Why did Jesus’ practice of telling parables disappear?

I was reading through the passages in Matthews Gospel that tell us a little about the goings on during Holy Week in Jerusalem all those 2000 odd years ago. What I was hoping to was write a piece on something to do with Holy Week. What I noticed instead, was that in the midst of the week, there seemed to be good deal of story telling going on that Jesus was still doing with the disciples and others around him.

Theres the Story of the two sons (no not the prodigal one)

Theres the story of the evil farmers

Theres the story of the bridesmaids

Theres the story of the great feast

Theres the story of the 10 bridesmaids and also the Three servants

All of these occur, notably in Matthews account between the Palm Sunday narrative and then the lead up to the arrest and betrayal of Jesus in chapter 26. On one hand we might deduce, accurately that Jesus was a great story teller, and these stories have sacred value (as well as make pertinent points). But the question I ask – is where did all the story telling go?

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From a missional perspective – Jesus doesn’t tell the 12 or 72 to ‘tell stories about the kingdom’ when they are given instructions to go into the villages. Neither is story telling part of the deal for the great commission. But at the same time, after three years of watching Jesus – you would think that there may be records of the disciples developing story telling as part of the emergence of the early church. But it seems to be almost completely absent.

A clue might be found in Luke 24 – When Jesus meets the two disciples on the Emmaus Road, his revelation to them, and their great surprise is that he told them how Jesus’ own story was now fulfilment and part of the whole of Gods bigger story ( Luke 24:34) – The story they needed to tell was that Jesus was the Messiah, and this was the one they were guided to. And then throughout the description of the early church, there is the chronological retelling of this one story, at least this is what we hear from the lengthy public discourse by Stephen (acts 7) and then Paul (acts 17) they preach theology- the story of the knowledge of God.

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It is almost as if priority is given to this one story (and probably rightly so) and then the functions of the early churches as a community of many small organisations across the middle east of the time. But it still seems strange that one of the principle teaching methods of Jesus is barely mentioned again. Its not as if Paul or Silas are documented telling stories, neither Peter or John.

But I am intrigued, as to why it seems to have gone out of view all together.

Other practices that occurred in the early church seem to be also at odds (with current moral view of faith) – but so soon after Jesus the disciples drew lots to see who would replace Judas as one of the 12 – was this seen as acceptable practice, endorsed by Jesus for decision making? If this was implicit from Jesus – why did story telling seem to not be in vogue?

What might be some of the reasons why parable telling seems to be absent post Jesus’ ascension?

  1. Jesus story telling was so unique – before Jesus and after – the story telling of the chronology of history is what seems to have been the norm. See for example the references to the story of Israel – or at least these are what is written down and recorded. It may be that the narrator was keen to record the facts in line with the theological chronology and not the incidental fictional stories – but in a way that doesn’t seem to fit with the story of Jonah which has more evidence that it is fictional than historic. So this may be a fable of novel like proportions that is told to reveal something of God – and referred to by Jesus as such. However, the story telling and sharing capacity of Moses, David, Elisha or Esther is barely mentioned- they are the story. With this in mind it might be as reasonable to suggest that this method of narrative story telling is so part of the Jewish culture that it continues post Jesus- so that it then includes Jesus within the chronology. Just as Jesus gives the permission to do for the two disciples walking along the Emmaus road Luke 24. But then is Jesus story telling so unique that it shouldn’t be copied? Only Jesus could tell such stories inn that culture – and so the task of the disciple was not to replicate Jesus, but fulfil the tasks that he set out for them, none it seemed to revolve around story telling.
  2. The context shifted. This response is from Roger Mitchell on Twitter. The fall of the church , because story I harder to control or contradict that historical accounts and so the church of the empire depended on control and conformity, rather than the expansive story telling that is implied in Jesus own stories. Jesus had to talk in parables – argues Mitchell, in this piece, because the entire church was under threat politically. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fall-Church-Roger-Haydon-mitchell/dp/162032928X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1522261353&sr=8-1&keywords=roger+mitchell

3.So maybe it was less that the disciples didn’t continue telling parables, than just that they didn’t need to. What about the possibility that the stories Jesus told, were the ones that were continued to be told by the disciples and so these were the ones remembered when it came to compile the 4 gospels? It may account for some of the variations – as some were more remembered than others. Also as Ricouer discusses, there may be some narrative building between the different accounts as each was written and then recollected, but essentially its at least 2-3 people remembering the stories, and some may have heard them again and again and others not so.

