Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Parables


Luke 8:10 (King James Version)

“And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.”

I’ve spent the morning so far giving thought to storytelling. The subject has been near and dear to me ever since we got back from Glorietta a few weeks ago.

Good storytelling is hard to come by these days. I’ve found it’s especially difficult to find stories that are complete, stories that are compelling to see unfolding, stories that, in one way or another, take a moral principle and make it come alive.

Jesus was, of course, history’s master of storytelling. Who among us, saint or sinner, isn’t familiar with the story of the prodigal son or the parable of the sower? The beauty of these wonderful stories lies in the fact that they are so easily understood by people with open hearts.

Tragically, though, the wisdom and simplicity of these stories is lost on the hard-hearted.

This morning I read, as I have many times before, Jesus’ story of the good shepherd, from John 10. While I’m not of a pastoral mindset, the story once again rang true to me. It’s not really hard, even for a retired engineer, to understand the love of someone who acts as a shepherd or a watchman over a flock, protecting it from thieves and wolves. Nor is it difficult to see that the good shepherd will lay his life down for his flock, to protect it from the thief, who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”

But there was something else that struck me in the pre-dawn quiet as I read. There are some, professing themselves wise, who harden their hearts to good shepherds. Just before He told this wonderful story, Jesus healed a blind man. The man had been born blind. Some of Jesus’ disciples thought the condition had been brought on by some sin, either the man’s or his parents.’ I suspect that they were just repeating a rumor that had been circulating about the man. In a world of cause and effect, they assumed, something had caused the blindness. Sin was as good an answer as any. Jesus, however, made no such assumption. “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life,” he said. Then, He did something remarkable, something I’ve never seen done in church, nor probably ever will. He spit on the ground, mixed a bit of His phlegm with the dirt, and put it on the man’s eyes. Amazingly, the man was healed. He went home and told his friends, who were skeptical. I can understand. If I heard a friend of mine describing dirt, phlegm, and healing in one breath I’d probably be skeptical too. Assuming that religious authority would have the answer, they brought the man to the Pharisees, the resident theologians of the time. The man’s explanation didn’t satisfy them. In fact it made them furious. “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath,” some said.” Not even a parade of witnesses, including the man’s parents, satisfied them. Their responses were filled, not with a skeptic’s caution, but with the arrogance of the hard of heart. “We know this man is a sinner.” “We don’t even know where this fellow comes from.” But, the man stubbornly held on to the sight he’d been given. He’d come to Jesus blind and came away from the encounter with his eyes wide open. You would think that once it was clear that what had happened was real, the authorities would have rejoiced with him, but they didn’t. In fact, they cast him out with these harsh words: “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!”

Jesus, I think, told the story of the good shepherd on the heels of the blind man’s encounter to illustrate a point. It was a way for his listeners to ask themselves some questions, questions of caring, and ultimately of authority. Every time I read the account I find myself asking “Who really cares for you, Phil? The shepherd or the thief?” The answer is always clear. Truth, in any form, is timeless.

Over the past week I’ve been trying to acquaint a foreign exchange student from South Korea with these and other truths. On Sunday night I sat down with her and watched Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I’m sure that most reading this post have seen it before. For me it’s become an annual event, a reminder that life is really worth living. Each year, as I get caught up in George Bailey’s epic struggle, I see myself. While I’ve only done it a few times in my life, I have known what it’s like to feel the tides pounding against me so furiously that I wished I’d never been born. Each year I cry as George comes to understand that life is worth living, that each life touches other lives in ways that are often missed. Sunday night was no exception. At the end, with George’s friends singing Auld Lang Syne in the background and Zuzu telling him that every time a bell rings and angel wins his wings, I blubbered once more. Truth, in any form, is timeless.

Later that night, when Nancy and I were alone, I made the observation that Bin Na (pronounced Bean Nah) didn’t blubber along with me. Nancy laughed a bit. “She’s a bit young, Slick. I’m sure there’ll come a time when the tides of humanity go against her and she feels that life isn’t worth living, but right now she’s only sixteen. Things aren’t conspiring against her.”

I was going to try to sit Bin Na down to watch my favorite western, “Shane,” which has also become an annual event for me. But, after talking to Nancy I decided, wisely, to watch it by myself. Much better, I concluded, to leave Nancy and Bin Na, along with an extra large box of tissues, to sit together and watch “An Affair to Remember” or “Sleepless in Seattle.”

So, last night I sequestered myself upstairs and watched “Shane.” Some, myself included, believe that it’s the best western movie ever made, although there is some debate about that. I recently spoke to someone who said that “High Noon” was better. I like both films, but I’m really drawn to “Shane.” Film historians and critics have called them morality plays, with heroes caught in a moral dilemma. For Will Cain, it’s whether or not he should abandon his duty, with an entire town against him and a Quaker wife who doesn’t seem willing to stand with him. For Shane, it’s his heart’s desire to put down his gun and live a good life pitted against the plight of farmers who need him to fight against ruthless killers who want the land and homes they’ve invested themselves in. Shane struggles and sees that he “can’t break the mold.” There will always be a need for men like him. In the end, with Jack Wilson dispatched, he rides off, leaving the things he would, if he could, have embraced. Young Joey, who has come to love Shane for his decency and honor, cries out. “Shane…….Come back.” The words echo back to the boy, and Shane rides on, perhaps to another small town with sheep in need of a shepherd.

