Parables of Jesus

Parables of Jesus.  Parables are stories.  Lots of effort has gone into defining parables. Some argue that they are like analogies, in which one thing stands for another.  But that definition would assume that every parable can be taken apart, so that this means that.  Better to see the parable as a short story whose meaning is set by the context.

Parables are the main way Jesus Christ explains the kingdom of God, to show the character of God, and the expectations that God has for humans (Snodgrass, p 1).  Parables make up over 35% of Jesus’ teaching in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke).*  Most scholars believe that the parables are the bedrock of Christ’s teachings, the closest we can get to what he actually said.  Trouble is, the meaning of many parables is ambiguous.  Another trouble is that we have only the evangelists’ interpretation of the parables, and they had a theological agenda, set by the resurrection.  Generally, this is not a problem, for it is this we want to know.  However, there are other ways of trying to get behind Jesus’ intent, and I will share one of them with you.    

Parables remind me of the questions Socrates posed as he went about his day, such as “what is justice?” or “what is excellence?”  Simple questions with big answers.  But the real similarity resides in the way in which Jesus’ parables and Socrates’ questions call for answers.  Not just to the question posed, but an answer that requires turning one’s life around.  The Hebrew term for riddle, mashal, also means parable.  It is up to us to find the answer.  My favorite definition is that the parable is intended to “deceive the hearer into the truth.”

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The good atheist: Melvin Konner and Belief

The good atheist: Melvin Konner and Belief.  Atheists generally don’t write good books.  Not because they are atheists, but because their goal is to convince others that belief in God is bad.  Most well-known among them are the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” as they have been called: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens.  The title of Hitchens’ book is not subtle: God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

The thing about atheists like this is not that they don’t believe in God; it’s that their disbelief becomes a crusade against religion as the source of most bad things.  I don’t like team sports, and classical music doesn’t do much for me.  But it would never occur to me that those who like, or even love these things shouldn’t do it, even if I think a lot of money is wasted on big sports.  Atheism today has become synonymous with aggressive atheism: belief is bad. 


This is why Melvin Konner’s recent book, Believers: Faith in Human Nature, is so welcome.  Raised an orthodox Jew, Konner became an atheist at 17, the result of several factors, including a college course in philosophy.  But Konner’s book is not an argument for atheism.  It’s an argument for understanding what belief is, where it comes from, and what it does for the believer. 

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