COLUMN: To what will I compare this generation?
Published 11:02 pm Monday, July 17, 2023
Have you ever listened to a really good storyteller do their work? Maybe it’s at an event, a worship service or a festival. Maybe you’ve got a family member, that uncle no one is quite sure what to do with. But boy can he ever spin a yarn.
I grew up in my dad’s country store. We had some story-tellers there. Some of them were intentional about it, and quite colorful. Others of them simply related the tales of their lives but were doing so more skillfully than they realized.
I used to listen for hours and sometimes, just occasionally, I left with something to think over. Other times, I was simply entertained. Perplexing and skillful, then, is the parable Jesus told in Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30.
One of my favorite quotes is that “Humans are so addicted to stories that even when our bodies go to sleep — our minds stay up telling us stories.” The Bible’s parables, or stories Jesus told, are full of riches. Never is only one meaning found in any one story.
More normally, there are layers of meaning and multiple themes depending on who is reading. But, our Lord packed them artfully with misdirection, and even exaggeration in order to get our full attention.
There is usually a surprise in these parables, and often a problem for us to work past. So, if you read a parable and your reaction is “Aww, that’s neat!” then you probably need to read that parable again.
My friend Dr. Peter Rhea Jones, actually was a member at a previous church I served for a time. He taught at two Baptist seminaries and wrote one of the significant works on the parables. He says, “The parables are language events through which Jesus audaciously announced the time of the kingdom of God, forcing the hearers to a decision about the proclaimer of the message.”
The one we have today doesn’t sound much like a parable, and is almost over before it begins. It starts with a question. “But to what shall I compare this generation?” If we can’t understand that the ancients didn’t view children in quite the same way we do now, we’ll never get close to all this parable could give us.
Children were not viewed as sweet, precious bundles of possibilities and dreams. They were not seen as being full of rainbows and glitter and awesome. There, and at that time, they were viewed more as chaotic forces that were to be captured and tamed, or at best as creations with rough edges that were to be smoothed.
Then in verse 25, Jesus turns aside in full view of the readers and lifts a prayer to God. Suddenly we paint in the texture of the larger picture. Our attention where it normally is. It has been on those easier to notice, like the powerful, the wise, the wealthy, the learned, the appointed or elected. Jesus says that these people often have a much tougher time learning the things of God.
It would seem that Jesus, among other things, is dropping the news on us that we all have something stacked against us. Even the lives that we view as relatively blessed seem, in this parable, to be a liability.
But, Jesus’ call turns conventional logic upside down. His call is toward the true home of our souls, where in the longer glimpse of time and life, his way actually works. Not us having to be our own little gods, but not trying to live someone else’s life either.
Still not sure about what Jesus is calling this and every present generation to? It’s home. Your soul’s true home. The place where you can be God’s intended version of yourself.
Emilie Townes writes on this passage and suggests that the best place for all of us to move toward taking Jesus’ hand and accepting this call is in a faith community. A church. A place where we will be loved, and where others around us are trying to do exactly the same thing.
But, one where honest questions can be asked. A church where doubts will sometimes be acknowledged, where confession of needs and shortcomings can be absorbed and accepted.
A place where, if you didn’t have your best week this time in trying to live as Christ, you can come right back the next time the doors are open. A fellowship where you can try a new week alongside other believers who are just as frail as you and me.
Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.