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Fifteenth Sunday of the Year

KNOWING PARABLES

Jesus’ parables are lively little stories. You can’t forget them. That’s the point. They are simple, about real life. You are guided by them. They are what Jesus said. You can’t alter them. They are ideal sermons. Stories catch our attention, grip our imagination, move our feelings.

We should imitate them, those of us who have to preach. That means, everyone. We all have times, when we should say something helpful, to someone in need. It happens more often than we realise. We should imagine doing it, practice doing it, and do it.

That was what we might have thought about good preaching, in parables. But in today’s gospel the disciples ask him why he talked in parables. The answer he gives can look rather strange, and, suddenly, even shocking. Things are revealed to you. Not to others. Those who have, will have more, others, who haven’t, will lose even what little they have. Doesn’t this go against everything we like to think about Jesus? Wasn’t he the ‘good shepherd’, seeking out the lost sheep, risking leaving all the others behind, to do so? Didn’t he pity the people, in their ignorance, and take time to ‘teach them at length’?

He says, too, that great prophets, and saints, longed to hear his words, and never did. He seems to show no sense of injustice, or regret about this. We must realise that we are being told the truth. It isn’t always what we think. He quotes Prophet Isaiah’s anger at people’s coarseness, dullness and blindness. If we look at what is happening in the world around us, can we disagree? The parable then explains very vividly how it is so. The seed is the same, the soils, so different. I have preached many times about the trampled earth, the stony earth, the shallow earth, and the weed-choked earth, where the seed can’t thrive. In the rich soil, it can. But this, I said, has had to be prepared, with a lot of hard work and care. Rich soil doesn’t just happen. It needs effort, to loosen it up, remove stones, and weeds, to make it rich soil, ready and good for the seed. I wonder if I have been missing the point. It isn’t our decision. It has all been revealed to us. We have been chosen. This can frighten us. We think, we might not have been! We can do nothing about it. It’s all God’s work. It’s not ours. But - we have ‘come’ to it.

We listen to gospels. We hear the truth. We have it all explained to us. We can be very happy in this. ‘Coming to this’ is such a ‘giant leap’. We couldn’t have done it ourselves. It’s obvious, because so many others around us just haven’t done it. This can be very helpful and encouraging to us. We may feel lonely, and even full of misgivings, at the unpopularity of our religion, in today’s world; until we can understand it all - as a gift. It might even drive us to be missionaries, people ‘with a message’, of faith and hope and love. We can learn all this for ourselves, then, quietly, and very helpfully, learn to share it with people we may know, who ‘will have none of it’ until we show them something of it.

And we can do this, in parables! Many people just hate canting, ranting religion and rightly so, in my opinion; and perhaps yours. The Spirit of God teaches us to be as Jesus, ‘meek and humble of heart’, and never ‘holier than thou’, like the Pharisees. Jesus warned us about them. We have ‘parables’ to tell, maybe, of our sins, and sufferings and humiliations and joys; and what we learned from them. There is good, and evil. People don’t see good or evil. They think everything is just ‘life’, ‘human nature’. No, it isn’t. There is evil. We must face this, bravely, in ourselves, and in others. There is good. We must have stories to tell, of good things done by good people we know. Might we even have good things to tell them about, modestly, done by ourselves?

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