A funny thing happened today. I picked up a book I had been reading, "Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes" by Kenneth Bailey. Here are the last couple of paragraphs I read before putting the book down:
"In the Western tradition serious theology has almost always been constructed from ideas held together by logic. In such a world the more intelligent the theologian, the more abstract he or she usually becomes, and the more difficult it is for the average person to understand what is being said ... In contrast, the popular perception of Jesus is that of a village rustic creating folktales for fisherman and farmers. But when examined with care, his parables are serious theology, and Jesus emerges as an astute theologian. He is, as noted, primarily a metaphorical rather than a conceptual theologian ... A metaphor communicates in ways that rational arguments cannot. Pictures easily trump but do not replace abstract reasoning. A powerful television image communicates meaning that a thousand words cannot express. When used in theology to create meaning, the parable challenges the listener in ways that abstract statements of truth cannot approach....Theologians often use "illustrations" to infuse energy and clarification into their abstract reflections. A metaphor, however, is not an illustration of an idea; it is a mode of theological discourse. The metaphor does more than explain meaning, it creates meaning. A parable is an extended metaphor and as such it is not a delivery system for an idea but a house in which the reader/listener is invited to take up residence."
Then, a couple hours later, I picked up another book, "Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes" by Brandon O'Brien and Randolph Richards. I didn't even think about the similar theme as I began to read; I was mainly thinking of how I was supposed to return this book to my friend Jayson Georges several weeks ago, and that I probably wasn't going to finish before I saw him again. I opened the book to where I had dog-eared the page - sorry Jayson! I hadn't cracked the book since before Christmas, so to read these words just two hours after reading the ones above were, for me, quite remarkable:
"When it comes to communicating the truth, Westerners drift more towards propositions than to artistic expressions. Because we are somewhat uncomfortable with the ambiguity of metaphors, we tend to distill propositions out of them. We want to know what they mean, in categorical terms. A philosophical description of God ("omnipresent") is better than an anthropomorphic one ("his eyes roam to and fro throughout the land"). Or, so we think. This is why books on Jesus talk more about the facts of his life than his parables. To us, things like metaphors and parables sometimes seem like unnecessarily frilly packages for a hard truth. We want to get past the packaging to the content; we want to know what it means. These assumptions about the value of propositions and our unease with ambiguous language put us at something of a disadvantage when it comes to reading the Bible. The biblical writers didn't make the distinctions we make regarding when metaphorical and potentially ambiguous language is appropriate. We relegate it mainly to informal communication. But the writers of Scripture recorded the profoundest truth in similes, metaphors, parables and other colorful and expressive (and potentially ambiguous) forms of language."
Interesting, huh? What do you think? How do you read the Bible - particularly Jesus' teachings and parables? Maybe it's time to re-read them. And although I haven't finished either of the books mentioned above, I recommend them to you.