  1. What if the message and not the context changed? Post Jesus resurrection – talk of kingdom seems to disappear almost completely, from what is talked about in Acts, and then Pauls letters to the churches. There are 155 references to Kingdom in the New testament, but only 30 of these occur after the four gospels, and 8 of these in Acts, which isn’t surprising on one hand as there are 43 mentions in Luke itself (second only to Matthew ), in Johns gospel there are less than 3. The message has shifted. The elaborate explanatory stories of kingdom seem to have changed. OR alternatively, they have continued with the writers of 3 of the gospels and inserted into their narratives as they were commonly told and then needed to be attributed to Jesus as to give them their original authority – if it was indeed Jesus who told them originally. The explanations of the kingdom through pictures and stories needed to continue and was being continued through story telling, and it was the gospel writers who were the key narrators of this. This seems in contrast to Pauls more explanatory practical epistles, which barely have any mention of Kingdom at all. Did the objectives change; the early disciples had the job of proving to people who Jesus was in connection with the religious history of the culture – Jesus himself was merely proving himself to be God through how he had authority, through wisdom and pictures.
  2. Can we assume much about ‘how the early disciples evangelised?’ – This is the question posed by John Drane on the facebook conversation that I opened up on this subject. And of course to a point we cant. We can deduce that the early disciples met frequently, they shared belongings, miracles were performed and councils were had. Conversations with people seemed to be more confrontational (and leading people to be imprisoned) than how Jesus communicated. We can only deduce so far, or more to the point, only have the information to hand that include the epistles and written information. The tradition of oral story telling was part of the culture, and telling the dramatic story, both of Jesus within the Jewish tradition to the town squares, councils and in front of the judge, and also Pauls own story as part of the epistles is indicative of this. There is undoubtedly Dramatic retelling and embodiment of the story through its retelling. We cant I guess prove that the early disciples didn’t tell stories – maybe they told stories about Jesus to each other, and shared their collective wisdom about him – what he did, said and amazed – and so parabolic stories about the Kingdom faded from view at least they faded from importance in the task of evangelisation. Maybe stories were so embedded in the culture in the tradition, that it was taken for granted that this was how to do it, and it was uniquely rare to have the longer public discourse of the town square or market place (so these were written down as exceptions) – the story telling over food, fires and walking might have been so regular and repeated than it was barely mentioned. But its not as if at any point- there is a plea to any of the churches, or within the group to ‘carry on telling the stories Jesus told’ or to use stories in this way. Maybe because it just wasn’t needed to be said.Wells suggests that the role of the disciple is to be a witness to the story (2005) and acknowledge the place of the saint verses the hero in the story. Jesus as Christ is the centre of the story, and he creates the narrative – is the role of the disciple just to tell Jesus story? That may be the case.What if story telling was so apparent in the early church as the norm, that it wasn’t worth mentioning? It was taken as red that it was occurring? So it wasn’t needed to be mentioned. What if the reasons that these stories of Jesus have stayed the test of time is because the gospel writers themselves were hearers and retellers of them, and therefore they had been retained through theie ongoing audible use.
  3. What if the disciples were no good at it, and to preserve the dignity and sacredness of Jesus, only retold the same stories Jesus did. They didn’t get the metaphorical stories as Jesus told them, so it might have been easier for them not to maintain trying to use this method for the future. Maybe Jesus let them off the hook and didn’t make this expectation on them. The Wisdom of Jesus gave him story telling nous for the everyday stage – it wasn’t what the disciples could do. Words they did write down that were in any way poetic or metaphorical are attributed as prophetic ( Revelation) and so derived from God – rather than as a gift of eloquent methaphorical speech that the disciples have themselves.

