By Josh McKinley, Art by Justin Hall
What is your favorite story? Honestly, take a minute and think about your favorite story. Why is that your favorite story? Is it the characters? The action? The setting? When we talk about parables, we often talk about them as stories. We analyze the story of the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan and look at our favorite characters - the son who squandered his father’s inheritance and was greeted with a kiss and a robe upon his return home, the Samaritan man who was the least likely to help an injured Jewish man on the side of the road. I have often left them there as wonderfully crafted, allegorical stories; nice tales about God and His Kingdom.
I, along with a team of leaders, run a Jr. High Bible study on Sunday mornings. One of the things our students bring up over and over again is that Jesus never just said what He meant. And after several weeks of being asked why, I started asking myself the same question. While the story of the prodigal son is nice, what’s the point? What does a mustard seed or a field with treasure hidden in it have to do with anything? Why does the bad guy always get rewarded and the good guy reprimanded?
When we really start looking at Jesus’ teaching, we see that parables were just second nature to Jesus. It really drove people crazy. The religious leaders would come out and ask Him theological questions, and He would respond with a story about how all their fasting and praying meant nothing compared to the honesty of a sinner. The way Jesus taught either brought people into the fold by showing them the pitfalls of their thinking and assumptions or pushed them away because they thought the plot twists to His stories were outrageous.
Let me ask you a couple more questions. Have you ever shared your favorite story with a friend? Have you ever put down a book or gotten out of a movie and had to take a second to enter back into reality? What’s the craziest plot twist you remember? With these things in mind, read over the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) or the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14). Find the plot twist. What is shocking about the story? Why does it shock us? When we read the parables, we have to read them with fresh eyes over and over again. That’s how these stories are meant to be read; over and over again, with friends to share the plot twists with. When we read the parables, we should read them like we read our favorite story; not just as a search for information or learning, but with joy and delight at the outrageous way Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God.
Josh McKinley is the Director of Students Ministries at Imago Dei.