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Be the parable

By Mike Ruffin The other Sunday, I was preaching about Jesus again. I seem to be stuck on that subject. Anyway, the text was Matthew 13:1-23. In the first few verses, Jesus tells a crowd what is usually called the parable of the sower (although a better name is the parable of the soils). He just tells the story and leaves it hanging there. He offers no explanation or interpretation to the crowd, although he does later explain it to his disciples. It’s easy to imagine the people asking each other what that was all about. When Jesus and his disciples are alone, they ask him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ They wonder why Jesus doesn’t come right out and say what he means instead of telling stories that people have to figure out for themselves. Jesus answers. ’The reason I speak to them in parables is that seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ I think Jesus understood that if you offer propositions and arguments to people who are predisposed to reject what you’re saying, they’ll just say ‘No’ and be done with it (and you), but if you tell them an intriguing but puzzling story, they’ll become – and perhaps remain – engaged with it (and you). As I was preaching, a thought leapt into my mind: perhaps Christians would do well to think of our lives as parables. Jesus told compelling and confounding stories. His parables caused his listeners to consider counterintuitive and countercultural possibilities. His stories, like all good stories, drew his hearers in and, once they were in, held them there. It’s easy to imagine the people who heard Jesus’ parables continuing to think and talk about them for a long time. What would it mean for our lives to be parables? How could our lives affect people so that they become and remain engaged with the possibilities that our ways of life present? Our lives are parables when they involve ways of living that confuse and confound people. They are parables when they make people wonder and ponder. They are parables when they demonstrate the ways of Christ in a world that seems to want none of them. We Christians offer our best witness to the crowds when we demonstrate radical love, radical grace, radical understanding, radical generosity and radical forgiveness. When we live in such ways, they’ll wonder what that’s all about. They’ll wonder why we’re so weird. They’ll think. They’ll ponder. They may come around to Jesus. They may not. But they’re more likely to eventually respond to the witness of a living parable than they are to propositions and arguments that they can easily reject and ignore. I’d like to be a parable. I’d like to be a story told by Jesus that folks really have to struggle to figure out. I’d like to be a story that reveals God’s confounding love, grace and mercy. Mike Ruffin’s story began in September, 1958. He’s still trying to tell it. He’ll tell some of it in his soon-to-be-published book, Fifty-Seven: A Memoir of Death and Life. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter (@ruffinmichael) and

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