Thank you to the social media communities of Facebook and Twitter for some of these recommendations from the original question.

It leaves us with potentially a further question, how are we expected to be witnesses of Jesus?

We learn so much from Jesus communication methods – from parabolic stories, that inspire, educate and confound their hearers, and create a expansive space for understanding the kingdom of God- but is it in our humanity to try and emulate, replicate or re-appropriate in the contexts we are in. It is said by Vanhoozer that Character (ours) is plot. We tell the story through our lives, but we also need to tell the story through our actions, provocative, prophetic and practical. (not just that we don’t swear) .

The sacred myth, story, narrative of Jesus within chronology has faded from popular view- and replaced by other myths that have a detrimental impact upon people – commercialism, materialism, capatalism and others- the stories of self indulgence that are never satisfied. The place we might have in the story is to know, just like the disciples did how the story all fits together with an ending that draws ever closer, that requires even more love, charity and hope more story. And not just a story to believe – but a story to participate in, as it participates in us ever prompting, ever guiding. The Jesus story is not just a story to live by, it is a story to perform – and that is something, there is no doubt, that the disciples did. To their own personal sacrifice and as they quite literally were martyred for the faith.


Wells, Sam, Improvisation, 2005

Ricoeur, P Figuring the Sacred, 1991

Kevin Vanhoozer, 2005, The Drama of Doctrine


The wait is almost over

I watched one of those ‘review of the year’ programmes early this morning when my dog woke us all up at 6. I had remembered many things. But forgot about the eclipse. That rare sight. Only partial in the UK but still a rare moment in astronomical history. Footage of cars piled into fields to watch the moment of light to darkness and then slowly the light return with rays of red and golden sun blazing in the sky. 

A rare but predictable event. Once in a lifeline but also regular as clockwork (unless it’s cloudy). Already the clock ticks down for the next one, maybe in 15 years. But at that moment in April this year, a 15 year wait was over. Then it happened in less that an hour or so, and then over again. 

It’s Christmas eve and the wait is almost over. An unpredictable pregnancy became a predictable nine months of waiting. A delivery venue shifted to appease a census (though Mary neednt have gone with Joseph) . A Baby born in unfamiliar territory for Mary, though Josephs ancestral home. Then no room. No forcing of a room, Jesus birth required hospitality. Strangers from the far not received in their homeland. A homeless birth. A birth around the back. A birth not treasured. 

Their wait was almost over. Was Mary as joyous then as she had been nine months earlier? Proclaiming God’s justice and faithfulness,  now making do out the back of the house as a delivery suite. Maybe this happened often and it wasn’t a big deal. And they got on with it. No time but only to readjust and make it work. 

The wait was almost over. The baby nearly arrived. Waiting. God communicating with humanity, interrupting the flow. Disrupting the norms, yet vulnerable,  needing protection, to learn, to live and to grow. 

The wait was almost over, yet another wait was just begun. 

What would the baby do next? How will he live, what will he do? How will he be, what Mary sang about him? 

The wait is almost over, God is tantalisingly close. 

I wish and pray for you a merry Christmas. 

Easter week reflection; Where Childrens praises caused uproar

Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’[e] but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’[f]” (Matthew 21: 12-13)Image result for jesus at the temple

You may or may not realise that this week is Holy week, yesterday was Palm Sunday, the day in the Christian calendar that remembers the moment in the Christian story when Jesus is paraded into Jerusalem, where people wave palm leaves, and he rides in on the Colt, the meagre donkey. In Matthews recollection of the events of the week, and Marks, Jesus head to the temple in Jerusalem, where he is confronted with the scene of the money changers, the stalls and people selling doves. Doves were used as a form of currency, and a bit like the money transfer system of todays foreign travel, commission is charged. It is likely that the temple in this scenario is charging ‘commission’ or a rate for the transfer of money, or doves (which arrive from the poorest families) .

However, whilst we look with scorn at this. It was common practice. Common for the temple to be the space where this activity occurred. Possibly common for the temple to over charge.

