Meet Peter Christ. He is one of the pastors of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Roseville, Minnesota. He’s a former restaurateur who takes bread and wine seriously, and not much else. Check out his post on the stories for Sunday, February 17:
To this day, my favorite joke* is one that requires a lengthy and elaborate set-up. It’s a far cry from a “why did the chicken cross the road” or “knock-knock” joke, whose short-forms struggle to be overly clever. My favorite joke is more long-form and is crafted to build. As it goes along, the listener is forced to ponder a number of things: Did this really happen? Is that even possible? How will this story end? Then suddenly, and a bit unexpectedly, the protagonist in the story blurts out a line that pulls together all the seemingly unconnected and extraneous details and the listener feels like they’ve been assaulted by, quite literally, the punch line of the joke.
I long ago forgot who first told me this joke but I wish I could thank them for all the joy telling it has brought me over the years. All the reactions I’ve experienced could be lumped into two basic categories. One group tends to be disappointed that they had invested so much time in listening to the story and dismisses the punch line with some form or groan or protest (secretly, I believe the groaners still appreciate how they were duped). The other group offers their appreciation for the cleverness and completely unexpected finish. Regardless, both groups often soon begin seeking an audience to whom they could retell the story and draw into the same clever trap.
Jesus’ parables aren’t jokes and they’re not meant to be funny but they do hold a similar power over those who hear them. Matthew’s gospel is overflowing with parables and this week’s reading offers just a small taste. Each parable is memorable for it’s own reason and it’s hard to imagine that, just like Matthew’s audience, any listener couldn’t find a way to connect with the descriptions of faith, discipleship, God, and community that these stories offer.
Even those of us who live in the concrete jungles of urban and suburban landscapes can imagine the struggle a gardener has with weeds. Doesn’t every elementary school science curriculum still include germinating a seed and growing a plant from it? And who doesn’t appreciate the rich smell of rising dough and freshly baked bread?
Less obvious to Matthew’s audience, and those of us who follow a couple millennia later, is what the kingdom of heaven could possibly mean for those of us struggling to get through each day, with our own concerns, seemingly disconnected from any attention by the occupant of that heaven. We’re just sitting here wondering, “why would God care about me?” But Jesus seems to understand this concern.
Paraphrasing the prophet Isaiah, Jesus offers some insight into his storytelling…
“For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut there eyes; [The reason I speak in parables is] 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.” -Matthew 13:15
There is an “aha” moment for each of these parables and they create unique opportunities for every different listener to discover something about the world and about themselves that they probably weren’t expecting. And that unexpected delight offers a chance for whatever was broken to be made whole once more.
Why Jesus? Because Jesus sees the possibilities.
*The joke does require some familiarity with the popular culture of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. The next time we’re together, I’d be happy to tell it to you. And I’ll dare you not to smile.
For more information on the Why Jesus? Project, check out the Why Jesus FAQ!