So far in this series, we’ve stuck with the Old Testament and its barbaric times and alarmingly vengeful depiction of God, but when it comes to WTFs, the OT ain’t got nuthin’ on the Parables of JC.
In some of these made-up stories Jesus tells to make a point, He almost comes off as clueless. His depiction of the society in which He lived is so startlingly different from reality (even the reality of First-Century Palestine) that you wonder if He’s even paying attention to His surroundings.
On this side of the Cross, we know that this is because a big component of Jesus’ mission was to turn the world upside-down – but somehow, the parables He tells that come from this angle continue to startle us, prompting many a Wednesday-Thursday-Friday (WTF) response.Jesus speaks plainly about turning the world upside-down in Matthew 20:16: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” This line comes at the end of the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, which ends with the laborers who work one hour are paid the same as those who work all day. What a scandalous and absurd notion:
WTF, Jesus?!? No landowner worth his salt (or light) would shoot himself in the foot by paying people that way! It’s just bad business. Du-uh.Now, in the case of that story, even Jesus’ listeners at the time probably realized He was exaggerating to make a point. But in the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus seems to be implying that the ridiculous is true in the ‘real world’:
‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?’ – Luke 15:4
Errrm, no, Jesus. No shepherd in his right mind would do that. You’ve got 99 sheep; WTF kind of shepherd would risk losing any more of them for the sake of one?
Similarly, a short-sighted cynic could easily have missed the point of the Parable of the Sower because of the title character’s questionable planting methodology:
3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” – Mark 4:3-8
WTF kind of a farmer would do that, Jesus?!? Seed is precious and expensive. Anyone who knows anything knows you don’t scatter it on paths, rocky places or among thorns. You plant it in the field, where you know it’s going to grow. (Maybe you should stick to parables about carpentry, Lord.)I suspect this is exactly the reaction Jesus wants from us as we’re confronted with these three famous WTF parables. In order to emphasize how different the Kingdom of Heaven is from the human status quo, he up-ends us where we live and breathe: in our economy.
No landowner on earth would or should pay one-hour workers the same as full-day workers, because in a transactional economy, we earn our wages. But in God’s economy, none of us are capable of earning favor with God, so all who turn to Christ are given the same unmerited grace, whether we come to Him at the dawn or dusk of our lives, or anywhere inbetween.
No shepherd would leave 99 safe sheep to seek one lost one, but as my pastor recently said in a sermon about this parable, the 99 ‘found’ sheep won’t become lost again unless they choose not to follow the Shepherd!
And while the seeds for wheat and canola and carrots are finite and expensive, the seeds of God’s grace are abundant and inexhaustible – so God scatters them anywhere and everywhere, in the hopes that some of them will take root in places that you and I would write off as impractical, and in soil we’d call barren and even Godforsaken.
These parables are startling and sometimes a little offensive – the Grace of God shouldn’t be available to bad people, should it? – but they’re also really comforting when we realize that there’s bad in you and me, too. God is generous. God never gives up. God’s grace is endless, and it’s all we need. That’s what these WTF parables teach us.
Great. OK, WTFs withdrawn. Parables are awesome.
Hang on, there, Tiger. Let’s talk about a couple more … next time.
Until then, peace be with you.