November 2015 Final Issue
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Power In Parable Series (1 of 7)

This is an invitation to journey through the parables. This will be a series that runs over the course of many issues. Please click here  for all the articles in the Power In Parable series.   Each Biblical parable gives us a close encounter with the true character of God the Father. And the more we know His character, the more we put our trust in Him, and the more we can live into our full potential as His son or daughter. For the next several months we will explore “Parable Power” because each one has the power to refine our perceptions of Fatherhood and the life-changing path He opens to us. Use “Parable Power” for your personal devotions or print it for a meaningful small group discussion. There are even some questions at the end to get the conversations started. Jesus’ parables will rock your world! “Once upon a time, Rabbi Eleazer, son of Rabbi Simeon, was coming from Migdal, from the house of his teacher. He was riding leisurely on his donkey by the riverside and was feeling happy and elated because he had studied much Torah with his teacher. There he chanced to meet a worker, an exceedingly ugly man, who greeted him, ‘Shalom be upon you, rabbi.’ The rabbi did not return his greeting but instead said to him, ‘"Raca (good for nothing), how ugly you are! Is everyone in your town as ugly as you are?" The worker replied, "I do not know, but go and tell the craftsman who made me, how ugly is the vessel which you have made.’’ When Rabbi Eleazer realized that he had sinned he dismounted from the donkey and prostrated himself before the man and said to him, "I submit myself to you, forgive me!” Perhaps you have never heard this parable, but Jesus may have known it well. It is an ancient one, taken from rabbinic writings before the first century. This is a wonderful example of the kind of teachings often done by itinerant rabbis who traveled the dusty pathways of Israel, teaching about the character of God and how to live a holy life. There were many who did this for hundreds of years before Jesus. In Hebrew culture, there are always two primary ways of teaching and learning. Both ways are well respected among Jewish theologians, rabbis, and scholars. One way is teaching people what to do. This is called halakah, which comes from a root word meaning “to walk.” Teaching legal wisdom, Torah, and the details of how to walk out everyday life are important. These laws provide a hedge of protection around one’s life so that a person might remain in relationship with a holy God. We are given ten major commandments and many other instructions in Scripture. Jesus used halakah to teach many times. For instance, He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28, NIV). This is how to walk in the area of sexuality. He lifted up the Law in His sermon on the mount. He never misinterpreted or undermined the Torah Law. Rather, He put it on a firmer footing than ever by honoring it and interpreting it correctly. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17, NIV). The other primary Hebrew way of teaching and learning is through the telling of examples, stories, and parables. This is called agadah, which is Hebrew for “narrative.” In ancient rabbinical writings we are taught, “If your desire is to know Him who spoke the world into being, then study agadah and from this study you will know Him who spoke the world into being and you will cleave to His ways.” (Sifre Deut.49 – This is a Hebrew midrash or commentary on the book of Deuteronomy.) Jesus’ parables are the prime example of agadah. One-third of the “red letter” sayings of Jesus in the New Testament synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) are in parables. Like the rabbis before Him, Jesus wanted all people to know the One who spoke the world into being and to become one with Him. Through the parables that Jesus taught, we better understand the character of God. He always taught that God is good. God is not like the despicable friend who will not help his neighbor (Luke 11:5-8) or like the corrupt judge who feared neither God nor man and refused to help a needy widow (Luke 18:2-8). God is always fair and just (Matthew 20:1-6). Everything and everyone is the work of God’s hand (Matthew 25:14-30). God is merciful (Luke 10:25-37). God always welcomes home one with a repentant heart (Luke 15:11-32). Teaching in parables has always been popular for many reasons. A good story will drive home a point better than a teaching sermon. It teaches us more by intuition and revelation than by precept and concrete law. Yet, we need both in a healthy balance. It’s helpful to look at the above parable about The Exceedingly Ugly Man because we are not so familiar with it. If you are hearing it for the first time, you have no prior teaching associated with it, no ingrained conceptions about what it “is supposed to mean.” Those long-standing ideas can often keep us from achieving the purpose of the story: to come closer to the heart of God. In this story we see the tension between a scholar and an unlearned man. The scholar who has had the privilege of studying all day crosses the path of an ignorant day laborer. There could not be two more opposite examples. The scholar rides a donkey. The ugly man walks. The scholar has every advantage. He can study all day; he has opportunities in education; he has financial security. The day laborer works