Manual New Thought Parables

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If we have really focused on the parable, if we have let it work on us rather than working on it to abstract out its "meaning" , we find that we are interpreted. That is, we find ourselves identifying with one of the two guest lists -- our own logic toward reality is illuminated. In this parable, as in the Prodigal Son and many others though by no means all some hear and understand and accept the unmerited invitation and some do not.

Parables have not always, or usually, been viewed as metaphors. Historical criticism tended to focus on "what a parable meant" in its historical context C. Dodd and Joachim Jeremias.

The New World of Jesus' Parables

This approach is perhaps an advance over Julicher, whose "one-point" interpretation tended to reduce the parables to their ideational possibilities, evidencing little if any appreciation for them as metaphors, in other words, as nonreducible entities. A metaphor is neither reducible to one point nor is its "meaning" foreclosed in some historical moment: it is rather generative of new meanings in the plural.

At its simplest the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought. The emphasis on strangeness, doubt, and teasing into active thought preclude the reduction of the parabolic form to one point or to a purely historical interpretation. Amos Wilder indicates the same direction when he conceives of the parable as a metaphor in which "we have an image with a certain shock to the imagination which directly conveys vision of what is signified.

But before we can speak directly of the "certain shock to the imagination" which the parable form effects, we must look at its setting -- not its historical setting a question for the New Testament scholars to debate but its setting as an aesthetic object. As an extended metaphor, the parable is an aesthetic object -- and we shall have more to say about this -- but, it seems to me, an aesthetic object of a special sort.

For to a greater degree than other aesthetic objects, such as an Eliot poem or a Tolstoy novel, the setting of the parable is triangular. The components of the triangle are source or author Jesus as narrator , the aesthetic object the parable narrated , and the effect the listeners to whom the parable is narrated. This triangle pattern points to the original situation of the parables: Jesus told stories to people. All three factors should operate in any analysis of the parables, for they cannot be abstracted from their source or from their listeners.

As Norman Perrin points out, there are three kinds of interpretation involved in any textual criticism: historical, literary, and hermeneutical; that is, criticism of who tells or writes, what is told or written, and to whom the text is directed.

Chapter 4. The Parable: The Primary Form – Religion Online

There is a stress in the parables on confrontation and decision, an emphasis not evident in most other aesthetic objects. The first component of the triangle, Jesus as narrator, is perhaps the most difficult. We are all well aware of the pitfalls of the Intentional Fallacy, the deleterious effects on the integrity of the aesthetic object through interpretation by means of the "intentions" of the artist. And we have no desire to fall into that trap, not because it is unfashionable but because if we take the parable as metaphor seriously, attention must be focused on the parable itself and not on its authority or source.

Two qualifications can be made, however. First, it does matter, in the instance of the biblical parables, that Jesus and not someone else told them. They are, as Perrin points out, "highly personal texts" which express "the vision of reality of their author," and that vision "cannot be contemplated except in dialogue with their creator. The "voice" which calls us as Walter Ong would put it in the parables is the voice of Jesus.

Hence our attention should not be diverted from the parables to the intentions of their author, for it is only by giving extraordinary attention to the parables themselves that we hear that voice and understand that vision. Second, Jesus is related to the parables obliquely, not directly. As we noted in the parable of the Wedding Feast, the attention of the listeners is directed not toward the speaker nor toward "religious" questions, but toward two "logics" of comporting oneself with reality. As Robert Funk points out, Jesus, as the speaker of the parable, brings the new "logic" near and in this sense the parable can be considered as "the self-attestation of Jesus, i.

A second component of the triangle, the listeners, is as essential for a just appreciation of the situation of the parables as is Jesus as narrator.

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In fact, extraordinary attention is being paid to the listeners by current biblical scholarship: the heart of the new hermeneutic project is, as we have seen, not the interpretation of the parables, but the interpretation of the listeners by the parables. To return again to the parable of the Wedding Feast, the way in which the hearers "hear" the parable, whether they align themselves with the old "logic" of everydayness or with the new "logic" of grace, interprets them, They are interpreted, understood, defined by their response.

Implied in parable after parable is the question, "And what do you say? What will you do? But again, as with Jesus the speaker, the importance of the role of the listeners does not turn our attention away from the parable but toward it. For we need not and ought not commit the Affective Fallacy at this point -- interpreting the parable by means of its effect on the listeners.

Parables: The Sower of the Seeds

Rather, concern with the effect forces us back to the parable itself, for if we are to gain new insight, if the parable is to work its effect, there is no way to accomplish this but through maximum attention to its own givens, to the parable as metaphor. We are brought, then, to the parable itself as the way to hear the voice it embodies and the challenge it presents to us.


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The two central features of the parable as aesthetic object are its realism and its strangeness. They are about people getting married, wayward sons, widows on limited incomes, migrant workers, doctors and patients, fools and wise men, and so on. The commonness of the parables, their secularity and mundanity, has been acknowledged and appreciated by all, and it is such an obvious trait that we might be inclined to overlook its importance. But it is special when compared with other bodies of religious literature where gods and their doings the Greeks , hierarchies of aeons and quasi-deities the Gnostics , wise sayings and admonitions the Buddhists predominate.

