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Parables Podcast Series

The Crisis of Decision

The parables of Jesus force a choice for his listeners. Will they embrace the upside-down value system of the Kingdom of God, or will they refuse to participate in the party? In this episode, Tim and Jon discuss two additional themes of the parables.
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Episode Details

April 6, 2020
52 min

Episode Details

April 6, 2020
52 min

Show Notes

QUOTE

The real value set of God’s Kingdom is not your own self-made social status. The Kingdom of God doesn’t endorse our currently existing social ranks. It actually undermines them with the radical gift and grace nature of the Kingdom.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The second main theme of Jesus’ parables is the upside-down value system of the Kingdom of God.
  • Many of the religious leaders refused to participate in the celebration of the arrival of the Kingdom of God, as illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son.
  • The third main theme of Jesus’ parables is the crisis of decision. These parables present a choice that must be made and has serious consequences.

Upside-Down Value System of the Parables

In part one (0:00–12:00), Tim and Jon recap the series so far before jumping into the last two of three themes of the parables.

Jesus saw his work as the culmination of Israel’s redemptive story in history. One of the ways Jesus communicated what he was doing was through parables. These parables revealed the Kingdom to those who were open to Jesus, but to those who refused him, the parables concealed the Kingdom.

The first theme of the parables is the unexpected nature of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was bringing God’s Kingdom, but it was coming in a way that looked very different than what most people expected.

The second main theme of the parables is the upside-down value system of the Kingdom. Parables about forgiveness, money, and the invitation to God’s Kingdom all fit in this category. The Kingdom of God undermines the status we build for ourselves with the radical gift of grace. This grace leads us to love, forgive, and welcome all.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

In part two (12:00–25:30), Tim and Jon unpack the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15.

Luke 15:11-24
And Jesus said, “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” ’ So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.

Tim shares how, up until this point, this parable has the same structure as the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. But in this case, the son is to blame for his behavior. Jesus describes the self-inflicted exile of this Israelite son who squanders what his father wants to give him. This is a clear call back to prophets like Hosea who describe the story of Israel in similar terms. In this story, then, Israel is being invited back into the generosity of God to experience resurrection into the life of God’s Kingdom.

This is how Israel’s leaders and religious elites should have seen their own story. Instead, they took for granted the gift of God and withheld that gift from those they deemed less worthy than themselves. Tim shows this in the second half of the parable.

Luke 15:25-32
“Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’ ”

Jon points out that Israel’s leaders should have identified themselves with the first son. Instead, Jesus identifies them with the second. The leaders of Israel never left, but they refused to participate in the party.

The Parables and New Value Systems

In part three (25:30–32:00), Tim and Jon begin by talking about the leveling effect of forgiveness on the community Jesus was creating. The Kingdom of God didn’t excuse behavior, but Jesus entrusted the knowledge to know people’s hearts to God alone.

Jon asks about the meaning of the older brother and younger brother dynamic in the parable of the prodigal son. The favor of the younger brother is a theme that echoes throughout Genesis, Tim shares, pointing to God’s choice to lift up those who are lowly and lesser in the world’s eyes. This theme in Genesis is consistent with the nature of God’s Kingdom now revealed in Jesus.

In both cases, the parables are meant to challenge our existing value systems.

The Parables Force a Choice

In part four (32:00–end), Tim and Jon talk about parables of decision. Within this category are parables of reckoning and parables of two choices. In both cases, a decision must be made that has serious consequences. The parables of reckoning, about an authority figure who goes away and comes back to judge the work of his worker(s), are most densely found in Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem.

Matthew 21:33-46
“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son (Heb. ben) to them. ‘They will respect my son (Heb. ben),’ he said. But when the tenants saw the son (Heb. ben), they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone (Heb. eben) the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone (Heb. eben) will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

Tim shares that we often have the tendency to read these parables from our modern context rather than reading them from Jesus’ context. This doesn’t mean the principles of the parables cannot be applied to us, but the full meaning of them comes from understanding how Jesus was bringing the Kingdom.

Jesus said that this message forced a decision. Would Israel listen to him and be like a house built on a rock, or reject him and be like a house built on sand? These parables of reckoning are tied to Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem.

Tim and Jon also briefly discuss the parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25. This parable highlights that those who take care of “the least of these my brothers” are the ones who receive the Kingdom. Jesus tells this right before the last supper, where he hands the baton to his disciples. This parable points forward to a choice facing Israel as to how they will treat Jesus’ followers as they carry his message forward.

We should always ask what the parables mean to us as modern readers, but never at the expense of understanding them in their original context.

Show Music

  • Defender Instrumental by Tents
  • Late Night Driving by Broke In Summer
  • Morning Station by Tokyo Music Walker
  • Collages by Sleepy Fish

Show produced by Dan Gummel

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