Contrary to what I was taught from the church culture, Jesus hasn’t given us a life of riddles to solve, maps to draw, or levels to climb. Instead, he gave us a life of faith. A life of trusting him as we respond to him in our everyday roles, work our everyday jobs, and pay attention to the needs of others.
The journey is life changing, but there’s not a whole lot of hype in it. Nothing here is really going to lead to anything you’re doing going “viral” in 2018.
But should this surprise us when we consider just how ordinary Jesus’ life was? Sure, after his 30 years in the construction trade his ministry begins with a few short bursts of stardom from a couple miracles he performed. But look how quickly he shut that operation down. In fact, to keep things in tune with ordinary he told those he healed to “keep this a secret.”
And the ordinary doesn’t end there.
You find the same under the radar approach in how Jesus taught others, a chosen method known as “parables.” Think stories designed not to make things clearer, but to confuse, to frustrate (which doesn’t help much when your setting goals for the year).
Why this approach? And why does it matter for us today? Because we, like Jesus’ 1st Century audience, often come to him in hopes of finding some sort of guide by which we can make sense of everything, a plan we can adopt to build our lives around. These desired frameworks are the things resolutions are made of, maps are drawn from, and the things our checklist loving souls long for. So it naturally doesn’t compute for us when we find frustration from Jesus. At least it doesn’t for me. Hell, I hate frustration. I see it as a sign that something is wrong and work to avoid it at all cost.
Apparently, according to Jesus, there is immense value in this divinely designed frustration found in the parables. And that frustration is precisely the point because it leads us somewhere we can never get to on our own.
We find a scene in Luke 8 where Jesus’ very own disciples, the guys who have been with him day and night, were frustrated by his teachings. They ask him, “Why Jesus do you teach this way?” Jesus responds, “Well you guys have the secrets, but for those outside, I teach in parables to frustrate them ‘so that in seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’” (vs 10)
This statement no doubt frustrated the disciples to no end. I mean, these are the guys on the billboard with Jesus, his entourage, and yet, despite being told they “have the secrets to the kingdom” they don’t understand what Jesus is teaching!!!
But look closely here. Contrary to the views of God handed down to us through religion, Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples that “insiders” are clever enough to solve the riddles and “outsiders” are too dimwitted to do so. Nor does he say “insiders” have it together and “outsiders” need to just think and work harder. Instead, Jesus says those who are on the outside are, well, outside. And those who are on the inside are, yeah, they’re just inside.
In other words, if you’re sitting at the table with Jesus then you’re inside listening to his teachings, learning from him, and “you have been given the secrets to the kingdom of God.” But if you’re outside, trying to understand him by studying the menu at the door, and in your frustration throw your hands up and walk away, well, then you’re outside.
As someone who thought and was taught the parables were handles Jesus gave us so we could build a better life, and the real “insiders” were the ones who have managed to do so, this was a hard pill to swallow. And yet, it’s when I look at them for what they are, these teachings of Jesus, versus what I want them to be, I find they’re exactly what my law-loving heart needs: an invitation to faith.
The stories of God that point us to who God is and what he is like can only be heard from inside the life of Jesus. Their truth, their relevance, their wisdom can never be found from studying the menu at the door. And that’s how the whole Christian life seems to work. To listen to Jesus, to follow him, is to sit at his feet, and by faith, respond to what he’s showing you today. Nothing less. Nothing more.
And after all, “today” is all we really have.