Riddle Me This?Posted: July 27, 2014
The Sanhedrin was the authoritative governing council for the Jewish faith during the time of Jesus. It consisted of The Sadducees, the High Priests of the Temple in Jerusalem along with many of the Pharisees. Almost all of them considered Jesus to be a troublemaker. Much like the cartoon character of the “Riddler,” from the 1960’s television series, “Batman,” they considered Jesus’ ministry scandalous and at many times criminal breaking the Laws of Moses.
Many Jews and Gentiles residing in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus’ ministry and later after his death and resurrection, and for that fact, most people throughout the Roman Empire until Christianity was made a legal religion in 313 CE by Emperor Constantine, would still consider Jesus an outlaw to their faith. And they would be correct. For Jesus was subversive. A sublimely subversive, fiercely independent young rabbi filled with the spirit of God, sent by God to change his world and ours.
So how in just a little over 3 ½ years of ministry, preaching only in the Galilee and around Judea did he influence millions of people over these past two thousand years?
The one aspect Jesus did share with “The Riddler” is how he expressed himself. “The Riddler” would baffle Batman, Robin the Boy Wonder, and Commissioner Gordon with inane, sometimes humorous riddles, that once solved would lead them to his attempted crimes.
Jesus riddled those listening to him with parables that spoke of God’s presence and how one should seek that presence. Some of the parables like that of the Mustard Seed can been found in all three of the synoptic gospels, Mark, Matthew, and Luke, as we read today in Matthew 13:31-32.
So what is a parable and why and how did Jesus use them? Why do we follow this young rabbi from the back waters of the Galilee and not someone like “The Riddler”?
Andrew S. Kulikovsky, writing in his treatise, The Interpretation of Parables, Allegories and Types, refers to parables as, “short stories that are told in order to get a point across and occur in both testaments of the Bible. There are many stories and saying of Jesus in the New Testament that are identified as parables, but not all of these are parables in the true sense. The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) may be regarded as a true parable because it is a complete story with a beginning, ending and plot, but the Leaven in the Meal (as we read today) is a similitude, a simile, an imaginative comparison.
A true parable then may be regarded as an extended simile. It is a story that resembles real-life natural situations and does not contain any mythical or supernatural elements. These stories were told in order to catch the listener’s attention and provoke a response. Kulikovsky quotes C. H. Dodd defining a parable as: “a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.” They often embody a message that may not be communicated in any other way.”
Jesus would convey his most important messages that of the ‘kingdom of God,’ as Rev. Hurst today likes to speak of it as ‘the commonwealth of God’, through parables.
Though his parables were not always discernable to the multitude who listened to him preach, Jesus intentionally used this form of storytelling, speaking in secular, common day language, about every day occurrences, such as, sowing a mustard seed, making bread, hiding a treasure, buying a pearl, and netting a huge catch of fish — all of these familiar actions that people of his time should be able to grasp and understand.
However Jesus’ verbal illustrations of the reality of the ‘Kingdom of God’ were not meant to be ‘spoon-fed’ definitions, to be immediately understood and accepted. Many upon hearing Jesus preach, sometimes walked away confused. This was intentional on Jesus’ part for as I stated before, Jesus was a subversive. He spoke of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ eventually replacing the empire of Caesar. But he spoke this in parables to disguise his true intent.
In fact, previously in Matthew 13:10-17, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ Jesus answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 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.” With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
“You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn — and I would heal them.” But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 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.”
Why is that? Why do people even today harden their hearing to the Word of God?
Not long ago these pews as many others across America were filled with people listening to the Word of God. But what has happened? What has changed in our American culture that has emptied out our churches, synagogues, and even many of our mosques?
I don’t think we can totally blame this erosion within our places of worship, our houses of organized religion on the deference or tone of our clergy or even our congregations. Something has happened within the mindset of many people, both within and outside our places of worship. Many people say they believe in God but don’t want to be involved with organized religion. They view church authority with mistrust and even irrelevance. What has happened?