hard all day for just enough to survive. He has no outward appearance or assets that would endear him to others. Yet, here is the question: Who has the greater wisdom? A few years ago, I led an Ash Wednesday Retreat Day at an Anglican church in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. The large parish hall was packed with people sitting at round tables, ready to take notes, prepared for a lecture. Yet, I did not lecture. I walked among them and told them the parable of The Exceedingly Ugly Man. Parables are meant to be spoken, read, narrated, and shared with an audience. They evoke drama and pathos, humor and collective experience. They are also meant to be discussed. The men and women were very attentive, and after telling the short parable, I let it sink in with a few moments of silence. Then I asked them three questions:
  • Who knows the Creator more intimately - the rabbi or the ugly man?
  • What does the story say about God?
  • What does the story say about you?
What happened in the next two hours can only be described as holy. I walked around the room, circling the tables and, with my microphone, asked people who they thought had more wisdom. They were hesitant to make a choice. One man said, “This is harder to answer than I first thought.” A woman said, “I have to redefine wisdom. It is not as the world sees it but as God intends it.” “Being teachable is wisdom, but so is accepting yourself.” “I see virtue in being willing to fall on your face and repent. But the wisdom was initiated by the ugly man." “One had wisdom that reached his heart and challenged his mind. The other had wisdom of the mind that challenged his heart.” The discussions became quite animated about who had more wisdom. At times everyone wanted to talk at once so we had several minutes of individual table discussions about the two men. Then I asked the group the next question: What does the story say about God? “God does not value the same qualities that man does.” “Those who really know God are more secure in His love and acceptance than those who only know about Him.” “Those who only know God from study are quick to be superior and condescending to others. It takes an intimate knowledge of Him to see others through His eyes.” “God turns our deficits into blessings when we focus on Him and not ourselves.” Again, these discussions were lively and animated. And, again, we had time for group discussions at each table. Finally, with about an hour left before our lunch break, I asked them to raise their hand if they would be willing to answer the last question: What does the story say about you? It was very quiet for several minutes. One woman raised her hand and I went to her with the microphone. She started to speak several times and couldn’t. We waited, but it wasn’t awkward at all. Everyone there was dealing with the same difficulty. Finally, she burst into tears and got on her knees and then on her face on the floor. A holy stillness came over the whole room, and God said to me, “Let Me speak to each heart. You be quiet.” And so I was. One by one, men and women fell to their knees, some prostrate on the floor. Some remained in their seats with heads bowed. The Presence of God’s holiness was heavy among us. It was not a time to analyze, teach a lesson, or break the silence. It was a time to let God be God. Read a parable of Jesus today! Let Him speak to your heart, change your life, and make you whole! QUESTIONS TO PONDER AND DISCUSS
  1. Who knows the Creator more intimately: the rabbi or the ugly man?
  2. Which of the two men has the greater wisdom?
  3. What does the story say about God?
  4. What does the story say about you?
  5. Ask God to show you just one area of your life where you have made some ungodly judgments about someone. (It may be you).
  6. When you listen intentionally to what God says about the person you judged, what does He say?
  7. What has been the primary way (in your past experience) that you have known God: by halakah (legalism, fear, teaching, obligation, respect, awe, reverence, or others) or by agadah (intimacy, intuitive awareness, experiences, love, expectation, or others)?
  8. Which of your primary perceptions about God lead you closer to Him?
  9. Which perceptions keep you at arms’ distance from Him?
  10. Which perceptions cause you not to trust Him?
  11. Write in your Listening Prayer Journal the characteristics of God that became obvious to you in this lesson and discussion.
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About Signa Bodishbaugh

Signa Bodishbaugh
Signa Bodishbaugh, along with her husband, Conlee, founded and continues to lead The Journey to Wholeness in Christ conferences. They have held these conferences since 1992 around the USA, in Canada, Europe, Africa, and Israel. She is the author of The Journey to Wholeness in Christ, (a 40-day devotional), Illusions of Intimacy, and Divine Conversations, and is working on her next book, Camp Mimi. She and Conlee live in Fayetteville, Arkansas. They have three married sons and eight grandchildren. She enjoys cooking, watercolor painting, and Hebrew studies. Their website is www.JTWIC.org and their Facebook page is The Journey to Wholeness in Christ. You can subscribe to their Journey Letters online at JourneyInChrist.

One comment

  1. Imelda McClinton

    Thanks Signa that’s great and I got to read it to David driving down the road. Lots to think about.

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