Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Parable of the Incomprehensible Parable

Jennifer Luitwieler is my cyber-buddy. I'm pretty sure we could BFF's if I liked to run long distances at the expense of great personal pain, but I don't so we aren't. She's intelligent, unpredictable, and for some reason known only to her, has chosen to make her home in Oklahoma. I'm hoping the seven readers of Students of Jesus will not hold that against her. She's the author of Run With Me: An Accidental Runner and the Power of Poo. (I told you: unpredictable. And no, I will not run with her). She also has a unpredictable blog, or you can follow her on the Twitter.

When Ray asked for reflections on the parables, I thought he couldn’t have given an easier assignment. Those of us who grew up marinating in scriptures might feel like those particular wells have been mined dry. I thought I would dash off a few luminous paragraphs and let the people stand in silent awe. Then I did the goofy thing. I chose a parable that’s always been a challenge for me to wrap my puny human brain around. 
Luke 19:11-27 always throws me for a loop. The long and the short of it is that a wicked ruler was leaving his estate to be awarded a new kingdom. His servants disliked him so much they campaigned against him. But he still got the job. Before he left, he entrusted some money to a few servants, mandating they take care of what was his. Two servants invested the money and earned a return. One servant held onto the cash and returned it to the master when he arrived home. 
Every time I read this passage, I think the ending will change. I cross my fingers and hope that the guy who did as he was instructed, who took care of the money, will be praised. Every time, at the end, I’m hit with a bucket of cold reality.  I want to stomp my foot because that is just not fair. 
I don’t get it. I don’t get how the guy who strictly obeyed got the tongue lashing. I don’t get why this unjust man was being given even more to steward. I don’t get the way the parable ends: Jesus tells the disciples that those who have will be given more, and those who have nothing will be stripped even of that. 
What the what?
Parables are designed to be tough lessons disguised as palatable stories about a friend. You know, where Jesus tells us something sort of ugly about the human condition but it’s easier to digest because we’re given a little word picture. Like a spoonful of sugar with the Nyquil. Parables are meant to be comprehensible. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end. A good guy. A bad guy. A lesson. Even a way to make it not about us, if we try hard enough. 
There are two strategies we can employ to help us with scripture we don’t understand. We can use my old stand by: chosen ignorance. I used to avoid this parable, precisely because it remained to resolutely incomprehensible. If I just pretended it wasn’t there, then I didn’t have to worry about what it meant. That is a tried and true strategy, one that many of us have in our toolboxes. Problem is, it won’t work forever. 
The other strategy we can use, one which proves worthwhile in uncovering scriptural truths, is to actually….study it. Which is why I chose to focus on this parable; because I needed to struggle with it.  I read the parable in context, in Luke, just prior to the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. I flipped around looking at words and phrases, chasing sentences on the rabbit path in the garden of God’s word. 
Guess what? I still don’t understand it. I’m still wrestling with this passage. And that’s a good thing. God is big enough to handle my doubt. Thankfully, he is so strong that my understanding is not required for my redemption. He is able to withstand my perplexity. The more time I spent thinking about this passage, the more drawn into his Word I became, never a bad thing. In this case, I continue on the path toward understanding, choosing not to ignore the things I just don’t get. Because God is big enough to wrestle.


  1. Jen,

    Thank you for your post. I know it would be easier to simply avoid the difficult passages in the Bible, we cannot grow until we really dig into them and search for meaning. And not the 'superficial canned bible school" answers, but the "I am not sure I understand, but I want to
    answers. God Bless,

    Your Friend,
    Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry

  2. Hi, FedEx. Nice to see you over here! You are right of course, and it takes a level of humilty to admit we don't have all the answers. And frankly, this is one I'd like to unravel myself, and with His illumination, of course. Rather than just go read it in some book. Thanks, friend.