by Samuel K. Sarpiya, Annual Conference moderator
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field’” (Matthew 9:35-38).
A parable is...
The simple understanding of a parable is literally from Jesus’ parables, which were stories that were cast alongside a truth in order to illustrate that truth, or the telling of a familiar story to illustrate big truths. Jesus’ parables were teaching aids and can be thought of as extended analogies or inspired comparisons. A common description of a parable is that it is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.
Jesus’ use of parables
Part of Jesus’ genius lay in the way he took things that already existed and used them in a fresh and new ways. For example, although parables had been used in the area for thousands of years before Jesus started telling them, by Jesus retelling them they had fresh and new meaning. Sometimes these parable and stories might seem familiar, the listeners might think they already know them. But reading and reflecting on the parables again brings to light some new ways of understanding and new applications.
For a time in his ministry, Jesus relied heavily on parables. He told many of them. In fact, according to Mark 4:34, “He did not say anything to them without using a parable.” The synoptic gospels points to about 35 parables told by Jesus. Parables were not his only way of communicating, but Jesus’ use of parables seemed to be sudden. Suddenly, he began telling parables exclusively, much to the surprise of his disciples who asked him, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” (Matthew 13:10). Jesus explained that his use of parables had a two-fold purpose: to reveal the truth to those who wanted to know it, and to conceal the truth from those who were uninterested.
Jesus’ life as a parable
Jesus’ life and actions provide the template for Brethren today, for Jesus did not just study his context, he became a part of it. We are a “Living Parable.” Our lives can be a natural response to God’s love and grace in our world, and that should inspire us to be living parables. We cannot turn to Jesus if that would mean repeating some stagnant sets of beliefs. Instead, we should keep going forward in a way that somehow corresponds with our time, and the meaning of his life, and the message for our age.
Our lives as living parables
“Living Parables” is a foundational call to be involved with the ministries of Jesus. It calls us to work for peace, reconciliation, and transformation of all things, visible and invisible. As living parables, Christ calls us to learn how to share our lives in grace with others--and our sharing should be a source of grace for others. This kind of sharing is not about telling information, but being present in a world that so desperately needs to see Christ in action.
We Brethren, at our best, have been able to be present when disaster strikes. “Living Parables” takes us beyond providing material resources, to share our personal story of God at work in our lives--individually, through the church community of believers, and in the world. As seen through Jesus’ actions in Matthew 9:35: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.”
-- Samuel Kefas Sarpiya is serving as moderator of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference. He is hosting online “townhall meetings” once a month until the 2018 Annual Conference next summer, in order to facilitate conversation and share stories about people and congregations who are becoming living parables in their own communities (www.brethren.org/news/2017/moderator-invites-brethren-to-online-townhalls.html ).