Whenever I have heard this passage preached or talked about it is in the context of whether Jesus had ‘righteous’ anger. What kind of anger did he have, what kind of passion for injustice, what kind of sacred respect should the temple have had. And how its ok to have anger and emotions. But thats just an aside.

However, you would imagine that the money launderers, and chief priests and religious leaders would have been pretty annoyed at what Jesus had done, tearing up their legitimate, if a little unethical, business, causing a disturbance… but actually that wasnt what annoyed them, but they were indignant.

14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. (Matthew 21: 14-15)

Indignant in this verse means a combination of grief and anger. The religious leaders were angry about what they were about to lose.  But what was it they were indignant about, was it the tables, the money launderers and confusion. No it was because the next generation were singing his praises, because they followed a new leader, they believed in a new revolution, one that challenged the old practices, the unfair ones. 

The next generation being evoked angered the religious leaders about what they might lose. They might lose status, order, power and respect. All neatly wrapped up in the temple and the culture of the temple in the City at that time. But now children (and they must have been under 12) .

Jesus response to the religious leaders is also telling:

Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.

“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,

“‘From the lips of children and infants
    you, Lord, have called forth your praise’[g]? (Matthew 21: 15-17)

Jesus was so revolutionary that Children worshipping and following were a threat to the establishment.

I was told in large groups in the 1990’s that there will be a generation of young people in the church who would change the world. ‘a dancing generation’ a ‘revivial generation’ all things that were said of a large group of 5-10,000 young people at a worship event. And it is easy to get carried away about these things because 5,000 young people in a room can look alot. But it is only the size of 4 high schools in the UK. How many high schools in the UK are there again…?  My praise and worship didnt threaten anyone. It was done in the wrong place, and was for the wrong cause. Compare singing in church to the child who sings at the end to galvanise the public, the workers and the fight for justice in Les Mis. If anything thats what this might have been like.

However, that is not the point, though its easy to make.

The point is that when children and young people are on board with a revolution, a new paradigm, then the old order is terrified. And whilst the church is seen to be haemorrhaging young people, it is no longer a threat to society and money laundering, or what might be viewed as an early outworking of capatalism. Its the children of the revolution might be of concern. And whilst the outlets for revolution are echo chambered, or where young people are self consumed by their own ‘finding their way’ in life, the radical changing of the world is resigned to others. In a similar way a church injecting a dose of status anxiety hasnt got the energy to turn the children praising into children challenging the status quo, and endorsing it when it happens.

So, if the church wants children and young people to follow it, maybe it has to be prophetic, angry and start challenging the injustice, creating a new world order that children and young people can believe in, and might shout themselves from the rooftops. No wonder Jesus was a threat.

In the politically charged week of Holy week, lets not forget the children who praised a new revolutionary leader, who by doing so challenged the old order, who caught their attention, and who then were left with similar scars as by the end of the week their leader had been tried and crucified. What ever happened to them?  What kind of church might young people want to believe in and praise?  The meeter of needs church? the developer of interest church? or the church that revolutionises society challenging the injustices of status quo in society that they will grow up to be affected by?

When Jesus cleared the temple, dont forget that it was the children whose worship of Jesus that threatened. And highlighted how powerful this new order was and is.

If Easter is nothing else to you other than Chololate eggs and a bank holiday off, then maybe what was told to you about it was too bland, too abstract or too sugar coated. It was about a revolution and striving for freedom and liberation that was a threat from its inception, like Herod killing the two year olds in Bethlehem, to the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Threat was evident. Yet even in the environment of threat and the city and in front of the religious leaders, the children praised and worshipped, and gave their allegiance to a new King that promised their freedom.

Happy Easter.


(Credit to Peter Hart for some of the thinking in this piece, which he disseminated during a sermon yesterday. )

Empowerment, Jesus Style – being Salt and Light

Over the last few weeks, and building up an opportunity this morning to preach at Headland Baptist church on the subject of Salt and Light ( Matthew 5:13-17) ,

 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

I have been continuing to reflect on Jesus’ way with the disciples, the crowds, and the sense of empowerment that he ushers in with them, and how this is a call for those who follow to continue.

