one proved neighbor?” “Go and do likewise.” So I don’t disagree with the post and I suspect that the professor has more to say in his book.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X