Good Morning –
I am excited about our beginning a study of Jesus’s parables using Rev. Robert F. Capon’s book Kingdom, Grace, Judgment – The Parables of Jesus. Rev. Capon (1925-2013) was an Episcopal priest and prolific writer. His New York Times obituary is here. This Tuesday we will be reading through the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 and chapters 5-6 of our book.
Capon begins his introduction with the observation that: Jesus not only spoke in parables; he thought in parables, acted in parables, and regularly insisted that what he was proclaiming could not be set forth in any way other than in parables. He was practically an ambulatory parable in and of himself: he cursed fig trees, walked on water, planted coins in fishes’ mouthes, and sailed up into a cloud. p.1-2. Capon sets out his goal for his work which is to provide us a fresh, adventurous look at the parabolic words and acts of Jesus in the larger light of their entire gospel and biblical context. p.2.
Capon sees Jesus’ ministry as being divided into three parts: Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment. Jesus’ ministry begins in Galilee with his baptism and his preaching of the Kingdom of God. This phase of his ministry ends with the feeding of the five thousand. The second part of Jesus’ ministry, the teaching of Grace, extends from the time of Peter’s Confession when Jesus first foretells of his death and resurrection until Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The final part of Jesus’ ministry occurs from Palm Sunday to Good Friday and centers on the coming judgment against Jerusalem. The lens through which we will read the parables depends upon the stage during which the respective parable is told.
In studying the parables, Capon says we face two primary challenges. The first challenge is comfort and familiarity. We all know and love the stories of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and others. We think of these parables, like Aesop’s fables, as being nice stories with a nice concluding moral to the story. This leads to the second challenge. When we begin to dig deeper into the actual parables themselves, we begin to realize that they are strange, bizarre, complex, and disturbing. They are not tidy moralistic stories, but try to upend tidy moralistic notions. Bad people get rewarded, good people are scolded, God is often compared to an irritable person, fairness is absent, and the idea of who should be first or be rewarded is turned upside down. The very purpose of the parables, it appears, is not to be nice but to disturb our religious understandings and that is a challenge.
The reason for the parables is to make us uneasy. Capon writes: In resorting so often to parables, his main point was that any understanding of the kingdom his hearers could come up with would be a misunderstanding. Mention “messiah” to them, and they would picture a king on horseback, not a carpenter on a cross; mention “forgiveness” and they would start setting up rules about when it ran out. From Jesus’ point of view, the sooner their misguided minds had the props knocked from under them, the better. After all their yammer about how God should or shouldn’t run his own operation, getting them just to stand there with their eyes popped and their mouths shut would be a giant step forward. p.7. The parables should form the same function for us. They should disabuse us of trite religious understandings and force us to directly confront the teachings of Jesus.
As we read through Capon’s book, notice Capon’s point of view. He will not share with us any scholarship regarding the parables such as historical information about the Pharisees or the socio-economic conditions of Roman Palestine. Rather, Capon grounds his reading firmly within the context of the totality of Scripture (canonical) and the dogmatic traditions of the Church (theological). Most importantly, however, Capon will have us read the parables in light of the gospel as revealed in the Incarnate Word who is Jesus Christ.
In his work, The Mystery of Christ, he writes that: There are two very different ways you can come at the Incarnation. One is to turn it into a transaction that was poked into the history of the world at a specific time and place (namely, in the Person and work of Jesus); the other is to model it as a feature of the constitution of the universe—a Mystery present in creation from beginning to end, but which was finally and fully manifested to us in Jesus. In Capon’s teaching of the dominical parables, he wants us to see them as a teaching of the mystery (or the Deep Magic as C.S. Lewis says) of the universe which incarnated in Jesus. We cannot understand the parables unless we first grasp that the One who speaks them is the eternal Son of the God of Israel, who has unconditionally reconciled all humanity through his Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension, but it is also the parables that help us grasp who Jesus Christ fully is.
As we approach Rev. Capon’s understanding of the parables, the only thing that he asks of us is that we keep our eyes, our ears, our hearts, and our minds open to the somewhat disconcerting and almost always unsettling nature of the parables. Most importantly, he asks that we walk through the parables with him into the radical and ineffable mystery that is the Kingdom of God, the Grace of God, and the Judgment of God.
SCHEDULE: Our tentative scheduled readings are: In the Parables of the Kingdom we will be reading through chapters 5-6 (the Sower), 7 (the Lamp and the Growing Seeds), and 8 (the Weeds). In the Parables of the Grace, we will be reading through Chapters 1, 4 (the Lost Sheep), 5 (the Unforgiving Servant), 8 (the Friend at Midnight), 11 (the Narrow Door), 13 (the Great Banquet and the Prodigal Son), and 17 (the Unjust Judge). In the Parables of Judgment, we will read through chapters 1, 12 (the Wise and Foolish Virgins), and 13 (the Talents and the Sheep and the Goats). I will be using Fr. Aidan Kimel’s commentary on this book as my outline. (His introductory post is HERE.)
Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is chili and cornbread. Discussion about 7:15. Hope to see you here!
Jesus said, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. . . But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”Matthew 13:13, 16-17.