These upcoming teachings came about because of an email.
I had not heard from my brother for 15 years. One evening, I received an email from a woman who wanted to know if I could contact her, because my brother wanted to talk with me. She had access to a computer, and was trying to get a hold of me on my brother’s behalf. Then the memories came back—excruciating ones that I had tried to leave in the past and now were staring at me as I read this email…
My brother had battled with drugs and alcohol for decades, and as a result, went through two marriages. I was very close to his first wife and my two nieces, and my husband and I did all we could to help her when my brother chose his addiction over his family. We even had his first wife and his daughters come live with us when he engaged in physical abuse and threats of violence towards her. When his first wife left him, he prolonged the nightmare by sharing custody with his now ex-wife, which meant picking his daughters up in his car while intoxicated and continuing to focus on himself, to the detriment of his children.
He eventually became homeless and lived in his car by the city’s river.
He soon remarried, and this stormy relationship saw an arrival of another daughter. His second wife suffered from mental illness and did everything she could to estrange my brother from his family. He left her and went to live in his car again.
Sadly, his first wife remarried a man who had a criminal record which did not allow for my nieces to live in the same household, which meant my two nieces would have to live elsewhere. Knowing that my brother was living in his car, I went and retrieved my two nieces and they came to live with us. One of the daughters went to live with another aunt, and eventually, the younger daughter went back home to live with her mother. The parole board had said it was alright to do so, and we felt that our nieces belonged with their mother, even if she had made a poor choice of a second husband.
That was back in 1996, and my last contact with my brother was listening to him say that his children were not his problem. He laughed as I pleaded over the phone for him to be responsible. I hung up the phone, shocked and amazed at his utter repudiation of his children and I lost what little respect I had for him that day.
Now I was faced with an email: my brother, after 15 years, wanted to reestablish contact with me. The email also included a number of an elderly woman who offered to talk with me before I contacted him. I thought that was best—I wanted to understand what had transpired before I talked with her. I called her and she sweetly explained that after my brother’s second marriage had failed, he became homeless again, and ended living by the river. My brother had become mentally ill and through the love and kindness of many, he received the medial treatment he needed and a place to live. She was very proud of his progress and that he meant a lot to her.
Wow. I labored along and hard in my mind about what to do. I could still hear his laughter in my head and the pain of what he put his first wife and daughters through in my heart. Then after spending time in prayer, it hit me: the parable of the Prodigal Son. I was the older brother in that parable: angry, spiteful and very hurt, glad that my brother was doing better, yet fighting the urge to throw the past into his face and say, “Look what you did to us!” So, I realized that parable was a not just story told by Jesus to illustrate truth: It is a story that I am now living. This is what gave rise to this idea: there’s power in the parables!
The parables are relational: stories about us and God, and about us and others. Just as the Ten Commandments boiled righteous living down as how we conduct ourselves before God and with our fellow man, these parables enrich our thinking in the same way, and answer some fundamental questions: What am I to do with this person, in this situation, and how does God see this?
The parables of Jesus are a great “stop light” to our speeding pace through our lives: We can stop, think and consider that we may need a change of direction.
Why did Jesus use this teaching method? A parable, in a strict definition, is "a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson." Jesus' parables were that but they were more: Jesus used parables that demanded that His listeners contemplate what they heard. In Matthew 13:10-17, He says:
10The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."
Huh? Is Jesus purposely trying to be obscure? Ask yourself first: Why do hearts become calloused? Answer: It is the hardening effect of sin and a life lived in rebellion to God that does it. No, it doesn't mean you are running around killing people--a heart hardens under arrogance, insensitivity and neglect. We stop listening to God's voice and close our eyes to His grace. We grow blind to our need for Him. God wants us to listen to such parables and instead of saying, "Oh bother. I don't get it. It must not be all that important or I'd get it right off. Never mind." He wants us to say: "Lord: I don't get it. Help me understand. If You said it, it must be important."
Bingo! Parables separate those who care enough to wonder what it means from those who don't care and won't take the time to understand. God will never invade our thoughts...He wants us to ask Him in and seek His face. Parables take time to understand, and if my heart is hardened, I won't take the time and lose out on what He has for me.
Jesus explained the parables to the disciples once the crowds dispersed. But even after awhile, He grew weary with their constant questioning. Why? He wanted them to ponder the stories and allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate their thoughts.
Jesus wants us to spend time at His feet--not running off to read some commentary or ask someone else. He is faithful to show us if we are faithful to show up.
Jesus says, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." (Matthew 7:7)
Those are very active verbs: ask, seek, knock. We engage and He will respond. That's what this new series is all about. Join me!
This sharp-shinned hawk is ever vigilant in his search for prey, which sustains him. How can we do anything less but be vigilant for the One Who sustains us?
For more posts in my parable series, click here.