In his book, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment – Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus, Rev. Robert F. Capon takes us on a unique and adventurous look at Jesus’ parables in the larger light of their entire gospel and biblical context. Rev. Capon reminds us that 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. As a companion to this study, I have used the blog posts of the Rev. Aidan Kimel at Eclectic Orthodoxy. This study covers approximately ten weeks.
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.
Jesus speaks in parables because he is aware that his teaching ministry has failed. Everyone is looking for a Messiah to reestablish David’s kingdom under God’s Law. Jesus has failed to overcome and correct his audience’s grossly mistaken expectations of who he is and what he is proclaiming.
In this chapter, Capon explores the themes of Catholicity, Mystery, Actuality, and Hostility and Response that are present in the Sower and that we will be discussing throughout his book.
Within the Parable of the Growing Seed, Jesus drives home the simplicity and sovereignty of the Kingdom.
The Kingdom is a like a Mustard Seed. As Capon tells us, the kingdom is the very thing sown, not something that results from the sowing of a seed other than itself.
The great mystery of this parable is that we are not to engage in right-handed power when confronted with evil.
In his explanation of the parable, Capon hypothesizes that Jesus gives his disciples only what they can handle. He gives them a dog biscuit. (see, Mark 7:27-28).
It is only through Jesus’ death and resurrection by which death is defeated and we are liberated from its power. God’s Grace works when we die to ourselves and our merit and get out of the way.
The sheep is effectively dead and the shepherd gives it life, and he gives it freely and fully on no conditions whatsoever.
The sole difference, therefore, between hell and heaven is that in heaven the forgiveness is accepted and passed along while in hell it is rejected and blocked.
In the parable, God does not come to our aid because we ask or because we have invited Jesus into our hearts, or because we have a right relationship with God, but only in our shameless, selfless admission that we are dead without him.
But now we (specifically Jesus) are faced with the direct question of “will those who are saved be few?” Luke 13:23. Or more subtly, “how do I make the cut, and others won’t?”
The point is that none of the people who had a right to be at a proper party came, and that all the people who came had no right whatsoever to be there. Which means, therefore, that the one thing that has nothing to do with anything is rights.
We are not forgiven, therefore, because we made ourselves forgivable or even because we had faith; we are forgiven solely because there is a Forgiver.
The door to the celebration is open to the older son. But the older son simply cannot bring himself to enter. Although the father opens the door wide, for the older son it is too narrow to enter.
And that, Virginia, is why “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” There is no condemnation because there is no condemner.
If grace is grace then morality and repentance will be of no consequence.
We in the church are the second son. We may preach grace from the pulpit and sing “Amazing Grace” in the pews, but deep down we do not like it. It is just too indiscriminate.
The world is saved only by his passion, death, and resurrection, not by any of the devices that, in its unbelief, it thinks it can take refuge in. Furthermore, that same unacceptability will be the cornerstone of their judgment and of the world’s.
God’s intentional tarrying damns the bridesmaids who trusted that God would show up on time. Why? The only answer that we receive from the parable is the same that Job receives from the whirlwind: Who are you to question my wisdom with your ignorant, empty words? Job 38:2.
A buried faith, like a light under a bushel basket, is no faith at all.
In his final analysis of the final parable, Capon takes us back to the four characteristics of all the parables – Catholicity, Mystery, Actuality, and Hostility and Response.
Therefore, if the Greek is simply understood differently, then the goats do not go into an “eternal punishment” (which itself is somewhat a contradiction since no one can learn from the punishment if it is eternal) but they are banished into “an age of correction.”