Day 3 Preaching the Parables

Understanding the context of the writing of Matthew has caused scholars to imagine that he is writing in Antioch Syria and is writing in the midst of the tension between Judaism and the developing Christian community.

Four Puzzles about Mt that keep scholars up late at night!

1) Social circumstances that Matthew was written towards?

Examining fingerprints left by the clues 

Urban context, language of city 26 times

Sophisticated and cosmopolitan

So a study of the situation of a Matthean community may involve the setting of…Early part of 1st century Judaism was centered towards the temple but the synagogue was beginning to be formed but was related to the Temple. AD 70 the Temple is destroyed by the Romans was a crisis for Judaism just as much as the holocaust is a crisis of faith in the 20th century. Web of centers are connected around a center that is absent. Synagogue prayer, preaching and teaching becomes the center instead of sacrifice of the Temple. 

Could Matthew be written in the context of this change, maybe Antioch of Syria. Trying to stay inside the synagogue at first. The Jews who believe in Jesus as messiah try to live alongside the Jews who do not believe. But the tension is too great and Matthew seems written right in the middle of that tension. Tremendous acrimony between these groups. Jack Dean Kingsbury imagines a large synagogue with the new ecclesial group across the street. The reason for placing Matthew into this tension is because the rhetoric of Matthew has the strength present in the midst of a church split. 

“His blood be on us and our children” 

“Rabbi” is a curse word in Matthew, “Don’t call yourself rabbi.”

Mischief can be done with Matthew when the rhetoric is pulled out of the context of the first century is put upon our contemporary relationships. 

“Friend” is not used in a positive way in Matthew, so you probably don’t want to sing, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” when preaching a “friend” text in Matthew. i.e. wedding banquet, laborers in the vineyard

In Gethsemane the greeting between Judas and Jesus brings the irony of these words into that capstone moment “Greetings Rabbi…Hello Friend”

Antioch is urban, prosperous, cosmopolitan, center of missionary work, Clement of Alexandria quotes Matthew and this is the first quote of Matthew and is located in Antioch of Syria.

2) Matthew is presenting a manual for a new Christian community

Joseph is described as a righteous man, what Judaism and Christianity is aiming for in a man, fully formed by the Torah

“What must we do to bear the sufferings of another…

Joseph is in the point of conflict between the tradition and what to do with a new context and the tradition

Matthew wants us to get to the place where we do not easily cut ourselves off from the Torah, but remain immersed in the Torah, but always aware that God is doing a new thing in Jesus. Genealogy is introduction to Jesus incorporates the tradition and the ambiguity of the new (with the woman) in genealogy. 

The disciples understand more in Matthew. “The wise scribe is the one who takes what is old out of the storehouse and what is new…”

hasidic is the one who is in the Torah but seeing it consistently lived out in the present

3) Structure of Matthew

HW Bacon created in the 19th century a theory out of the five major discourses that have the five comments, “After saying these things…”

– Five torah books, Jesus is the new Moses

– but this does not completely work because Jesus is not in the Moses position on the Sermon on the Mount

Fritz Kunkel “Creation Continues” Matthew is a series of narrowing gates and at each gate is a guard whose job is to embarrass you. Moving towards the ultimate embarrassment of Christ crucified.

Synagogue Sermon – Text is Mark and other sources

format of synagogue sermon preaching

Sermon two main parts


Q and A between the Rabbi and the men


Revealing through a story in action of the teachings from the question and answer

4) Why is Matthew so mean?

Does Matthew sound like the assistant principal of the high school?

People are going to get thrown into weeping and gnashing of teeth in the outer darkness


a) Temperamental character of the writer

b) Matthew is most Semitic writer, but some scholars think he is not Jewish because 1) Sadducee and Pharisee are lining up together, which would not have been caught up in the same environs, but MT is showing power of Jesus and enemies combining against him 2) Parallelism, not simply the restating of one line upon another, but an extension, “Behold your king is coming …. ” Matthew has him coming in on two animals, Matthew has a movement towards amplification with his parallelism

c) Matthew does not hold that culture is benign. He thinks that the Christian life is a well lit narrow path going up a dangerous mountain path. He is the good guide taking you up the mountain path and does not want you to make a misstep as he leads you on this path. Your soul is in peril and you need wise guides to help you choose the way of life because the way of death looks so seductive at times.

d) Judgment is a very good thing, which can be hard for some to understand. Judgment is not the angry parent punishing capriciously but is God setting things right. The intention of God is to restore creation and in all of its goodness and wholeness and anything that damages the divine purpose of God will be thrown into the eternal fire. Some of this is self-reflective. The love of Jesus burns away all that damages and stains away, but this is not horror story burning. God’s judgment is setting the whole creation right and joy at the end of this judgment and not terror.