The story has always struck a deep chord in my heart. Truth, as I’ve already said, is timeless in any form.

I’ve heard some say that Shane was a cold war parable, with Shane playing the part of America. The dream of isolation, roots sunk in, families nurtured, land tilled and cultivated, neighbors in need cared for must have seemed appealing to America in the days after World War Two. But, it wasn’t to be. The world changed, and America had to change with it. We could no longer live in isolation, nor could be afford the luxury of standing idly by while mountains filled with lost sheep were left at the mercy of thieves and wolves. The post war world needed America in the same way that Joe Starrett and the farmers needed Shane.

The Cold War has been won, but the need for America to stand firm against tyranny remains.

I read an interesting piece from E.Thomas McClanahan in this morning’s Kansas City Star. It seems the president is answering his critics and Mr. McClanahan is glad for it. I am too! It’s about time. I’m one of the few who have stood with the president from the beginning and stand with him now. And, I’ve taken the stand as a Democrat. I’ve believed all along that the lives of the millions of people liberated since the War on Terror began are not political hay to be used by the president’s critics. I believe the moral case for war was compelling; in the same way I believed that our intervention in the Balkans under Bill Clinton was morally justified. Whatever else may have been wrong at the beginning, the morality of the cause wasn’t. No amount of critics saying, “But he didn’t make that case to begin with” will make it immoral. It was, and is, the right thing to do.

The critics stood with the president in the beginning. Then, like the Pharisees of old, when the going got tough, they re-read history and re-wrote what they had to say about it. There’s little I can say of it other than it’s crass revisionism built on the shifting sand of political expediency.

We’re living in a new millennium, the one new-agers promised us would be filled with peace and harmony. It would be, they told us, peace gained without a price tag. All we had to do was tune out, to isolate ourselves into some sort of harmonic cocoon and the world would be alright. I think it’s that dangerous delusion the critics are playing to now. They believed they had the issue by the jugular and came in for the kill. But it now appears that the intended victim had a lot more life in him than they bargained for. George Bush has come out swinging, like Shane facing down jack Wilson. The battle is joined. He’s come, as Mr. McClanahan noted, out of his state of political dormancy with guns blazing.

The political vipers would have us abandon the sheep to the wolves. They’re revising, lying, conniving for political gain. But, they’re now being caught in their webs of deceit. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day or the ruthless wolves Shane had to confront, they’ve found themselves in the crosshairs of truth, and truth, as I’ve said, is timeless in any form. It will win out!

6 comments:

James Fletcher Baxter said...

The Lord in His wisdom designed the universe as both causal and free. It is, therefore, not neutral. It favors knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, mind over flesh, and truth over delusion. The dice are loaded in favor of His Way...

I recently was invited to read a prepared paragraph at a half-time patriotic program of a local high school football game. They had asked me, as a WWII combat veteran, to read a moving word about Iwo Jima. I joined a fireman, and an eagle scout, as part f the 12-minute procgram. Following the presentation, I slowly made my way out of the stadium past the filled bleachers. Numerous young people made their way to me as I passed and spoke 'thanks' to me for my combat service in the Pacific and the Korean War.

I seized the moment to express my appreciation, and quickly said to each one, "We did it for you! You were worth it! You are worthy - make it count! Gold is valuable because it is rare. You are the only you. You can't be replaced! Don't trash your one-and-only-life! I did it for you - even as our ancestors did it for me..."

And the wet eyes sparkled. I was blessed.

prying1 said...

You would think it a big clue to people when they hear one of Jesus' parables and they don't understand it that they are on the wrong side of the fence. Praise God He made a way for all men (and women) to get wisdom and understanding.

Excellent post. Thanks.

Jerry Hanel said...

First of all: I must say that I agree with your sentiments on politics. Your view from scripture, and application to life today is dead on. Don't change.

You mentioned in an earlier post that you found yourself drawn (baited, perhaps??) into political discussions, and that wasn't where your ture heart lay. Yet, in a couple of more recent posts, you bring up political statements.

I'm not saying this to tell you to stop political references. Better yet, clarify the statment, and keep up the good work.

You are obviously a man of integrity and wisdom. I look forward to reading your posts, and seeing how God has mvoed (and IS moving) in your life.

Tell your exchange student hello from a geek in Oklahoma, and keep listening to God.

Gone Away said...

I agree: Shane's the best.

Ed Darrell said...

You're glad that Bush, like Saul, can't admit his errors?

Shakespeare wrote nothing more tragic.

dog1net said...

Phil:
What an incredible expanse of time and culture you expound on, but well worth the time spent in reading and reflecting. Few of us take the time to ponder purpose and value of a life lived, even fewer, though, find the words to express what that might be in a way that is both meaningful and satisfying.
Scot