Connections 09.11.2022: About Us, or For Us?

Luke 15:1-10

One of the wonderful things about Jesus’ parables is the way we can find ourselves in them. When Jesus tells a story about a prodigal child, or a faithful servant, or a lost sheep, we can take encouragement from the ways Jesus shows his real-life love and care through his descriptions of the fictional characters.

I wonder, though, if at times we too quickly look for ourselves in his parables, rather than looking for ourselves in the Gospel narrative itself. Jesus tells parables for a reason, and most often that reason is gathered around him in a crowd. Perhaps there are times (perhaps, even, most of the time) we should look for ourselves there. Sometimes a parable is not so much about us as it is for us. Luke’s telling of the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin is just one situation where the point is who the stories are for: those who are listening to—or even just eavesdropping on—Jesus.

And sometimes that includes us, as we listen to Jesus across the centuries and across the globe.

Luke says Jesus tells these parables on purpose, in earshot of people who are muttering, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” We may be consoled and encouraged by Jesus’ stories of searching, but his intention is to challenge the complainers. His intention is to correct those who think he is hanging out with the wrong crowd. His intention is—ever so subtly—to prod those who cannot believe God’s care for those they disagree with, or dismiss, or simply downright dislike.

We may see ourselves in Jesus’ “lost and found” parables; we may feel like they are about us. We may feel lost. We may hope and wish and dare to believe that Someone is searching for us. We may be counting on Jesus’ commitment to seeking us out.

But Jesus isn’t telling this story to reassure people who are lost, who need to hear that they too will be found. If we are humble enough to look for ourselves in the crowd around Jesus, we may be surprised to hear that these parables are for us. We’re the ones muttering under our breaths. We’re the ones complaining about who seems to get more attention, more grace. We’re the ones who want God to block out those we disagree with, those we would dismiss, and those we downright dislike.

Jesus’ parables can be both about us and for us. We can see ourselves both in his characters and in his listeners. In his teachings we can experience both consolation and challenge, and we can give thanks, because we need them both.

Discussion

  • When you study Jesus’ parables, how much attention do you give to the crowd that is listening to Jesus? Do you think it is important to note the character of those who originally heard these teachings? Why (or why not) does it make a difference to how you interpret the parable?
  • Do you find the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin more encouraging or more challenging?
  • Think about a time in your life when you needed the reassurance that you—or someone you love—were not entirely lost to Christ. Why did you feel lost? Did you experience a sense of Jesus’ seeking you out? What was that like?
  • It takes humility to see ourselves in the people who were muttering and complaining around Jesus. When have you caught yourself thinking or speaking dismissively or even disdainfully about people? When have you felt defensive or possessive, as if you should protect God’s resources from those who are unworthy to receive them? How does “listening” to these parables challenge your understanding of Christ’s love and care?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.wordpress.com.

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