Matthew is speaking against a Jewish community, but is our enemy the Jewish community or more the individualism that seeks to separate us away from the new reality of community that is shaped in Jesus.

LONG and Lukan Themes

Road to Emmaus is a key passage in Luke

“must” used over fifty times by Luke

Not determinism but it is inevitable that when the Gospel collides with the world.

Liturgical interpreting of Scripture

pressed to stay, late afternoon (earlier church often celebrated the Eucharist in the late afternoon)

Walking the way with Jesus and experience of Jesus in the table causes us to reflect on the mediated presence of Jesus on the way

Along the way, Jesus reassembles the guest list of the banquet that God intends, summoning the leper, the woman, the sick, as he moves there is the experience of the penultimate gospel. Then in Jerusalem he weeps because they did not know. Then the ultimate gospel is that this good news is being offered through the resurrection.

Guest list: Who has gathered for Pentecost? Sounds like a bus station call (Medes, which have not been around for hundreds of years, Elamites, did not travel from across the country they traveled from across the OT. This is an eschatological list.

Between now and that banquet day, there will be a great reversal and so every one who thinks they are on top will be outside and those that thought they were not welcomed will be at the table. We better befriend the outcast because they will be the ones that will be welcoming us to the table.


Day 2 Preaching the Parables

The structure of this class on days 2, 3 and 4 is for a lecture on the context of each gospel and how the shape and purpose of each gospel influences the interpretation of the parables. In the second part of the class there is a presentation of a parable by a student and then a response to that presentation by the other students and from Tom Long.

So Mark, Matthew and Luke are not identical and the differences are not accidents but purposeful. How do these differences shape the way the reader responds to the parables that Jesus tells?

A parable is similar to the knight move in chess in how the moves do not follow the straight line.

When a parable does not stretch towards the extravagance then we have domesticated the parable and no longer allow the unexpected truth to speak to us.

Fred Craddock – Jesus parables involved no one expecting them to go towards mercy. When we feel entitled that they go towards grace, we have domesticated the parable.

In preaching we have the task of releasing the energy of the parable.

Does the listener become a co-creator of meaning with the telling of the parable?

We end up giving an authority to the listeners, like impressionist painters we paint a picture but the listener becomes a co-creator of what is seen in the sermon/painting

Meaning like dance partners, moving across the floor, contextually bound to how the movement plays out in the largeness of the space in which it is heard.

Fields of meaning, polyvalent in meaning

Sermon is contextual and so how the parable as a genre works is in context

Review of genre

1) Code

for insiders to interpret

drawn into the discourse and faith world for it to have its full power

2) Vessel

Instruments of rhetoric to teach a particular lesson

3) Object of Art

Go into the story and you experience

4) Prophetic Speech

Parable is not a literary device but a description of the world as it is and a call to some action or attitude

Wicked Tenants

Appears in Matthew, Mark, Luke and Thomas

Each author shows a character to this parable the involves the purpose of their gospel

Mark 12:1-11


Supposed to throw you out of the parable into a text that you already know because you are thrown into Isaiah 5

Is 5 – Vineyard owner is God and vineyard is Israel and God did not get justice from his vineyard, servants rejected prophets/john the baptist

If you don’t know the decoding advise then you are out of meaning tools

Beloved Son/Jesus, the heir, throw him outside of the vineyard/outside of the walls of Jerusalem

Given the vineyard to others/ Jews and Gentile dualism?? or does it mean something else these leaders who have led the people astray will be replaced by others. Replacement of leadership

If you thought decoding was the best method, what then will the preacher do? 

Covert description of the rejection of Jesus by the leadership of his own people


Look for the theological idea that rests in the center of the story.

…death of the son leads to restoration of the kingdom

…in every time and place God entrusts his kingdom to people and they are called to serve faithfully the will of the Father and if they don’t they will be overturned

goal of the preaching

make that idea as your own and constitute understanding of God….a teaching sermon

Object of Art

retell the story to draw the people into the experience of the parable and your gut turns to meaning without evening being told

investing theology with an emotional reaction

In a repeated world of violence, how does God react?

Or focus on the character of the Father and so track the verbs and who is the actor of action and notice the absolutely deeply invested father in the vineyard.