Thinking about management in a youthwork setting, and values of youthwork, Empowerment is a fine line to seem to balance, when, on the one hand its great to have discussion about issues and ideas, and make collaborative decisions, yet on other occasions the decision has to rest with someone, usually the manager. But managing in youthwork is about passing on the value baton, being an example of good practice, so that those who are being youth workers can perform. Its a fine line, and one that I can find difficult. For the youth worker, Paulo Friere would appear to be the Godfather of Empowerment, yet Friere’s own inspiration might likely have been from his Christian faith background.

Last weekend I went back up to Perth to do a days training with a group of clergy and volunteers about how they might go about starting right with ministry with young people ( in a broad sense), in my introduction, given that its what I’ve been thinking at the time, we read the same passage and we reflected on the salt, and the City on a hill – the source of the image of the light. Over the course of the day, I hope that I was able to empower the group, to think differently about the involvement they have or could have with young adults, to reflect on the possibles, and enable others to be empowered. We also had a conversation about enabling people to use their gifts, rather than fill need gaps, to identify people as with, and as friends. It felt that in a 6 hours of talking, of getting to know people, their situations, their gifts, their ideas, that an element of empowerment was occurring in the room – starting from their own desires to want to do creative work with young people – maybe all that was needed was a room for them all, and someone to light the spark paper.

So, today I preached on the same passage, and whilst I wont bore you with the details or the transcript ( the full sermon will be uploaded on the Headland Baptist church Facebook page), the following points in regard to empowerment struck me again;

  1. Jesus gives the people, the disciples a clear indication of their importance as people from the outset. Well before they do anything, even before they hear their instructions for ethical behaviour, missional commands, or tasks post resurrection – virtually the first thing that Jesus, and Matthew the narrator, commands is that they are something. “You are….”, that “You are…” only appears once more by Jesus in the whole gospel (except the If you are) , must mean that the chronology, and imperative is important.  Might it be that they were to be something, before they became something?
  2. To be salt as a preservative, means that it attaches to the meat or food, and the same for adding it to flavour something. Yet without the meat, or the flavour of the meat there would be no need for salt, salt only enhances what is already there.
  3. To be light. Light encourages action and movement. Without light people find it difficult to see, difficult to move. Light shines from the city on a hill so that people can walk along well trodden, or newly created paths.
  4.  Jesus describes the crowd, and the disciples not as a fixed item, a timebound item, but as an eternal, universal metaphor. One for all generations, all ages, all cultures, all races and all situations.  Can you imagine a world without Salt, or Light? To be a follower, is to be eternally empowered, eternally a metaphor.
  5. And, if we’re not salt in the situation, not sustaining, preserving the goodness in the world, acting make things distinctive, will people give you a second thought, no they’ll reduce you back to the ground you came from, trampled underfoot. If we’re not enhancing and guiding – what use would we be?

NT Wrights description in Virtue Reborn  is that “Jesus invites his hearers to something more radical, stating that Gods people will serve and love him, will live out the genuine humanness of which the ancient Law had spoken, and do so naturally, and from the heart, it will be a God given ‘second nature’ a new way of being human. And this can be practiced now, difficult as it might be, because Jesus is here, inaugurating Gods Kingdom. Its as if Jesus says; follow me, and authenticity will begin to happen”.

In his book Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer, describes the Christian as the ‘little Christ’ who’s purpose is to follow the way. The Christian who has a continuing responsibility in acting according to the Kingdom.

It feels like following the way of empowering others gifts, others strengths, others ideas, passions and visions is part of the Kingdom, part of being Salt and Light. Jesus first role it seems was to empower others to become followers, to announced upon them a new identity in which they had to connect, had to guide, had to preserve goodness.



The power of ‘If’

Questions beginning with If are great on detached, when you have the chance to get beyond the banter, but get to an ‘If’ question, and all of a sudden the young adult, or even if we’re asked it, we, need to stop and change gear. Our minds, thus far full of process thoughts and next steps in conversation, are transported to a world of ideas, of community gathering and exploration.

