Tuesday, 11 July 2017
Sermon July 9, 2017 4th Sunday after Trinity
Luke 6: 36
It appears at first glance that the Gospel writer got it wrong. Luke tells us that Jesus told a parable to his disciples. However, what he says does not appears to be a parable—a least not the kind we are familiar with. When we think of a parable we think of a story with a message. Certainly there are many examples of this; the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son or as we heard last week the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. One source numbers Jesus parables at 46. So there are a lot of stories with a message. They are not all presented as stories but most are.
Often there is a twist at the end like the prodigal son where the wayward son is not given a chance to throw himself on the mercy of his father. There are ones that surprisingly seem to uphold negative behaviour such as the Parable of the Dishonest Manager. This is one of the most puzzling in which a manager is dismissed by his master and he connives with the people who owe his master money to cheat him. Jesus concludes the parable by having the master commend the dishonest manage—go figure.
However, what these all have in common is that they are presented as stories. Indeed one definition I looked up defines the parable exactly this way, “a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson”. However, the same source does give a second definition, “a statement or comment that conveys a meaning indirectly by the use of comparison, analogy, or the like”.
In today’s Gospel reading Luke presents Jesus telling his disciples what Luke calls a parable. However, it doesn’t fit either definition. It certainly isn’t a story. It is only a list of characteristics and traits of people that are not positive; the blind leading the blind, the disciple not being above his master, not seeing the beam in your own eye. He calls us all hypocrites. This is a bit closer to the second definition. However, there is no indirect meaning here; Jesus is telling us directly, do not be like this.
There is certainly a lesson in here for us. So that is possibly what Luke had in mind when he calls it a parable. The parable always contains a lesson, even when it is not always easy for us to get it right away. I particularly like it when his disciples complain that parables are hard to understand; I am with them on that. Jesus occasionally does relent and givens them and us the meaning of the parable as he does in the parable of the sower who sows on the bad soil and the good soil—thanks be to God for that.
However, in our parable today there is no mistaking Jesus’ message. In the beginning of the passage he tells us directly: judge not so you won’t be judged; do not condemn and you won’t be condemned; forgive and you shall be forgiven. In the parable portion he is less direct; he poses a question. Perhaps that is more parable-like; can the blind lead the blind? He gives a direct answer—no, they will both end up in a ditch. Perhaps this is not completely direct. I don’t believe Jesus was speaking of people who have eyes that do not see. He is taking about people who are blind in other ways. Then he switches back to a direct statement; a disciple is not above his master.
Perhaps some of Jesus’ disciples were getting a bit above themselves and Jesus wanted to give them the proper perspective. Then the kicker, take care of the beam in your own eye rather than the mote—a truly tiny thing— in your brother’s eye.
All this set’s up what seems to be an impossible standard for us to live by. Indeed we are even told that everyone who is perfect shall be as his master. Jesus seems to be saying that we should strive to be perfect. Indeed, in the Gospel of Matthew (5:38) Jesus tells us, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. This certainly sets the bar pretty high. No, let’s not mince words; it sets the bar at an impossible level. How are we supposed to strive to be perfect? It really is impossible for any human being to be perfect. Aside from Jesus himself, is there anyone in history who was ever perfect? Not that I am aware of.
In fact, I think there is a great danger in trying to be perfect. We can easily try to hide our imperfections from others and more importantly from ourselves. Unless we are able to be honest with ourselves about our shortcomings—those aspects of ourselves we don’t really want to acknowledge, Carl Jung calls it our shadow— we will not become the people that God intends us to be.
I don’t believe that Jesus truly expects us to be perfect. He was, after all, fully human as well as fully divine. He also knows us too well to expect that of people. I have found a better translation of the word which is usually translated in these passages as perfect. One source translates the original Aramaic, which was Jesus’ native language, as ‘all-embracing’ rather than perfect.
That is something which we can all strive to do and be. Be all-embracing as your heavenly father is all-embracing. We can embrace life, all of God’s creation and strive to live as God intends. Let us be all-embracing. Amen