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Hi Ronnie ! !
This is important and it’ll take me some time to get it just right. And it will be a little long because it IS important. Bear with me.
You started studying the Bible well before I started but even so, I’ve been at it for almost 40 years and one of the best helps I’ve found is the New Testament commentary by William Barclay. If you’re familiar with his writings, you’ll know that he too has his shortcomings (unlike either you or me). That said, his shortcomings are not to be found within what I’m going to quote. On the contrary, I think his insights on what follows are stunning, maybe even inspired.
This morning I had to go off island and as is my habit, I take the Barclay commentary with me to read while on, and waiting for, the ferry. Just so happens I’m in the book of Mark chapter 2 where Jesus has been forced out of the synagogues as a teaching venue and begins His ministry out doors. And that also forces him to teach in a different way using parables more often. The following is the Barclay insight on parables.
A parable is literally something thrown beside something else; that is to say, it is basically a comparison. It is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Something on earth is compared with something in heaven, that the heavenly truth may be better grasped in light of the earthly illustration. Why did Jesus choose this method? And why did it become so characteristic of him that he is known forever as the master of the parable?
(i) First and foremost, Jesus chose the parabolic method simply to make people listen. He was not now dealing with an assembly of people in a synagogue who were more or less bound to remain there until the end of the service. He was dealing with a crowd in the open air who were quite free to walk away at any time. Therefore, the first essential was to interest them. Unless their interest was aroused they would simply drift away. Sir Philip Sidney speaks of the poet’s secret: “With a tale forsooth he cometh unto you, with a tale that holdeth children from play and old men from the chimney-corner.” The surest way to awaken men’s interest is to tell them stories and Jesus knew that.
(ii) Further, when Jesus used the parabolic method he was using something with which Jewish teachers and audiences were entirely familiar. There are parables in the Old Testament of which the most famous is the story of the one ewe lamb that Nathan told to David when he had treacherously eliminated Uriah and taken possession of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:1-7). The Rabbis habitually used parables in their teaching. It was said of Rabbi Meir that he spoke one-third in legal decisions; one-third in exposition; and one-third in parables.
When Jesus used the parabolic method of teaching, he was using a method with which the Jews were familiar and which they could understand.
(iii) Still further, when Jesus used the parabolic method of teaching he was making the abstract idea concrete. Few people can grasp abstract ideas. Most people think in pictures. We could talk about beauty for long enough and no one would be any the wiser; but, if we can point to a person and say, “That is a beautiful person,” beauty becomes clear. We could talk about goodness for long enough and fail to arrive at a definition of it; but every one recognizes a good deed when he sees one. There is a sense in which every word must become flesh; every idea must be actualized in a person. When the New Testament talks about faith it takes the example of Abraham so that the idea of faith becomes flesh in the person of Abraham. Jesus was a wise teacher. He knew that it was useless to expect simple minds to cope with abstract ideas; and so he put the abstract ideas into concrete stories; he showed them in action; he made them into persons, so that men might grasp and understand them.
(iv) Lastly, the great virtue of the parable is that it compels a man to think for himself. It does not do his thinking for him. It compels him to make his own deduction and to discover the truth for himself. The worst way to help a child is to do his work for him. It does not help him at all to do his sums, write his essay, work out his problems, compose his Latin prose. It does help greatly to give him the necessary help to do it for himself. That is what Jesus was aiming at. Truth has always a double impact when it is a personal discovery. Jesus did not wish to save men the mental sweat of thinking; he wished to make them think. He did not wish to make their minds lazy; he wished to make them active. He did not wish to take the responsibility from them; he wished to lay the responsibility on them. So he used the parabolic method, not to do men’s thinking for them, but to encourage them to do their own thinking. He presented them with truth which, if they would make the right effort in the right frame of mind, they could discover for themselves, and therefore possess it in a way that made it really and truly theirs.
This is probably something of which you are well aware since it is the best description of your work I’ve ever found. Bit it hit me like a freight train. You’ve been teaching in parables the whole time. In a funny way, it explains everything you have had to suffer, and in much the same way that Jesus suffered. It also explains why the numbers have been so good that nobody would believe them. The last sentence of the above is exactly what you have given all those kids and probably their parents as well. The nay-sayers will never get it. Neither did the Pharisees.
What an awesome gift you have been given ! ! ! ! ! And I will bask in the reflected glory of what my old friend has done and been given.
Love to you all,
Mr Ron Phillps|
Gem OfThe First Water
C/- Campbell Lodge
Greetings! Not sure If you remember me or not, but I attended your course in the Assessment Block at Paremoremo Prison about 1995. I was the dude with the big beard. I am now incarcerated at Totara Unit, Rolleston Prison, outside Christchurch, on the same lag I might add. I transferred down here from Pari in 1996 to be closer to my kids.
While watching 60 MInutes this evening you popped up on my television screen. It was so good seeing you again, and hearing of the good work you’re doing with those young people. Another inmate watched it with me so I ended up raving about you and your Journey through the programme. Your Journey was the best course I have attended during the last eight years, by a long shot. It’s a huge pity that Corrections decided to drastically cut the prison education budget and drop productive courses like yours.
Anyway Ron, the main reason for my writing to you is to give you a copy of a poem I wrote while stiII at Pari. I hope you like it Sir
All the best for the future Ron.
To Ron Phillips
Come in please
Would’ya like a coffee
To oil your throat?
Sorry there’s nothing stronger.
Perhaps a fire to warm your bones.
We’re all comfortable now
So we’II let you begin;
And lead us down a winding path,
Your presence close at hand,
Past dangers almost physical,
Through a conjured land.
Too soon your journey’s over,
Your leaving comes too fast,
And sadly we all watch you go;
© 1996 ACHILLES