The power of the ‘If’ – it transcends the present into a realisation of a future- so – here are 10 If questions that ive either been asked by young people, or have asked young people on detached. Most of them have had pretty amazing results.

  1. If you could belong to any religion which one would it be?
  2. If you could change something about this community what would it be?
  3. If you left the person alone, instead of reacting, what might happen?
  4. If you could chose a perfect partner what qualities would they have?
  5. If you imagined 10 years into the future, what would make you happy?
  6. If no young people were here, would you still walk around?
  7. If I was boring you would you leave?
  8. If you could live anywhere where would it be?
  9. If you could be an animal for a day or a night what would it be?
  10. If you had a £1m what would you do with it?

The If, is a choice question, an ideas question, a proposition for thought.

Apologies for the shift from Detached youthwork to the world of 1st Century Galilee, but over the last few weeks i have been re-reading Matthews Gospel, primarily as im preaching on a part of it in a few weeks time. But I was struck by the ‘If’ questions of Jesus to the people around him.

For example;

“If you love only those who love you – what reward is that?”  – Chapter 5 verse 46

“If God cares so wonderfully for the flowers …he will certainly care for you – why do you have so little faith?” 6:30

“if you had a sheep that fell into a well on the sabbath would you work to pull it out?” 12:11

“If i am empowered by Satan, what about your own excorcists?”  12:27

then there are three big statements

“if you want to be my follower…. if you want to hang on to your life….. if you give up your life for my sake” Chapter 16)

They’re not questions, they’re propositions, they’re suggestions. They require faith to participate in making that choice. Its not an enforced moment, but choice. If you want to find out what Jesus requires if you want to be a follower, hang onto your life or what would happen if you give your life, then you’ll have to read it yourself.

The power of the If questions, to make us stop and imagine. give young people chance to discuss opinions, values and attitudes, and challenge ours as well.


Did Jesus do Holy Theatre?

In thinking about street based, or should I broaden this and say public theatrical performance, I’m drawn again to the remarkable theatrical performances of Jesus in the stage of the public arena. His audience wasn’t the gladiatorial amphitheatre, but it was the crowd from the boat, the crowd of the mountain, the baying crowd, the small group, the moment of conflict with religious leaders, or the individual. There is no sense that I’m saying that Jesus acted, in a hypocritical way, ie masked a real action (ie played a part whilst pretending to be another) but that the scenes we re told about we dramatically theatrical.

Imagine the scene of the frightened disciples, and Jesus stood on the tossing boat to calm the storm, imagine the moment ina crowd that a woman touched him, he stopped and initiated the commotion, the woman who was accused, he bent down and wrote, the man who asked how he could live, and Jesus told a story about the compassion of the mortal enemy. Pure drama, pure improvised theatre. In addition, Jesus made new things holy, bread, sheep, gates and doors, now carry metaphors of truth, Vanhoozer (following Barth) states how that sacraments act to remember the past and rehearse the future, in the present (Vanhoozer 2005:412) , but Jesus made these things newly dramatic, often in the public sphere, giving new meaning in the present to the objects, that had some reference to the past, and will now behold and rehearse a new reality.
Was it fully Improvisory? Did Jesus initiate these circumstances? Or at least did he initiate them anymore that putting himself in the situation where the moment of action had to happen. Yet there were equally times when his drama was set in his own private conversation with his Father, away from the public stage, away from the audience.
It is not clear whether Jesus was ‘theatrical’ at all, theres no reference to him attending public spectacles, as these may have been evident – though theres equally no evidence of Jesus endorsing other artistic works ( books, music etc) The stories he told, whilst having dramatic quality – were not acted out bodily, yet were acted out through the act of speech and verbal description, and possibly in a more dramatic way than the pulpit may do so nowadays. Yet there is one exception, to the criticism that Jesus remained true to his actions, and didnt put on a performance with which to deceive.  It occurs in Luke 24:28, back on the road to Emmaus- Jesus, we are told “acted as though he were going on” – it is one of the only occasions where Jesus, it could be argued, created a falsehood of intention, to prevent himself being revealed in this instance.  Did Jesus deliberately deceive them, or was that just the recollection/interpretation of the two disciples on the road?
Either way it caused them to beg him to stay with them.
Does Jesus deliberately act as though he’s about to leave right now? Maybe he does play at playing his own staged play of which we are part – playing the comic who acts to appear and disappear, for our own good to actively beg him to stay.
Its not just a physical enacted Drama that Jesus performed in the here and now, in his incarnation, but as Vanhoozer argues, as there is communicative activity, there is Drama within the Trinity, sharing the act of perfect communicative agency- for the Son, the Spirit and the Father – all most notably in Johns Gospel. As the Scottish Minister said “it is most true of the blessed trinity each of us is to the other a theatre large enough” (Vanhoozer 2014;76) Going on to say that the sendings/missions of the Spirit and the Son are the acting out of whats been going on in Gods triune life eternally. Jesus not only acts in the world incarnately, but enacts Trinitarianly.