After World War II, starting in the early 1950’s our federal government and our Main Line Denominational churches started becoming very chummy. For nearly 200 years of unconscious separation of church and state, as reference by the 1st Amendment of the U. S. Constitution, all of a sudden some Americans consciously decided to try to move the federal government and the American Church closer together.
In 1942 Congress finally voted on, passed, and authorized The Pledge of Allegiance, though it was written by Francis Bellamy, a Socialist Christian Baptist back in 1892. The words “under God” were not added by Congress until 1954. A year earlier in 1953, the very first ‘National Prayer Breakfast’ with a sitting president happened during the Eisenhower administration.
“In God we trust” was adopted as the official motto of the United States in 1956 as an alternative or replacement to the unofficial motto of E pluribus unum, which was adopted when the Great Seal of the United States was created and adopted in 1782. Though “In God we trust” first appeared on U.S. coins in 1864, it was not till 1957 that it appeared on paper currency. Some churches even started displaying the American flag upon their sanctuary chancels, and many still do. There are many Americans today who would gladly make this country a Christian Theocracy.
So is it just coincidence that the lack of respect and participation within and for both, the federal government and our places of worship seem to be eroding at the same time — their authorities both being challenged simultaneously?
It’s something to think about.
People don’t seem to care to about voting or attend religious services now a days. Could it be possibly be that they are viewed by many as being joined at the hip so to speak? — this nation proclaiming to be ‘under God’?
It’s something to think about.
Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables, trying to get them to grasp the idea that the ‘kingdom of Heaven,’ God’s Commonwealth is for all of us. It already surrounds us, only to be recognized and realized.
Something to think about?
Today Jesus continues to give us something to think about — something to riddle our minds.
The parable of the mustard seed tells us that the Realm of God, God’s Commonwealth here on Earth can grow from a tiny seed. Our friend Bill Green described the growth of this herb, first as a tiny seed that becomes a shrub and eventually grows into a mighty tree able to support many different birds and their nests. So it is true of God’s presence bringing all nature of people, from all nations, coming together with thoughts of hope, inclusion, and acceptance coming together in community.
In the parable of the woman making the bread, the common food of the people, she hides the yeast within its folds, causing it to expand and multiply in size, just as the Word of God can transcend geography and cultures making it possible to feed the spiritual needs of all humanity.
In the parable of the hidden treasure in the field we realize our own recognition of our belief in God. We hold it close so as not to have it taken away from us. We proudly proclaim it as our own and will do anything and everything to protect it and nourish it so as to possess that hope, our faith in God forever.
We see the merchant seeking the finest pearl as we seek the ultimate wisdom and truth of our God to hold, admire in awe, and praise.
The Fisher’s net catches EVERY kind of fish as Alix Morehouse said the other night at Bible study. God uses an inclusive net to bring all people together.
And in the end judgment comes from God alone. We are not to judge each other.
Jesus’ parables are as relevant today as they were almost two thousand years ago.
God has not stopped speaking to us.
Through the image of worried innocent children attempting to come into our country a hundred years ago and still even now, all desperately seeking a safe and loving existence —
to the absence of the sound of honey bees buzzing around our shrubs and flowers, to the sin of the few to possess the most but still have those with the least suffer the most and carry the heaviest burdens, God is still speaking and reminding us of the commonwealth we are supposed to share.
Just as Jesus spoke against Roman tyranny with parables, stories using the language of everyday actions and events to describe the unimaginable reality of God before those people then, believers and unbelievers, God still speaks to all today desperately trying to awaken us from our cellular stupor.
Jesus taught by speaking in parables, repositioning his faith away from the governing authorities of his land and also redefining his Jewish faith. Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Perhaps we should take his lead and do the same by preaching again today in parables, both old and new. I wonder what a 21st Century parable will look like.
“Riddle me this…” What has the capacity to extoll the entire knowledge of the world for the benefit of all, yet it’s most popular application is to reflect the image of its beholder?
“Riddle me that.” Amen.