Jesus in Mark and the widow’s mite

– Beware of the authorities who devour widows’ houses

– Fake sacrifice / real sacrifice

– Disciples, “Isn’t that a beautiful building”

– Jesus says that God is going to rip that building down —- the violence of God

…there is crap we are building, that may need to be destroyed

How does the parable fit into the greater Markan theme that God is unpredictable and the absurdity of how God is at work?

Prophetic Voice

Description of land operations in Galilee with absentee landowners

Leaders of Israel have encouraged the peasants to resent absentee landowners and Romans so deeply that they get drawn into fantasies of violence. There is a growing lack of trust in God and so an entitlement to take into their own hands the violence that God should be doing. 

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…precious to Israel…encouragement to put their trust in God and not need to resort to Roman style violence.

To do this reading you have to steal yourself away from the Christological and allegorical details that are pregnant in text.

Theological and political reading of the text

The attack on the authorities is about the violence that they have been encouraging

Can the parable help examine the violence we commit, what do we think is going to happen when we are participants in the violence?

IF as tenants we begin to attack as owners we are going to bump up against our sense of entitlement that pushes us toward violence.

Expectations of the Sermon

When telling a sermon that does not follow the reader expectation of the sermon it is an act of kindness to the reader to give a clue that the convention is being broken

First person story, a field education student preachers a first person sermon and at the end of the service a kind woman says, “It was a wonderful sermon, but I did not know that you have leprosy.”

The GOSPEL OF MARK as a whole parable to hear the particulars of the parables

Mark 1:1

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God



Two understandings of who Jesus is but it is not until eight chapters later in Mark that anyone else figures out.

Who do you say that I am?


Centurion: Christ, the son of the living God

As the reader you realize that Jesus to be the messiah, he reveals what it means to be the Son of God

At the Easter Scene: unsettled moment the reader sits there

Go tell his disciples??? Who are his disciples??? See you in Galilee??? Chapter 1:14 In Galilee, “The kingdom of God is at hand

Ancient task of rereading, and that you didn’t get it until the end and then reread it with that knowledge

chapter 5 in the cemetery with the demoniac

and then chapter 16 

Both men are seated, clothed, right mind, telling the wonders of God

Parables reread with all of Mark

Mark 4

The sowers sow the seed

Satan, chapter 8 get behind me Satan

Crowd, betrayal of the disciples

thorns, rich guy that came away and turned away sorrowful

good soil, eschatological

Mary Ann Talbot speaks of rereading parables, then they are read Christological.

A panorama reading of Scripture, stops slipping from one view into another but keeping the whole view.

Gordon Lathrop sees that in Mark  there is humming in the background a document that every educated person had read and every uneducated knew about.

Neoplatonism and Plato was a central world view.

The platonic worldview of ideals

the primer Timaeus

I [interlude] II

The world is a perfectly formed orb that is in rotation around the truth idea, and from the outside we only observe the shadow of the real

The interlude was a hymn to philosophy about a pity for the blind man who believes that if he has sight he would see the truth, but pity him because only the philosopher can see the truth.

II – ethics of living in this shadow

Lathrop argues that Mark is a replacement for Timaeus

Part I

The schizomai is the breaking of distinction and shows that God’s pleasure is in the fullness of reality found in Jesus

Middle of Mark is a counter hymn


The ideal is not in the philosopher but in the servant to the real

Only miracle where the recipient is named is Bar-Timaeus is a blind beggar, sitting beside the way crying out for the Son of David to have mercy.

The son of Timaeus cries to the son of David

Throws his cloak (academic gown in Greek is a possibility)

“My teacher let me regain my sight”

Part II

the ethic is to the cross

In reading of the parables we look for the interruptions of cosmology.


The rest of class involved the presentation by students and reactions from the class and professor about specific parables. I am not going to write about these presentations.

Day 1 Preaching the Parables

This week I am taking a class with Thomas Long, a well known preacher and teacher. This class is called “Preaching the Parables” and so, surprise, we are talking about the parables of the New Testament.

Here are some thoughts after the first day of class….

Based on the readings we had to do to get ready for this class, it is certainly true that the study of parables is the avant-garde of hermeneutics. The study of the background of the parable and the context of the text around the parable allows us to see the parable as part of a bigger story.

Parables all come out of a concrete reality and sometimes the preacher has to clear the air of all the interpretations that have worked against that concrete reality. A reading of Scripture takes place in a stream of previous readings. These readings can help guide us towards a beneficial reading of the Scripture, but the dominant interpretations can also prevent us from seeing the jagged and radical dimensions of God at work.

