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 reveals more of God’s character to the listener. The key is for the listener to engage with the heart, rather than to analyze the story with one’s mental capabilities. God’s truth – and His character – will find a resting place in one’s heart. This is why this form of Hebraic teaching (agadah) is more difficult for us Westerners to appreciate. We are more geared to respect and respond to the Greek way of learning, which is more similar to the Hebraic halakah. We like bullet-point facts and steps, flow charts and pie charts, graphs, definitions, and rules. They seem to be concrete and understandable. By contrast, in parables and intuitive lessons of the heart there is room for ambiguity, discussion, perhaps even argument. We are not presented with proof but rather confront Truth by faith and by grace, which is much harder to define. Learning about God from agadah takes time, perseverance, dedication, experiences, and trust. This kind of knowledge cannot be looked up in the Scroll or the Book. It accumulates in the heart. Over and over Jesus was asked, “Are You the Messiah?” He seldom gave a definitive answer. This may seem evasive to us when reading it today, but Jesus was much more interested in letting people discover who He was in their hearts. While others were trying to analyze who Jesus was (John the Baptist? Elijah? Jeremiah? Another of the prophets?), Peter blurted out, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” (Matthew 16:16, NIV) I wonder if Jesus embraced him with demonstrative joy? Peter got it! His heart received the revelation of Truth. Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:17, NIV). When the disciples of John the Baptist were sent to ask Jesus if, indeed, He was the Messiah, Jesus didn’t preach them a sermon or give them proof-texts. He simply reminded them of what they had seen and heard and how their hearts had been stirred. “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Matthew 11:4, NIV). Each one of those miracles bound Truth to their hearts. Once, His disciples asked Jesus, “Why do You speak to the people in parables?” (Matthew 13:10, NIV) It seems that they too, even though they were immersed in a Hebrew culture which embraced parables, were looking for more concrete information than Jesus gave. His answer to them was directly to their hearts, not their minds. He spoke of mystery, secrets, seeing yet not seeing, hearing yet not hearing, and the blessing of hearing and seeing what others cannot perceive (excerpts from Matthew 13:17, NIV). He was surely speaking of the language of the heart! Jesus was at the Feast of Hanukkah, in the Temple in Jerusalem. Many Jews gathered around Him, asking Him to end the suspense, “If You are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe” (John 10:22-30, NIV). Can’t you just imagine the men scratching their heads, pulling on their beards, and asking one another, “When did He tell us? Do you remember?” He went on to say that the miracles they had witnessed had not been enough for them. If they believed in Him they would recognize His voice as being one with the Father’s. He then made the bold statement, “I and the Father are one.” Studying the Biblical character of God is studying the life of Jesus. He reveals to us who the Father is. He does it through signs, wonders, miracles, words, parables, teaching, sermons, demonstration, and through His own character. “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9 NIV). God flows through the life of Jesus in such an unobstructed way, that if we look and listen to Jesus, we will know the Father. It was important for Jesus to convey the enormous impact that the GRACE of God has for each of us. One of the many Hebrew words for “grace” is hesed. It comes from a root word meaning “to be good, kind.” Hesed implies a very personal loving-kindness, mercy or stead-fast love, rather than a more general sense of “goodwill” or “unmerited favor” (ratzon). Both of these are action words. They both describe God’s actions towards us. There is even a third Hebrew word, hen, which is similar, but originates more from the heart in thoughts, feelings of love, and kindnesses. Jesus was the embodiment of grace in all its forms. It was prophesied for centuries before His birth and it was announced by angels on the night He was born. His life demonstrated how deeply God cares for His children. Here is an example of agadah Jesus told to illustrate God’s grace. Read The Parable of the Fair Employer – (Matthew 20:1-16, NIV). Remember to read it aloud, the way a parable is meant to be related! As usual, Jesus takes His listeners, through the story, to a familiar setting. He deals with circumstances that come from their real life experiences to show them the Father and how they can expect to relate to the Father’s love. In this parable God is like the gracious landowner who hires laborers for His vineyard. A day laborer in Biblical Israel was on the very bottom rung of the economic ladder. In the 1st century one denarius was barely enough to provide for one’s family for one day, although it was considered to be a fair wage for a day’s work. The story does not make it clear, but it is possible that this was the harvest season for the grapevines. This may be why there was the constant need for more workers during the day. Picking grapes is hard, tedious work. They started early in the morning before it was too hot, but when the heat of the day came in the afternoon the workers would tire and become less productive. Getting all the grapes harvested would be crucial as the heat intensified. For maximum profit, grapes have to be harvested at their prime time of ripeness. One day too late and a whole crop may be lost. Timing is extremely important. In this parable the owner of the vineyard oversees the whole process of the harvest with a very personal interest. He is actively involved, watching closely and hiring more workers as they are needed. Men hoping to be hired out as day laborers would gather in a central location waiting to be hired for work. This is much like it is today in many small towns. Men looking for day labor will congregate at the local bus station or post office, hoping someone will hire their services for the day. When we moved to Sewanee, Tennessee for Conlee to attend seminary, our moving van driver went to the local post office early in the morning to hire day laborers to help him move our furniture into our new house. He offered them a set wage for a day’s work. One of the laborers he hired was from the backwoods of the Tennessee hills and he secretly brought his own moonshine in a jug to consume at breaks during the day! The driver was fair. He paid the man what had been promised for the whole day but told him to go home after lunch. He then hired our teen-aged son in his place at the same daily wage. Both our son and the drunk got the same full day’s wage, but each only worked half a day. I’m not sure if the other workers knew of this arrangement. In the parable, the landowner went to hire more laborers five separate times during the day, all for the same wage. The owner was fair, generous, and even magnanimous. He could have prorated the wages according to how many hours each man worked. He could have eliminated some of the workers. He could have cut corners to make more money for himself. But his word (his promise) was just and unwavering. Although the listeners to Jesus’ parable would have admired the fairness of the landowner, surely they, like us, would have put themselves in the place of the workers. At the end of the day each man received a fair day’s wage as promised. Yet, typical of human nature, the ones who had worked the longest hours began to grumble. Can’t you just hear them? That’s not fair! And yet, the owner tells them, “I am not being unfair to you. I am absolutely fair.” It is implied, "You are the one who is envious of others because of my lavish generosity.” The listeners must examine their own lives and hearts. What is my relationship to others before God? What is my relationship to God? Have I judged God’s motives? Have I murmured against Him? [Murmuring is more than grumbling and complaining and is far more dangerous. It implies that God will NOT do what is right. It distorts His character]. God, portrayed by the landowner, has absolute power and authority in every situation. This whole story revolves around Him and His actions. He is not detached from the life of His people. He is lovingly involved in every intricate detail. He knows their needs and no one will leave His presence without having what is necessary to supply his needs for the day (our daily bread). Because God is absolutely just, every person over whom He has authority is seen equally. He has a generous and loving spirit. He has unlimited grace for each person. Questions to Ponder and Discuss
- Recall a miracle you have received, witnessed, or heard about. What was your reaction? Awe of the love and grace of God? Sense of intimacy with God? Skepticism? Wanted more proof of its validity? Discounted it?
- Which of the above possible reactions would engage the head? Which would engage the heart? Which would lead to a closer relationship with God?
- Which attribute seems more Godly to you – keeping your word to someone or giving each person what they deserve?
- Recall an example of a situation where you perceived all people involved were not treated equally. Did you think it unfair? With whom did you identify – the one giving or the one receiving the inequality?
- How would you describe “grace?” Give a personal example.
- What characteristics of God do you see in this parable?
- Write your observations in your Listening Prayer Journal and dialog with God about any questions you have.