So, I have been thinking… I am always thinking about you and our community. My thoughts have been how to connect our in-person folks with our online folks and here is an experiment I want to try. This coming Sunday following the service, let’s meet in Unity Hall with a cup of coffee or tea and have a discussion similar to Sharing the Good News or about something said in the talk that you resonated with. Our online folks can join us via Zoom. The link will be in the chat box Sunday morning. This will be a new version of Coffee Hour. Are you game to try it with me?
The message on Sunday was about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. It is a series I am doing called “The Tales That Teach.” If you were with me last week, you know this is looking at the teachings of the nonviolent Jesus. We see how Jesus uses the parables to teach a nonviolent message of transformation to those who have ears to hear… do you have ears to hear? … notice where transformation might be occurring in your own life. Notice where you are responding rather than reacting to uncomfortable situations. Notice where you are following the nonviolent Jesus and are living the nonviolent life.
I am using a book written by Amy-Jill Levine, a professor of Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School and College of Arts and Science. She offers a very interesting perspective that isn’t usually associated with these parables. She says that “Religion has been defined to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. Therefore, if we hear a parable and think, ‘I really like that’ or worse, fail to take any challenge, we are not listening well enough.”
She speaks to the importance of the readers of the parables to know about the original contexts… to understand how the Samaritans and Jews related to each other. To determine the cultural expectations of fathers and sons, how day laborers and vineyard owners established their contractual obligations. To learn of the social roles that were open to women and who went to the temple to pray. Levine says “if we get the context wrong, we’ll get Jesus wrong as well. The parables are open-ended in that interpretation will take place in every act of reading, but they are also historically specific. When the historical context goes missing or we get it wrong, the parables become open to problematic and sometimes abusive readings.”
She goes on to say when hearing the parables of Jesus, it is best to hear them through those who first heard them. They were the Jews in Galilee and Judea. She also says to do so requires several leaps of faith.
From her book, Short Stories by Jesus, she writes: “The first leap concerns what Jesus himself said, for we do not know with certainty if Jesus actually told the parables recorded in the Gospels. Second, even if he did tell them, we know with certainty neither the composition of the audience not their reaction. Third, it is unlikely, were he to have composed the parables, that he only used them on one occasion or told them exactly the same way each time.
“The concern for the ‘authenticity’ of the parables relates to the broader issue of what is known as historical Jesus studies. We do not have access to Jesus directly; he leaves us no writing, no autobiography, no sanctioned biography. To be blunt, he leaves us neither a physical body nor a body of writing.”
So hopefully I have given you something to ponder this week. If you would like to watch the service and get Levine’s thoughts on the three parables from this week’s message, watch the video of our livestream.
In closing I will say that while in seminary we had discussions about the historical Jesus and the Jesus of faith, and I always came back to the Jesus of faith, which is the Christ consciousness in Jesus and in each one of us.
Join me next Sunday for the Parable of the Sower and join me as we experiment with Coffee Hour.
You are a blessing in my life,
Rev. Patricia Bessey
P.S. Thank you to Janice Murphy for responding to the call for greeters and ushers. Welcome Janice this Sunday as she is greeting. Please consider greeting and ushering one Sunday a month or preparing coffee for hospitality one Sunday a month. Contact me to let me know you are “all in.”