Ok, so there is a LOT going on here. First of all we begin with a parable. In fact this is where we begin a long string of parables. Parables may be the trickiest aspect of the life and teaching of Jesus. He speaks in them a lot, but the problem is that we (especially in 21st century America) like everything to be neat and clean and tied up with a bow. We expect clear teachings with a clear “take away”. Even in our preaching classes we learn that our sermons should have a clear focus and function. That’s all good, but what it does is it gets us to try to reduce parables down to metaphors or fables. They are not either. Those components exist within them, but they are much more. My view on this is certainly debatable, but here’s how I see parables:
Parables are not meant to clarify, like metaphors or fables are. They are meant to confuse. We can see this right here in Luke 8. Jesus says, “but to others I speak in parables, so that ‘looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand’” (8:10). The word parable itself speaks to this. It comes from the Greek word parabolē (παραβολή) which is a compound word consisting of the Greek word “para”, which means “against” or “along side”, and “ballo”, which means “to throw with great force”. In this sense, think of a parable as something Jesus throws with great force against something else, causing a collision. That collision causes a mess, and it is our job to piece it all back together. The point of a parable is not to be a nice, neat and tidy fable; it is leave us with a mess to clean up and piece back together. So when you read parables, especially ones without a lot of explanation (unlike this one), let them be unsettled. The point is to piece them together by wrestling with them. This passage is the beginning of a lot of parable talk with Jesus, which means there is a lot of wrestling, a lot of cleaning up, or a lot of piecing together that we need to do in Luke for the next several chapters. With that in mind, I will say very nothing about this parable, and simply let it lie.
Then after the parable in this chapter Jesus moves into talking about how no one hides a lamp under a bushel. This is one of many places where we see teachings that we find in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, but which Luke spreads throughout the Gospel. We already read Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain”, but it was brief and missing a lot from what we find in Matthew. This is one of many places where we’ll find the missing pieces.
Then the passage closes with Jesus going into some of his polarizing talk. One of the running themes in Luke is the separation between those who have and those who don’t, those who are of high status and those who are of low status, and those who are in and those who are out. Luke speaks to a great reversal of things, which is meant to cause those on the favoring end to rethink their way of being in this world. It’s important to let in the hard words in this kind of talk, but not to draw universal truths out of them. We must take them to heart, but also take them in the context of God’s love and grace and gathering of all things into Christ. In this sense, while there is piercing difficult truth in them, there is also a kind of hyperbole in them to make a point.
We’re at a point here in Luke’s gospel where Jesus is beginning to push the pedal to the metal in saying and doing hard things. We’re going to see a lot of parables, and a lot of challenging the powers that be. Watch for it, let it in, and wonder what it all means for you in your life and in your context.