This reflection is bound to be short, because it was typed with one hand!
It is not true to say that Max Bygraves used to introduce his act by saying “I'd like to tell you a story”. However, I can imagine that Jesus, the story teller, would say something like that, and would say it frequently. According to the Gospels, particularly, Mark, Matthew, and Luke, much of his teaching ministry was in story, parabolic form. In their original form, the spoken word, these stories probably emerged from some specific situation in the life of Jesus. They remained part of the oral tradition of the early Church, mulled over, until they were found a fundamental context and significance in the written word. That emerged from an already established tradition. The Christian Tradition came first, and from it was born the NT Canon; not the other way round.
So important a place do these stories occupy that books with such titles as “The Parables of the Kingdom” have been written. They are often about what is described as “The Kingdom” and more is said about “Kingdom” than is written about what we know as “Church” in the Gospels, the later NT writings.
And what are “parables”? They are pictures in words, and each parable has a single theme, and we do the parable an injustice if we try to squeeze out every drop of what we would like to regard as being the truth.
They also challenge us not to interpret the rest of scripture in the same way, trying to make scripture into some kind of oracle that relieves us of the responsibility of using our brains, our knowledge and imagination, our sensitivity toward the promptings and enlightenments of the Holy Spirit.
The Parables of the Gospels, even with the variations of the same parable, are very important, for the following reasons.
They turn abstract expression into terms we can understand.
They highlight the fundamental character of the Good News in Jesus Christ.
They remind us that the preaching and teaching of Jesus always has significance, for the past, the present, and the future, and therefore cannot be imprisoned in or by the written word.
They highlight for us the fact that the Gospel is an intense challenge for each one of us, and day by day we are called to repent, in order that we might love God more dearly and follow Him more nearly.
And finally they are stories of conflict; the Kingdom of God versus injustice, hatred, demonic and dictatorial power.
The authentic voice of Jesus is to be found in the parables.
The authentic response of the early disciples to his teaching and uniqueness, is to be found in the ways in which they have incorporated and interpreted the parables in the wider context the Gospels. What comes before a parable and what follows is often as important as the parable itself.
And what of this parable which is our Gospel this morning?
Remember three things.
Immediately before the parable there is the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector hated by Jews and their leaders and Romans alike. And into this man's life and home comes Jesus. The people were appalled by this, but Jesus went to those who needed him most. That is the motivation of the mission of the Kingdom. And it should be the motivation behind the mission of the Church, which, in part, exists for those, who, as yet, do not belong to it.
Secondly, remember that this parable was being recorded at a time when the Church expected that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent. Sometimes it seems that we plan without any real sense of urgency, giving the impression that we don't believe the Second Coming is going to take place at all, however we interpret it.
And thirdly let us never forget that in all we do and are, we are accountable, and that accountability will be our judgement, one of the great Advent themes.
God has liberated us, set us free to make maximum use of the gifts that he has given us. There will be ultimate and final accountability regarding who and what we have been as servants of the Kingdom of God; as advocates of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A final parable of my own. There came a stage in my early teenage life when my parents trusted my brother and me to look after the house while they went away on ten days holiday.
By the 8th day the house was an absolute tip, but we knew that we had about two days to clear it all up. But they changed their plans and arrived home on the evening of the 8th day!
You never know the day or the hour!