The list of New Testament metaphors seems endless and little needs to be said about the extensiveness and commonness of biblical imagery. But it does need to be stressed that it is there and is the dominant language of the New Testament. This realism is not the same as Homeric realism -- it is not mere surface detail, all in the "foreground. The only legitimate way of speaking of the incursion of the divine into history, or so it appears to this tradition, is metaphorically.

Metaphor is proper to the subject-matter because God remains hidden. The belief that Jesus is the word of God -- that God is manifest somehow in a human life -- does not dissipate metaphor but in fact intensifies its centrality, for what is more indirect -- a more complete union of the realistic and the strange -- than a human life as the abode of the divine?

Jesus as the word is metaphor par excellence; he is the parable of God.

It is entirely natural or inevitable, then, that the realism of the parables is of a special sort, that it provides again and again "that certain shock to the imagination" which Amos Wilder mentions. The way this shock is conveyed initially is the assumption of the parables that important things happen and are decided at the everyday level. The parables again and again indicate that it is in the seemingly insignificant events of being invited to a party and refusing to go, being jealous of a younger brother who seems to have it all his way, resenting other workers who get the same pay for less work, that the ultimate questions of life are decided.

The "field" which the parable thus conjures up is not merely this or that isolated piece of earthiness, but the very tissue of reality, the nexus of relations, which constitutes the arena of human existence where life is won or lost. How can this be? But such is the nature of metaphor, of the parables as metaphors, and of the underlying assumption in the Bible of how the divine and the human orders are related.

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But the particular way that the parable works the relation between the two dimensions is the crucial question, and it is on this that we must now focus. A parable, an extended metaphor, works the relation between the ordinary and the extraordinary in the same way as a metaphor. An allegory is translucent to its reality -- it is a form of direct communication which assumes that the reader or listener already knows about the reality being symbolized. Metaphor, on the contrary, is indirect, attempting to bring about new insight by framing the ordinary in an extraordinary context.

That is to say, "the certain shock to the imagination" is seeing the familiar in a new way; the stress in a parable is not seeing something completely unfamiliar, or something "religious. Thus in the parable of the Wedding Feast we are at no point "taken out" of the story into a "religious" world; the shock or new insight of the parable is in being brought to see that everyday situation -- the wedding feast and its guest list -- in a new way: invitation not by merit but by a gracious lack of concern about merit.

The invitation by grace is brought to light, glimpsed, pointed to by means of cracks in the realism of the story -- exaggeration, hyperbole, dislocations the refusal of all the worthy guests to come, the shameful treatment and unmerited murder of the servants, the closing invitation to the people of the streets to come to the feast. The whole movement of the story not only is kept within its own confines at every point but returns the reader who would participate fully in it and be illuminated by it again and again to the story itself.

This is to say that as an indirect mode, metaphor does not, like discursive language, direct attention to "the thing" but directs it elsewhere in such a way that "the thing" is glimpsed. If this is the case, only fuller attention to the "elsewhere" will provide further illumination of "the thing.

The parables from Matthew

It is also a way of knowing which delimits spectator knowledge, primarily because what is being offered is not information one can store but an experience. It is a truism to say that art is not kinetic; it does not force anyone to make a decision, to do anything. Kierkegaard was right when he insisted on the hiatus between the aesthetic and the ethical, a hiatus that can be bridged only by an agent. But it is also true that those who have followed the movement of the two "logics" of the parable of the Wedding Feast find themselves provoked, stimulated, edged into a decision about which "logic" will be their own.

In a sense, the parable has trapped them; it starts off on ordinary ground and catches them off balance as it switches "logics" mid-way. The parable does not teach a spectator a lesson; rather it invites and surprises a participant into an experience. This is its power, its power then and now to be revelatory, not once upon a time, but every time a person becomes caught up in it and by it. A parable of Jesus is not only an interesting story; it is a call to decision issued from one who in some way or other is himself a parable, or, as Christians believe, the parable of God.

It is, then, not just another work of art; we have stressed the aesthetic nature of the parable not merely because parables have been debased into allegories and homilies but because of the religious significance of the aesthetic quality of parables. The crucial point is that a parable is metaphorical at every level and in everyway -- in language, in belief, in life.

To say that it is metaphorical in language is obvious -- the multitude of familiar images employed by the New Testament to evoke that great unfamiliar, the kingdom of God, needs little elaboration. The kingdom is never defined; it is spoken of in metaphorical language. Remember the cultural gap. The Parable of the Ten Virgins Matthew makes much more sense when one understands the Jewish marriage customs present at the time of Jesus. Parables usually have one main point. Our understanding of a parable and its details should all flow from the main point or points. This is a crucial step, because the main point of the parable is the reason Jesus said it in the first place!

Take notice of surprise details. Certain parables have shocking and unexpected twists in the story that help us understand the point Jesus was trying to make. Although a careful reading will usually expose the special details, sometimes these details are hard to pick up on due to cultural differences and our familiarity with the parables.

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What Is a Parable?

An example of an important and surprising detail is found in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant Matthew Not every minor detail has significant meaning. Because parables are stories, they sometimes need supporting information in order for the main idea of the parable to make sense and have its power.

For example, in the Parable of the Ten Virgins, the story shares that five virgins were wise and the other five foolish. The fact that there were ten virgins total with five wise and five foolish is an inconsequential detail that merely helps the story progress.