When the preacher spends time to get to know the text…

1) brings excitement to want to share from discovery

2) the acoustical effect of the Biblical text…as they were read out loud there was a word event, and preaching is an opportunity to become a part of the reverb effect. The acoustical impact of a text being spoken aloud.

Titles: Do not need to accept the titles for interpretation or where the text has been cut

A parable provides a collision with reality and bring us into a connection with God’s reality. The story telling provides an opportunity to witness how religious prior conceptions are dislodged. Parables provide teaching that turns things upside down from an ethical or theological rut and instead of being shaped by this rut the community identity can begun to be shaped by sharing the reversal of the story.

The genre is found in Matthew, Mark and Luke but does have beginnings in the mashal of the Old testament.

1 Samuel 10:9-12

Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

Saul is not one of the ‘prophets’ but through his actions he should be counted among them.

Job 17:1-6

Job in his misery has become a mashal

Ezekiel 17:1-6

riddle, allegory

Not all of these mashal are narrative, not all earthly stores, a person, a saying, a riddle, an allegory

What holds this diversity together? Is it an algorithm that leads to a meaning. Maybe the parable describes an ineffable reality that needs to be described but cannot be contained into ordinary speech.

Greek word parabole – gluing of two greek words


para-alongside of

You are being converted into a reality in the hearing of the parable. A parable always requires the movement by listener. Preaching a parable can help people move towards thinking with flexible minds like they did when they were kids and their brains being rearranged.

Preaching in this great reversal is down without fear and a fundamental trust by the congregation that the preacher is going to take you someplace safe.

There is a small crisis built into every parable.

Paul Ricoeur- at some point in Jesus’ parables there is extravagance

Since we know the good endings of the parables do we allow the surprise to capture us do we still hear the extravagance. The parables often have an end stress – the aha of the parable that comes at the end of the parable and often with a statement. The statement causes you to go back through the rest of the parable through this end stress statement.

Preachers should ask themselves some questions when getting ready to preach a parable

What is the genre?

Jesus did not event the form, a form of rhetorical address that requires the hearer to move to catch the comparison and contrast, some enigma involved

Which parable am I going to preach?

There is the parable in the text. There is the parable remember because of the conflation that takes place in hearing the parables in multiple gospels. There is the parable that we expect Jesus shared and how might this contrast with the context that the Matthew, Mark, and Luke place it into their gospels. Jeremias is a theologian that has provided a framework to understand how the Gospel writers have transformed the parables for their context. My own thoughts is that some of these efforts of searching for the original kernal of the parable lead down to a rabbit hole of imaging a parable that speaks more to our own desires.

What is our basic procedure to bridge the connection between the kingdom of God and the thing it is being compared to…

Literary Answers

1) Connection is allegorical, it is in code and only known by those who know the code can crack it

Mark 4:10ff

You can’t interpret unless you have the secret of the kingdom of God, putting in parables so that others can’t get it

Most of us will balk as this as not democratic

Allegory is in the Jewish competence and is not to be dismissed

2) Connection is Simile

Adolf Julicher argued that the parables are not allegories but they are similes. The hearer of similes have to interpret in what way… Similes put two things together and compare them in one way and so we should not not look for multiple ways of meaning. There is one and only one point where the two things come together

Preacher reaches into the jar and pulls out the one point of the parable but the Julicher one point of the parable was always a reflection of the preacher’s own world. Takes away some of the wild and crazy speculation of the allegory method

3) Connection is metaphor – it is impossible to pull out the meaning, but you walk into the environment of the world and experience. Cannot put a life into a single point but 

4) Connection is not literary according to Louise Schottroff. Literary readings are all affected by Christian superiority and anti-Semitism and the virulent strain of anti-Jewish readings of parables. Also affected by dualism that seeks to separate spiritual and body. Also the dualism of law/gospel. Infected by obedience to authority and avoidance of the gospel. 

She represents the new non-linear, post colonial reading of Scripture.

Eschatology of the ultimate reality of authentic life in Christ becomes embodied the actual reality of living.

Kingdom of God gets compared to the parable, but the definition of the parable is not brought out from the parable. The definition has to come from some place else for Schottroff.

This class on parables also looks at why Jesus uses parables could be because the good news of Jesus is a parable. The parable interrupts our world with an extravagance of grace and so we find that Jesus himself is the ultimate interruption of grace.