Saturday, December 3, 2011

Parable to Make a King Cry

Welcome to week three of a new feature at Students of Jesus. Each Saturday you'll meet a guest-posting genius holding forth on one of the 46 parables found in the gospels. Despite popular opinion, parables were not simple stories told to make things easy to understand. Jesus used parables to shake our world view, and perhaps occasionally to destroy the wisdom of the wise. Come wrestle with us.

Jason Hood is that rarest of God's creation: a deep-thinking theologian who writes with style and good humor. He's also a bit of a contrarian, because he submitted an Old Testament parable, but we'll allow it because apparently Jesus read the Old Testament--who knew? Jason is a graduate of Rhodes College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Highland Theological College and the University of Aberdeen. Jason works as Scholar-in-Residence and director of Christ College Residency Program at Christ UMC. He blogs at SAET, or you can follow him at

Sometimes we treat the parables of Jesus as if they are simply putty for our fidgeting hands, sculpting their message however we wish. But that’s not the point of parables.
No parable does more to disabuse us of this approach than the parable Nathan tells David. I’m sure you know the story from 2 Samuel 11. King David should be leading the nation, but he’s not. He checks out porn and commits adultery (maybe rape). His target gets pregnant. Her husband is too good to take time off from the battle to enjoy her, so David resorts to murder: he arranges for a catastrophic military action that kills this good man and those he had the misfortune of standing next to him. As the dust settles, he shrugs and “encourages” his general with this gem of a line: “Hey, it's war. The sword sometimes gets people.”
Actually, it’s sin that kills people, spoils relationships, steals love and cars and reputations. And because we sin, we sometimes need a parable or two to kick us down to our knees in repentance.
Perhaps we could try this one: “There was a local pastor, and about all he had was his reputation. He took a few stands you didn’t agree with. And you felt it necessary to tear down his reputation and make him look little and ignorant in the eyes of more enlightened Christians...”
Maybe it’s not really a parable. But it’s a kick-in-the-teeth, and sometimes we need really hard words.
In the next chapter, God sends Nathan the prophet to David to tell him just such a parable. A rich guy with loads of sheep and cattle steals a wonderful little ewe lamb loved by another man, and kills him for good measure. David is incensed and demands that the man die.
Imagine Nathan the prophet's words in 12:7-10 being read by Samuel L. Jackson. “You ‘da man, David! You killed a man, David! I gave you all Israel and Judah—I’d have given you more! But No! You had to have that little ewe lamb!”
David gets it. He immediately confesses. At some point he writes Psalm 51 and promises to become a missionary (literally--read verses 13-15). Here's the sign of true religion: a broken and contrite heart. Not a good defense attorney. No cover-up, spin, image control; there’s no hitting refresh on our moral track record. There’s nothing to put to use but knees and lips.
Parables like Nathan’s only work if they kick us in the teeth, shaking us out of our rhythm of self-assurance and the complacence of immorality. And when they work as intended, they have a lasting impact. Note what happens to David and Bathsheba. According to 1 Chronicles 3, they name their third child Nathan. (Admit it: you thought genealogies were boring!)
I’ve never heard of a man naming a child after a pastor who kicked his butt. But maybe we need to revisit that trend, just like we need to revisit the parables.

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