Parables Are Tough To Crack

Yesterday we listened to a sermon by Shane Hipps from Mars Hill Bible Church on the parable found in Luke 11:5-8 about the “persistent” guest who knocks at the door late in the evening for food.

 5Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’
 7“Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness[e] he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

His understanding of the passage was that it wasn’t about persistence in prayer but that the word, anaideia, in Greek actually means shamelessness on behalf of the home owner not the person knocking on the door.  The home owner will respond – not based on friendship – but based upon the fact that he doesn’t want to be shamed for not offering hospitality.  How much more will God offer us his love and hospitality?

Scot McKnight, on his blog, offered argues a different view posited by Klyne Snodgrass in his book, Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus.  He states,

“this parable is about a God who is dramatically unlike that sleeper who got up only because of the prayer’s boldness. The parable doesn’t teach us to be bolder and if we are God will eventually give in; it doesn’t teach rudeness. Nor does it teach that God is like that sleeper. Instead, it is clever Jewish irony and a fortiori logic: if fathers act like this and eventually give in to rude neighbors, how much more will the good God, the Father, respond in grace. That is why the next set of teachings, which in my view function as the nimshal (the interpretation), focus on God being so much better than human fathers.”

In spending a lot of time with parables, scholars come up with many different principles, some of them complimentary, others in opposition.  One thing we know about parables from the Bible is that they are hard nuts to crack.  My take on this one, is that this parable has a multiplicity of meanings and applications that can be allegorized as well as applied literally.  That is obviously breaking a lot of rules – but they are rules made by people who are Western, situated and believe themselves to be authorities based upon the time that they have spent with this subject.  There have been many who have spend time with a lot of subjects over the years who have never been able to remove their blindspots – blindspots that directly affected their area of “expertise.”

Can we learn from the experts, yes, but we shouldn’t give them carte blanche when it comes to interpretation and interpretive rules.  They are just as affected by their historical context, environment and personal agendas as anyone else, and as such, are a bit more dangerous.

I believe that it would be safe to say that Christ intended for all of these views to be present and that there wouldn’t be one right interpretation that X’s out the other possibilities (unless they are totally off the wall).  Parables in their essence are meant to be heard by more than just one and for each of us to find our place in that parable in order to encounter what God is doing in our life as well as in the community’s life.  The genius of this is that the only one that can know what each of us needs to hear is God himself, requiring the interpretive rules to be mostly his.  Are there guidelines, yes – can they be stretched – they need to be based upon the nature of parables.

Do I have the answer, nope but I am part of the conversation and it needs to keep going.  Eventually someone will discover something else that undermine the rules of the parable police.  It’s inevitable – so give up on being in charge and allow the parables to do what they do in the hands of our competent Savior.  At the same time, thank you to those who have spent their life in the parables and for helping them to be clearer, though clarity is much different than certainty.