Thoughts on Compassion

Recently, along with thinking about culture, values and interpreting, ive been thinking on a number of levels about the subject of compassion – or more pertinently its been a subject that without deliberate intention has been hitting on me.

A few weeks ago i was asked to help out at the local high school at their philosophy day, during which i was working with one of the RE teachers and a group of 12 Year 12 pupils, the subject of the discussion, and subsequent presentation was on Compassion and in particular the http://charterforcompassion.org/ . It was a lengthy discussion with some very articulate pupils in which we tried to define compassion, and understand how appropriate it would be to be intentionally  compassionate, and how signing a charter would make being compassionate any more likely.                            

The Latin word compassion means to feel deep sympathy for someone, and accompany this by action to change their circumstances.  And so it is an both a feeling/emotion, and an action, motivated by that feeling.  The situation causes an effect on us, on which causes us to want to affect the other.

One thing required to have compassion is a requirement to have less pre-judgment of the social group, (and critique how this is being fed to us) “it is impossible to be accurately perceptive of another’s inner world if you have formed an evaluative opinion of that person” (Carl Rogers 1980), so by judging someone to be different to ourselves in often a negative way, we make it more difficult to have understanding of their concerns, from their perspective. It is thus important that we use language in ways that do not judge, condemn or objectify (challenge those that do), and thus where labels, stereotypes, or prejudices disable or divide.

For example, to say something like ‘American Youth’ is an objectifying statement, as there is no such thing as an ‘American Youth’ at least not in a perjorative, collective sense, as all young people in America are by definition different, there is not one but many, and they are multi-faceted. And so to use terms like ‘at risk’ , ‘Youth’ ‘Youth Culture’ may cover generalizations, but only objectify, not specify. Each young person, in every situation, context, family and community is different.

Yet as we engage with young people in the public spaces, we do so as outsiders seeking to understand, listen, accept and validate their life experiences for what they are– often defying our stereotyping, labeling or objectifying, and in doing so show both empathy, and in action, compassion.

We go to be with young people replicating the compassion God showed the world through his communicative action; “Divine compassion is an enabling power by which the triune God shares-communicates his own life, it effects what he communicates; the saving grace and goodness of God. Gods compassion is his active affection” (Vanhoozer 2010)

As we work with young people on the streets, in the parks we create new opportunities to see them for who they really are, to meet them  where they are at, meeting them head on, in their world, as they are naturally, as individuals, individuals part of groups, and using the situation of that context and developing relationship to listen and discover a person, whole, thinking, frustrated, sensitive, creative, determined.

Being compassionate, causes us to be there in the first place, compassion to see beyond the perceived need, but to put ourselves in that moment, and yet compassion/empathy are heightened as we learn more about the shit and injustice that may have befallen a young person.  It means that we also seek to alleviate, fight wrongs and feel their pain.

As an addition, in planning a sermon for the weekend i re read the Story of Jesus feeding the 5,000, being one of the clear moments where Jesus is said to have compassion for the people, the lost sheep of Isreal, yet though it was Jesus who had compassion, it was the disciples whom he asked to feed them – encouraging apostles to feed those who were lost in the lonely places.